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NBA Draft profile: Jason Preston rides his meteoric rise to draft night

Jason Preston is more than one of the best stories in the draft — he’s one of its best playmakers, too

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Ohio at Creighton Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

MAC basketball fans are well-acquainted with the incredible story of Jason Preston, but the rest of the nation is just waking up to it. After averaging two points per game as a 6-foot senior in high school, he shot up to 6’4 at Believe Prep Academy and was shuffled between the A, B, and C teams to maximize his playing time. Ohio University offered him a scholarship based off of his highlight tape after he posted it on Twitter, saving him from attending Central Florida and majoring in journalism like he’d planned.

Preston grew up a Detroit Pistons fan and was a writer at one point for the team’s FanSided site, PistonPowered, before pursuing college basketball. He earned all-freshman honors in the MAC, and by the end of his junior season he’d scored 31 points in a game against eighth-ranked Illinois and led the Bobcats to their first MAC tournament championship and NCAA tournament berth since 2012.

At first, he declared for the 2021 NBA Draft without signing an agent to retain eligibility, but after a strong showing at the combine, he elevated his stock and signed with Roc Nation Sports. His life-long NBA dream is soon to become a reality as he steadily rises up draft boards.

Measurables

Height: 6’4”
Weight: 181 pounds
Wingspan: 6’8.5”

Strengths

Playmaking, offensive IQ and feel for the game

What Preston may lack in physical ability, he makes up for with otherworldly feel for the game and creativity as a ball-handler and passer. A 6’4 point guard with a near-6’9 wingspan, he has the length to pass over and around his defenders, maximizing every angle with his manipulative playmaking. His unselfishness — his 7.2 assists per game ranked sixth in the nation — and basketball IQ allow him to operate in the pick-and-roll at an extremely high level.

His playmaking is not limited to halfcourt pick-and-roll actions, though. Preston throws LaMelo-Ball-esque hit-ahead passes to shooters and rim-runners with regularity, and he’s an excellent defensive rebounder for a guard (21.3 defensive rebound percentage per BartTorvik). In transition, he finds trailers with ease, and the pick-and-pop chemistry he developed with Ben Vander Plas will be easily replicable in the NBA. It’s hard to imagine a 6’4 initiator with such a keen understanding of where to place the ball and set up teammates failing at the highest level.

Weaknesses

Physical frame/athleticism, shooting

A lot of Preston’s highlights involve back-to-the-basket passes or plays with his back turned to the defender, and that could turn from a strength to a significant weakness in the NBA, where defenders are bigger, faster and stronger than typical MAC opponents. He has little burst, explosion or verticality, and he’s not strong, either. As it stands, length is the only physical advantage he’ll have in the NBA.

In terms of raw numbers, Preston was a decent scorer last season, averaging 15.7 points per game on 51.4% FG, 39.0% 3PT, 59.6% FT shooting splits with a 58.3 true shooting percentage. Dig deeper, though, and the red flags pop up; 83.3% of his three-point makes were assisted, showing that he rarely creates scoring opportunities for himself (burst/explosion is an issue here, too).

NBA teams tend look at shot mechanics, touch and free-throw percentage in college as a better indicator for three-point shooting success in the league than pure three-point percentage, and while Preston has touch on the wild floaters he tosses up to avoid athletic rim protectors, his sub-60 percent free-throw shooting is undeniably worrisome for long-term projection. A career mark of 79-for-221 from long-range could quell that a bit.

Projected draft range

Second round

In The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie’s most recent mock draft, there’s a nugget that says the Los Angeles Clippers like Preston, though it’s “unclear that they would like him enough to entertain him at No. 25.” There’s a very small chance Preston gets first-round looks, but it’s a non-zero chance nonetheless. He’s likely to fall somewhere in the middle of the second round to a team looking for a backup point guard that can reliably run a second-unit offense.