So far this season, I’ve had the pleasure of watching Jordan Nwora of the Milwaukee Bucks on television twice, both times on TNT, both times in Bucks wins—first over Brooklyn on opening night, the second time Tuesday night against Philadelphia.
In those two games, he has shot 10-of-19 (52.6 percent) from the field, 3-of-8 (37.5 percent) from long range, recorded a combined plus-8 while on the floor in his 41 minutes, all while turning the ball over just once.
If you saw a guy like that, you’d think “he’s pretty good. At age 23, he might grow into one of the NBA’s second-round darlings, kind of like how Milwaukee developed Malcolm Brogdon before sending him to Indiana.”
Well, hold your horses, pardner. I had a look at Basketball Reference to see if the stats confirmed my favorable opinion of Nwora from two games on TNT, and…let’s just say that when he’s not on national TV, he’s nowhere near as good.
Nwora is shooting 39.2 percent from the field and 32.0 percent from long range total for the season, a huge dropoff from his impressive 45.9 and 45.2 respectively as a rookie. His defense is atrocious, his offensive contributions invisible when he’s not on TNT, his VORP negative (minus-0.1), his WS/48 consistent with a role player on a bottom-of-the-barrel 11-win team (.028.)
In other words, if you looked at the advanced stats, you’d think “this guy sucks.”
A 10.5 PER distills his offensive failings well enough, but this is a guy who has a nose for the ball and for the spot on the floor he needs to be on an offensive possession. He’s no scrub. But outside of two games where everyone nationwide was watching him, he’s generally stunk out the joint both offensively and defensively.
There are only so many players any given fan—even one in the national media whose job it is to cover the sport—can track, and if those players step their game up in the spotlight, they tend to look like they’re better than they actually are.
Some guys remind you that they’re human in big moments. When the Phoenix Suns played the putrid New Orleans Pelicans on national TV back on Nov. 2, Devin Booker absolutely stunk out the joint for most of the game before his shot finally woke up in the fourth quarter and he ended up 7-of-20 in the second of what has become five straight wins for the Suns.
Of course, one glance at Booker’s overall stat line reveals that he’s the same player he’s always been, a high-usage volume scorer who is a feast-or-famine shooter, a laughably awful defender, and a guy whose advanced stats scream mediocrity even as he puts up SportsCenter highlights on the actual basketball court. Watching him stink on one night on national TV surprised nobody. Booker’s too well-known to surprise anyone.
Nwora looked like a pleasant surprise on opening night, he looked like a pleasant surprise in Philadelphia, but in the other nine games he’s played, his shot and his defense alike have been hot garbage.
It’s always interesting to take a step back from a player who looks like he’s better (or worse!) than he is when his team’s on national TV, because this is where the stats tell the rest of the story whether eye-test guys like it or not.
Unless you’re watching a player in all 82 of his team’s games, you can’t get a picture of whether he’s good or not by what you see on TV. It’s what the guy’s doing when the bright lights aren’t quite so bright, when he’s in games that aren’t big statements in front of the country and the world, that separates the “good in that one or two-game sample” from “good for the team over the course of a season.”
We’ve seen that Jordan Nwora can be a pivotal bench role player for the Bucks. But his stats are horrifying otherwise, and it’ll be interesting to see whether they push more toward that big-game experience or if we’re seeing Nwora dangled at the trade deadline for a more solid veteran bench guy as Milwaukee moves toward the playoffs.
In the meantime, though, watch the guy when he’s on national TV. The two games I’ve seen have been a heck of a show.