Say what you want about the state of Texas’ basketball program, but the Longhorns have done one thing really well: getting their young centers drafted. Since 2015, Myles Turner, Jarrett Allen, Mo Bamba and, most recently, Jaxson Hayes have all been drafted in the first round of the NBA draft after spending a year at Texas.
Junior forward/center Jericho Sims is not the same caliber of player as those mentioned previously, but he is what the Longhorns have right now. After spending his first two years in the shadows of Bamba and Hayes, sometimes inexplicably at the small forward spot, the 2019-2020 season was poised to be Sims’ breakout year and the opportunity to get in prime draft stock.
Sims did have a productive year, averaging 9.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks on 66% percent shooting. Almost all of his per 40-minute numbers went up, and his effective field goal percentage, rebounding rates and block percentages increased exponentially. Sims was Texas’ best player in several games this season (see: Jayhawks, Kansas), and Big 12 coaches rewarded him with an honorable mention All-Big 12 award.
Since the Longhorns will return almost their entire roster for the upcoming year, Sims should have a pretty similar role when basketball comes back. With one year of eligibility left, what does Sims need to do to have a chance to continue the trend and make the NBA?
Sims’ best skill and role is his ability as a lob threat, heavily based on his elite leaping ability. Despite being undersized at 6-foot-9 (probably more like 6-foot-8), Sims uses his 40-plus-inch vertical jump to finish effectively in the pick and roll. Defenses constantly have to pay attention to him and his ability to not only get up in the air, but also get up quickly.
Sims has also shown effectiveness as a rebounder and shot blocker. In addition to his eight boards per game, he also grabbed three offensive rebounds per contest at a 17.8% total rebound rate and improved his motor significantly this past year to provide extra possessions for Texas. While he should not be relied upon as a primary rim protector due to lapses in awareness, Sims has the ability to challenge almost any shot around the hoop.
Unfortunately, that pretty much sums up what Sims can do on the court. As you can tell, his game is not the most diverse. It’s tough for him to do anything substantial outside of the paint, primarily because of his limited handle and vision. Teams know that Sims is not a threat to find open teammates, so they have the option to collapse on him if necessary. This has been one of the factors in games in which he disappears. Furthermore, his lack of range does not threaten a defense in any way, which keeps opposing bigs available to contest shots at the rim.
Sims’ athletic profile makes him too intriguing to leave him off the court. However, he will need to develop some ancillary skills to his game that take place further than five feet from the hoop. Building upon the strides Sims has made this past season will be imperative to ensure his place in the lineup, or else the plethora of bigs waiting might get an opportunity sooner rather than later.