As the 2014 NBA draft combine started in Chicago last week, one of the tallest players in attendance stood and surveyed the scene.
“It’s quiet in here,” Jordan Bachynski told assembled media. “People are scared.”
A wealth of experience and a level of maturity not seen among average draft picks surround the lefty centre from Arizona State. He’s been preparing for this moment for years and has put himself in position to take full advantage.
By all accounts, Bachynski raised a few eyebrows at the NBA combine and climbed a few draft boards measuring 7’2” in shoes with a 7’4” wingspan and 9’0.5” standing reach. A big piece in the growing crop of Canadian prospects, Bachynski has been somewhat overlooked by the general public, existing as a scouts’ secret they’re keeping in their back pocket and hoping nobody else notices.
The Hamilton-born, Calgary-raised senior elevated his game this year, building on a foundation of hard work, patience, leadership, and basketball savvy to place himself in NBA draft talks.
“I’m going to work hard these next few months between working out, the combine, individual workouts, but I’m ready for it,” said Bachynski when speaking to North Pole Hoops before the combine.
The tenacity to work hard helped him rise from a little-used freshman on the Sun Devils to logging over 30 minutes per game and putting up 11.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game while shooting 54.5% from the floor.
“The great thing about him is that he is a hard-worker,” said Canada Basketball senior men’s general manager Rowan Barrett. “Generally, if you want to work, if you really want to work, you have the potential to be special and I think that’s the key for him.”
But hard work alone wouldn’t have put Bachynski into draft position without studied skill, surprising speed for a seven-footer, footwork learned playing soccer in his youth, and the athleticism and timing to challenge a shot and get back in position to rebound. Which brings us to his biggest stat: an NCAA-leading 4.0 blocks per game.
“This year I led the nation in blocked shots but I was put in a position where I was able to do that,” said Bachynski. “My freshman and sophomore year we played a match-up zone and I was further out on the wing, but when my coaches started seeing my knack for blocked shots we completely changed our defence.”
“Jordan has a definable skill-set already in terms of his shot-blocking ability,” reflected Barrett. “That’s important, obviously, to change shots, but what you’re hearing more and more from people is they’re seeing and recognizing his mobility. As a 7’2” player to be able to run and move well, guard on the pick-and-roll and get back to his guy, cover space, he’s been able to do all that.”
Bachynski’s elite defensive presence as a rim-protector and a mobile defender is well documented, but Bachynski knows it takes more for a big man to stay on the court in the modern NBA. That’s why he’s spent the past few weeks fine-tuning his footwork, back-to-the-basket moves, midrange jumper, and face-up game.
Across an NBA landscape where small-ball is in vogue and seven-footers are scarcer every year, Bachynski believes there will always be a place for centres in the NBA landscape.
“I think it’s the most important position on the court because not only are centres a high-percentage scoring threat down low in the key and the paint, they’re rim protectors and that’s something I pride myself on,” said Bachynski.
“I feel like I’m in a unique position because I am a true seven-footer but I can get out on the perimeter and move laterally to guard those smaller guys.”
Another factor that makes Bachynski NBA-ready is what we like to call “Hoops I.Q.” You can tell he is passionate and knowledgeable about the game when speaking to him. He reflects on a Phoenix Suns game he attended where he recognized their defensive sets as the same run by his Sun Devils. Bachynski talks openly about the contributions to the centre position by a long line of greats including Wilt, Hakeem, Kareem, and Shaq, to Duncan, Hibbert and Noah, and little things each player has contributed to his own game.
Bachynski respects the past, and knows how to adapt his game for the future. An old soul, he’s already built a home with a dog, a wife and a baby on the way. Following high school Bachynski took a year off after ankle surgery then spent the following two years fulfilling his Mormon mission.
“People tell me all the time that it was a dumb decision but I completely disagree, I really do,” said Bachynski. “Yeah, it was tough because I wasn’t able to play basketball for those two years but I did learn other things, most importantly perseverance and hard work. That was huge for me.”
By the end of his college hoops career Bachynski had recorded the first triple-double in ASU history, broke the single-season record for blocked shots in the PAC-12 twice, and finished with the all-time career record for blocked shots in the PAC-12.
NBA-ready physically and emotionally, Bachynski enters individual team workouts as the most under-the-radar Canadian prospect in the 2014 draft pool, and maybe overall. Now the player his younger teammates called “Pops” is set to join the big boys on basketball’s biggest stage, and the long road he took to get there will have all paid off.
DG: When I watch march madness with all the freshmen getting the attention it makes me feel old, do you feel like an old head on the team?
JB: Oh definitely I’m like the father of the team, they call me Pops but it’s a lot of fun because I get to see guys come out of high school and the differences in everything with the point in life that I’m at compared to where they’re at.
DG: All the young guys want to go one-and-done now, do you think that’s overplayed?
JB: It really does depend on your situation. If you’re going to be a first-round guy in your first year, I would go. There’s a lot of guys whose stock drops. College is great and a lot of fun, but the NBA does a phenomenal job of developing guys. It’s your livelihood. There aren’t any rules about how often a coach can get in the gym with you and these guys get as much coaching as they can handle, but in college the coaches can’t get in the gym with their players during the summer and you don’t get that 24/7, one-on-one attention. The caliber of the coaching and the training you get in the NBA is a business and if you’re able to be a one-and-done guy it’s a really tough decision.
DG: Do you study tape of Hibbert or other NBA centres for tips on how they block and rebound?
JB: Yeah and one of the greatest players in the NBA right now is Joakim Noah and he is a shot-blocker, a rebounder, he’s had a couple of triple-doubles, he is a hard-worker, just a hard-nosed guy and one of the best players in the NBA right now. It is fun to watch Chicago because they are so intense and they guard and they score and they run and play together.
NPH: You’re a mobile big, but you also led the NCAA in blocked shots. How do you go for blocks then get back into rebounding position?
JB: That is so tough and when you look at most-shot blockers they don’t rebound because a lot of the time you go for a blocked shot and you might miss it or change the shot but when you come down you’re not in rebounding position. The reason that I’m able to rebound is my athleticism, when I come down I can jump right away and rebound.
DG: Last year you represented Canada at the FISU games with the Canadian Men’s Development Team that was red-hot before losing their last two games, but what was that experience like?
JB: It really was a great experience. With college basketball one of the toughest parts is getting coaching in the summer and to be able to play with Team Canada and get that coaching from coach Triano and all the rest of the staff was really invaluable for me. Also getting exposed to all different types of basketball and being overseas and made great friends along the way and I still stay in contact with a lot of guys on the team.
DG: What do you think of the talent pool coming out of Canada right now?
JB: Really right now Canada is producing some of the best players we’ve ever had. Last year with Anthony Bennett, unfortunately he’s hurt right now, but Canadians are really turning heads. Melvin Ejim is a good friend of mine and killed it this year and won player of the year in his conference. Kevin Pangos killed it this year, Brady Heslip is a lights-out shooter at Baylor. There’s just so many great players coming up it’s great for the sport in Canada and for our Olympic team as well.