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The case for and against Jaden Akins going to the NBA

There are pros of staying and going pro.

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Jaden Akins
© Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan State sophomore Jaden Akins officially declared for the NBA draft on Friday. What’s the case for and against him leaving?

With rumors swirling in the Twitter verse ever since the Michigan State basketball season ended, we finally know the fate of Jaden Akins.

Akins submitted his name for the NBA draft while still maintaining his college eligibility. Tom Izzo all but assured us this would be the case in some of his recent conversations with reporters. The expectation is that Akins will likely test the waters, get feedback from pro scouts, then use that info to put himself in a better position for next year’s draft.

When speaking about Akins entering the draft, Tom Izzo said: “If after the process, he’s in a position to be drafted in a spot that’s best for him, we will celebrate his accomplishment. And if he decides that returning is best for his long-term career, we will immediately get to work for next season. We will take the information he gathers and use it to his advantage as he continues to develop. I’ve been incredibly pleased by what Jaden has done already, but l’ve got much larger goals for him. And I know there’s much more he’d like to accomplish as well.”

The current momentum seems to point towards an Akins return. However, in situations like this, there’s no such thing as certainty.

Akins has an appealing skillset that will certainly have pro teams intrigued. After all, it only takes one team to fall in love with a guy.

The 2022 season was a little bit of a mixed bag for Akins. He battled through a foot injury that cost him multiple games. After battling this injury he then had multiple games of trying to get back into game shape. Through it all, Akins left plenty of highlights on tape for scouts to look at as seen below in this highlight package from Spartan Hoops:

So what’s the case for and against Akins’ NBA status?

The case for Jaden Akins staying in the NBA draft

3-point shooting: Through two seasons, Akins is averaging just over 40 percent from 3-point range. He finished just over 42 percent this past season which had him top-four in the Big Ten. With the evolution of the NBA style of play, 3-point shooting is king now. There’s a spot on every pro roster for a guy that can shoot at that level. When that type of success not only repeats from one season to the next but also improves (38 percent in 2021 to 42.2 percent in 2022), it’s not a fluke.

Elite defense: MSU consistently asked Jaden Akins to cover the opposing team’s No. 1 scoring option. We saw him put on a clinic in the NCAA Tournament vs. Boogie Ellis, who was of the Pac-12’s best offensive players. Despite missing multiple games, Akins finished two steals behind Tyson Walker for the team lead. Just a quick scroll through Twitter will show you that a large percentage of fans believe Akins is too small to play this same type of role at the next level. To these fans I’d simply point out that Patrick Beverly has made a career out of being a fantastic defender — Akins is slightly bigger than Pat Bev.

The Tape: If you’ve watched the above link highlighting Akins’ season, you saw just about everything pro scouts would want to see. Spot-up shooting, midrange pull-up jumpers, dribble penetration, leading the pack in transition, athletic dunks, the list goes on. The tape has it all. The benefit for Akins is that he doesn’t just have one year of tape, he has two. When watching his tape back to back you can see the noticeable steps he’s taken in every area of his game. This shows pro scouts a dedication to doing the work necessary to improve. The sexiest word to pro scouts is “potential”, and Akins is oozing with it.

The case against Jaden Akins going pro

Minimized role: When healthy, Akins was a major factor for MSU and averaged over 27 minutes per game. However, Akins was fourth in the offensive pecking order. The question is, was Akins allowed to be as efficient as he was because he was consistently seeing the opposing team’s fourth-best defender? Pro teams may want to see if Akins can maintain his efficiency with increased opportunities and pressure. With Walker and Hoggard coming back and a loaded incoming freshman class coming in, it’d be tough for Akins to climb significantly higher. However, Joey Houser is leaving behind 339 shot attempts.

Health: Akins’ foot injury cost him time this season. There’s no reason to believe the injury he sustained will be nagging him in the future. Still, pro teams may want to see him get through a full season without having it flare up and see his ability to hold up against increased minutes in a physical conference.

Ball-handling: This is an area in which I’m going to have to agree to disagree. I personally don’t believe there are any concerns to be had with Akins’ ball handling. However, those that say he’s not ready for the pros consistently point to this area as one for improvement. The reality is, Akins isn’t a point guard so his opportunities to handle the ball will always be somewhat limited. Last season we saw Walker, Hoggard, and Holloman all play minutes at point guard. Next year, MSU will be adding Jeremy Fears to the group as well. Even if you think Akins needs to improve his ball handling, I don’t see him returning to MSU as an opportunity to address those concerns.

For the MSU fan that feels like it’s a foregone conclusion that Akins is returning, pump the breaks. I believe it’s more likely than not that he does, but Akins has shown more in his time at Michigan State than Max Christie ever did. Max was able to be taken at the front of the second round. I don’t mean this as a knock toward Max. It’s simply a reminder that it only takes one team to love a player.

With Akins, there’s a lot to love.

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