With all the attention he’s gotten since the start of the season, it’s clear Jordan Nwora is slowly building up his reputation as an offensive player. Veteran point guard Jrue Holiday even went as far as likening him to Khris Middleton.
Given their skill sets as smooth-shooting score-first swingmen with size, it’s a comparison that makes sense. Through six games, Nwora is averaging 9.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in 22.5 minutes per game.
Unfortunately, the similarities come to an abrupt halt on that end of the floor. Where Khris Middleton has established himself as a prolific two-way player, Nwora seems to be as much a bucket-getter as he is a free bucket.
This begs the question: will the Bucks forward finally see minutes in his sophomore season? Has he worked on his weaknesses enough during the offseason?
Here’s Jordan Nwora’s case to crack the defending champs’ minutes rotation, and the lingering questions he needs to address.
Nwora has always been an excellent long-range bomber. In his six games thus far, though, it’s his court vision, passing, and decision-making that have demonstrated his growth. In the first clip below, he makes the extra touch pass to George Hill in the corner for the wide-open three.
This willingness to give up a good shot for a better shot is important in two-time Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer’s Spursian brand of offense. Couple that with the quick thinking he shows in the succeeding clips, and it’s clear he’s put in work to grow as a playmaker. Where he once had tunnel vision in his determination to score, he now makes the easy bullet pass to the man inside.
Nwora has also shown promise in the two-man game. Right after the pass to Mamukelashvili, he fakes the drive only to relocate back out to the perimeter. It’s all the space he needs to get his shot off.
It’s not hard to see him replicating this play with the Greek Freak, who had similar chemistry with Bryn Forbes in the inverted pick-and-roll.
Nwora also has a decently-refined floater game that he can use to score over the trees. In his case, the trees are few given his 6-foot-7 stature, making his floater quite potent almost regardless of the matchup.
So far, he’s gone 4/8 on floaters. It doesn’t always fall, but it’s a handy weapon that allows him to wisely attack defenders closing out on him, as seen below.
Can Nwora defend well enough to earn minutes?
Nwora was called the Duncan Robinson of the draft at one point. It’s also a fair comparison in more ways than one. Nwora was just as gifted from range as the Heat sharpshooter as he was deficient on the defensive end.
This season, however, he’s looking like a much more willing defender. Just look at his block highlights as of late. In this play below, Nwora sees that Kevin Durant has Giannis beat and comes up from the strong side corner at just the right time.
It’s also a playmaking highlight as the block eventually leads to a Grayson Allen three. The gorgeous swat ignites the fast break here, and Nwora wisely gives up a shot he easily could have taken. The Bucks swing the ball around, and Gray Allen is not missing a look that open.
Never mind that he blocked the best scorer in all of basketball without fouling. His controlled verticality coupled with his ability to get ball on the block was something to behold here.
Below, he sees the undersized Connaughton is out of position to defend 6-foot-11 Domantas Sabonis under the rim. If you look closely, he correctly recognizes the situation even before Malcolm Brogdon makes the entry pass. The urgency on his part is evident, and he’s running to play help defense even before the ball touches Sabonis’ hands.
This is the kind of awareness that can afford him more playing time moving forward despite his weaknesses. If he’s playing next to defenders like Antetokounmpo and Holiday, hiding him on the weak side shouldn’t be a problem.
Despite the promise as a help defender, Nwora’s 225-pound frame leaves him slow-footed everywhere else.
Take his off-ball defense, for example. In this video below, he whiffs a routine down screen for his man in the corner. (And then again, and then again.) In the first clip, it’s unclear if he gets stuck on the screen or gambles for a steal, but the end result speaks for itself. Doug McDermott curls around the screen and gets off a decent look. Nwora is barely in his airspace but is just able to contest a miss.
That first play encapsulates Nwora’s defensive fundamentals as it stands. He’s clumsy in that he gets way ahead of himself, but the effort and basketball IQ are there. There’s clear potential. Now, all that’s left is follow-through.
In the second play, Justin Holiday only has to look like he’s taking the screen to get Nwora all out of sorts. His own momentum throws him off, and Holiday is free to make a play if he wants to.
It’s easy to say that he loses his man almost solely because of his lack of body control. But this clip also shows him taking his eyes off his defensive assignment, allowing Dejounte Murray to go back door for the easy deuce.
Lastly, Jordan completely leaves his man under the rim to try and trap Karl Anthony-Towns. Given there are still ten seconds on the shot clock, it’s a defensive lapse however you want to spin it. The correct read yields a simple pass from Towns, and all Nwora can do is settle for a hard foul. Not seen in the clip is Mike Budenholzer calling out the inadvertent lapse, saying, “Jordan, what are you doing!”
The corollary would be that his clumsiness on the perimeter would be a result of his bulk. In these next few clips, though, Jimmy Butler catches Jordan backpedaling on a drive to the rim. That’s all it took to erase him from the play. It’s the same case a few days later, only this time against a much smaller Taurean Prince.
His on-ball defense isn’t that much better out on the perimeter as the next clip shows. Russell makes this shot, but it’s a relatively difficult make thanks to Nwora’s efforts.
He’s able to stay in front of his matchups somewhat, but that he still turns his body instead of sliding his feet betrays how elementary his body control and fundamentals on the ball are. While effort can make up for a lot of things, it’s rarely ever enough to keep the team afloat. Just look at Thanasis Antetokounmpo, for instance.
Jordan’s play-type stats also emphasizes his lack of quickness on defense. He’s only in the 39th percentile in defending spot-ups. Despite having to defend them 32.4% of the time, he gives up 55.0 eFG% and 1.00 PPP.
His numbers closer to the rim show clear potential. Opposing players shot 38.5% when they were within three feet of the rim against Nwora. Against the rest of the Bucks, opponents shot 46.2%.
On the other hand, his defensive matchup data on NBA.com/stats are decent at best. Through five games, forwards have shot 8/19 (42.1%) with Nwora as the closest defender. It doesn’t get much better when he switches onto guards, who have shot 9/21 (42.9%) on him.
Can Nwora get to the rim and the line often enough?
Nwora’s slow-footedness lets him down in his offensive game too.
Due to his pronounced lack of burst, shots at the rim make up just 16% of his shot profile per Cleaning the Glass. Through six games, Nwora has so far attempted just eight total layups versus 52 jumpers. He’s made just five of them.
As a pick and roll ball-handler — which makes up 21.3% of his offensive possessions — Nwora is only in the 35th percentile relative to his position. He only scores 37.5% eFG and 0.70 points per possession on these plays.
Fans don’t need to look too far to see where his growth should come moving forward.
In the first clip here, Nwora almost has Drew Eubanks beat on the drive after the pump fake. With that spacing, he’s in prime position to try to go all the way to the rim. But he hesitates, steps back, and burps out an inefficient jumper with a hand in his face. In these plays, it’s clear he gets flustered against length and physicality.
To be an effective NBA wing, you need to eventually be able to get to the rim and the line. In an analytics-driven league placing a premium on threes and layups, Nwora’s dependence on threes, pullups, and floaters is productive at times but ultimately inefficient. Being able to get to the rim and survive defensively will be a necessity more than a luxury moving forward.
One would hope that lack of slashing ability would be offset by scoring off the ball, but Nwora hasn’t shown much growth here yet. It’s clear he relies very heavily on shot creation, which can guarantee streaky performances throughout an 82-game season. (Just look at his teammate Khris Middleton.)
Per NBA.com/stats, only 12.5% of Nwora’s two-pointers are assisted on, while the remaining 87.5 consists of his typical diet of floaters and mid-range step-backs.
While 90% of his threes are assisted, his spot-up numbers don’t inspire confidence yet considering they make up 31.9% of his offense. He’s only in the 32nd percentile here, scoring just 42.3 eFG% and 0.87 PPP.
Can Jordan Nwora slide into Milwaukee’s rotation?
It’s only been six games, but as it stands, this writer doesn’t feel like Nwora’s production on offense is enough to offset what he gives up on the other end.
There’s also the matter of the other contenders. Grayson Allen is a more complete player with his defensive and athletic ability rounding out his game. However, Allen’s sluggish start from beyond the arc could cause Budenholzer to look to Nwora to fill the Bryn Forbes role.
Rodney Hood, too, is a wildcard to look out for. His ceiling is sky-high after his past performances, and Mike Budenholzer may grow enamored with his potential later on. On the other hand, Nwora’s limitations might also make him better suited to play power forward, where he will then have to compete with Semi Ojeleye.
It’s unclear if his team defense and passing are consistent enough to help his case. With his grit and effort versus the natural limitations on the court, his minutes situation could go either way. Fortunately, getting back a healthy Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez can make all the difference in hiding his deficiencies on the defensive end.
As it stands, though, he’s still a net minus on this Bucks team. Per PBP Stats, the Bucks are outscored by a net -3.91 whenever Nwora is on the floor. He’ll have to start making a bigger impact on both ends of the floor to warrant more playing time.
Jordan Nwora and the Milwaukee Bucks are 4.5 point favorites for today’s road game in Detroit. Get the best odds for today’s game here.