For every basketball player who dreams of playing in the NBA, hearing their name called on draft night is an experience like no other. To walk the stage and shake hands with Adam Silver, and even for the players not in the Green Room, it signifies the culmination of a long journey.
But for some players, that isn’t always the case. There are hundreds upon hundreds of aspiring professional basketball players in the college ranks from the Division 1 level all the way down to junior college. With only 60 picks in the draft, and 510 roster spots including two-way contracts, an NBA roster spot can be difficult to obtain.
There are many players anticipating draft night, hoping to hear their names called, but end up on the outside looking in. For some of those players, the next step is usually latching on with an NBA team’s summer league roster. For others, overseas or the G League is the next option.
In Jaylen Hoard’s case, his next opportunity came right after the draft. After not hearing his name called in the 2019 draft, Hoard almost immediately signed a two-way contract with the Portland Trail Blazers.
When he left Wake Forest, he became the Demon Deacons first player in school history to be a one and done player, declaring for the draft after his freshman year. He had a solid season, putting up 13.1 points per game and 7.6 rebounds, and he felt a little slighted after going undrafted.
“It was a motivator. I was kind of hurt because I was really expecting to be drafted, just because I felt like I was that type of player,” Hoard told Ridiculous Upside. “Things happen, I didn’t get drafted, but it just gave me a chip on my shoulder.”
Hoard suited up for the Blazers summer league team in Las Vegas where he ended up being one of the most impressive players on the roster. Through Portland’s five summer league games, he averaged 8.4 points per game, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.2 assists. He also showed an ability to handle the ball at times.
He’s in the mold of a big wing who can play either forward position, and his length and ability enable him to guard both wings and big men. His motor and aggressiveness was something that was questioned at times at Wake Forest, but it’s something he’s been working on. While he’s been the G League the majority of this season, he’s confident he can contribute to the Blazer in extended minutes should the opportunity arise.
“I bring a lot of energy. I’m trying to work on being more aggressive on both ends, taking more pride in playing defense and rebounding,” Hoard said. “I’m working on my threes so being able to shoot when Dame [Lillard] and C.J. [McCollum] drive and kick it out to me. That’s going to be the next step of development for me is shooting, it’s something I need to do. But my energy, that’s something I can bring right away.”
Under a two-way contract, Hoard is allowed a maximum of 45 days with the Blazers. The rest of that time, he’s assigned to their G League team. Portland is different from the majority of the NBA in that they are one of the few teams, along with the Denver Nuggets, who don’t have a G League affiliate.
Portland and Denver are allowed to assign their players to other team’s G League affiliates, and Hoard has spent his time this season with the Texas Legends, the affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks. He’s suited up in 19 games for the Legends, including four starts.
In that time, he’s put 17.4 points per game on 53.8 percent shooting from the field, 6.7 rebounds, and 2.2 assists. He’s been called up to the Blazers a few times this season and he’s gotten minutes in 13 games for Portland. It’s been an adjustment for him, but for the most part he’s enjoyed the experience.
“For the most part, it’s been good since I’ve been able to get called up a lot. It was unfortunate cause it was due to injury, but just the fact that I’ve been called up is good,” Hoard said. “Learning from Dame, C.J., Carmelo [Anthony], all those guys, it’s been good. I feel like the coaching staff has really been trying to help me get better and embracing me.”
This actually isn’t Hoard’s first foray into professional basketball. He was born in France and didn’t arrive to the United States until high school. In 2015, he attended INSEP (National Institute of Sport, Expertise, and Performance) whose alumni include former and current NBA players Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Clint Capela, Ronny Turiaf, and Johan Petro.
As a teenager, he competed in one of the lower-level professional leagues in France with Centre Federal de Basket-ball (CFBB). He credited the French league with helping him get ready for the American game.
“It just helped me with physicality and understanding the game,” Hoard said. “I feel like my IQ is high now so it definitely helped me with that.”
With the Blazers currently in a battle for eighth place in the Western Conference, it’s unlikely that Hoard will see much playing time for the remainder of the season. For now, he’ll use the time he spends in the G League to keep him ready for his next opportunity whether that be in Portland or with another NBA team.
“Development is the main thing. The coaching staff told me that with the G League, just embrace it, go really hard, and just develop,” Hoard said. “That way if they [Portland] sign me, or if another team gets me next, I’ll be a different player and better so I can stay in the league for a long time.”