The 2021 preseason hype for Jordan Nwora was real.
He averaged nearly 18 points per game in Milwaukee’s ramp-up campaign that year, including one outing where he famously outscored Kevin Durant. He was a shot-making inferno and had fans drooling over what he could bring to the reigning champ’s rotation. Unfortunately, unreliability on both ends of the floor made the past season and a half very underwhelming for him. Fans turned on him quickly and relentlessly ridiculed his performances on social media. He failed to find a role with the team and was shipped to Indiana at this year’s trade deadline in a deal that landed the Bucks Jae Crowder.
While Nwora’s departure was celebrated by many who are convinced he shouldn’t be in the league, I’ve been a constant believer in him. He’s bursting with natural talent, he just never received adequate opportunity to spread his wings as a pro and learn from mistakes which was the disadvantage of beginning his career on a contender (the advantage being a ring, of course). That’s why the way he’s playing with the Pacers comes as no surprise to me.
Through nine games in Indiana, Nwora is averaging improved numbers in nearly every category compared to what he was doing in Milwaukee. His evolvement goes deeper than the numbers, though. He’s growing in every area of the game, especially the ones that he drew the most criticism for during his tenure in the Cream City.
While defensive woes and irregular playing time plagued Nwora throughout his first two and a half seasons in the league, he was always a capable bucket-getter. Whenever he got the chance to play big minutes with the Bucks he filled the scoring column. He averaged sixteen points on efficient splits in eighteen starts for them. As a whole, he was primarily a perimeter-oriented scorer and was never very successful at the rim. It’s been a different story for him with his new squad.
Nwora’s made good on over 58% of his two-point tries for the Pacers, far and away a career-high, with most of them coming from within ten feet. He was notorious for going up weak and getting blocked, but now he’s finishing through contact and over length more often while attacking closeouts and utilizing floaters when he can’t get all the way to the cup. This increased effectiveness inside the arc has made him a productive offensive player even when his three-ball isn’t falling.
Going hand-in-hand with Nwora’s refined finishing is his newfound decisive cutting ability and overall off-ball movement. He’s displayed a knack for darting along the baseline when his defender is ball-watching or just finding gaps and shifting to open space to get easier looks for himself. His intelligent movement without the ball along with his classic confident catch-and-shoot stroke has made him a weapon next to elite offensive engine Tyrese Haliburton.
Beyond scoring, passing has started to become a regular flair in Nwora’s game. He occasionally flashed it in Milwaukee, but it’s come out more often with the Pacers. He long struggled with tunnel vision but is beginning to play more heads-up and find his teammates for easy points while cutting back on turnovers. His assist and turnover percentages are both career-bests. These numbers portray how he’s becoming more comfortable on the NBA floor while playing in a low-pressure environment and being allowed to play through mishaps.
Overall, Nwora has balanced out his offensive toolkit and is more than the streaky shooter he once was. The pieces were always there, but the freedom he’s been granted in Indiana has allowed him to unlock them. Offense was never the problem though— it was the other side of the ball that held him back.
While it’s still a work in progress, Nwora’s defense has looked vitalized in Indy. He has the frame to be good on D but his effort was usually lacking or fully absent. Now, he’s boosted his energy levels and is playing some solid on-ball coverage, specifically working to cut off driving lanes and force tough shots against other wings. He’s still limited as a switch knife and struggles to keep up with quicker guards, but his advancement as a wing-stopper is a promising sign for his long-term outlook.
After a game against the Orlando Magic in late February where he posted eighteen points, eight boards, and a career-high six dimes, Nwora stated in an interview “this is stuff I know I can do and now I’m in a position to showcase it”. He’s finally getting the chance that eluded him in Milwaukee to come into his own and develop his craft. Jordan Nwora is spreading his wings and making a real impact on the hardwood and I couldn’t be more excited.