The last thing Terrance Ferguson expected to happen when he traveled to Portland, Oregon for the Nike Hoop Summit in April this year was to be approached by a professional basketball team from Australia.
He had already committed to playing for head coach Sean Miller and the powerhouse program of the University of Arizona, meaning offers from any other entity seemed pointless.
However, by the end of the Summit, he was mulling over a once in a lifetime offer after officials from the Adelaide 36ers propositioned him after an impressive 21 point game that included 7 makes from beyond the arc.
“They really liked how I played, and started talking about how they could develop me even further,” Ferguson later wrote in the Players Tribune.
“I gathered everyone together, and we talked. It was a long night. We discussed the good and bad, pros and cons of both decisions.”
The result of that discussion was that Ferguson was going to de-commit to Arizona and instead play for the Sixers.
It was a huge gamble by Ferguson and his family to forgo the University of Arizona and veer off the proven path to the NBA. With the NBL season at its halfway point, now seems like a good time to assess whether or not Ferguson’s gamble has paid off.
The season so far (14 games)
The young American import is averaging 6.0 points per game on 40% shooting from the field and 37% from distance. He also currently pulls down 1.4 rebounds and dishes out less than one assist per game in 18 minutes of action.
These statistics certainly don’t jump off the page, but Ferguson has been able to carve out quite an important role with the 36ers as of late. Since being inserted into the starting line up by head coach Joey Wright, Adelaide have reeled off seven wins in a row to sit atop NBL ladder after eleven rounds.
The scouting report on Ferguson coming into his first professional season was that he is an explosive athlete with the ability to knock down the three ball at a great clip. So far, Ferguson has lived up to that reputation. His jumper looks smooth and mechanically sound while his extreme athleticism has been on display since he arrived in Australia. It was most notable during his incredible showing at the dunk contest at the Australian Basketball Challenge prior to the season, as well as this in-game throw down in a game against Brisbane.
Ferguson has shown more than just raw talent and athleticism during his time in Adelaide, though.
Coach Joey Wright has trusted the 18-year-old in close games, leaving him on the floor down the stretch on a number of occasions. This is a testament to Ferguson’s basketball IQ. He seems to understand the offence well, and is positioned correctly on the floor the vast majority of he time. He is averaging just one turnover per game, an impressive feat for a player as young as he is, and coach Wright has been impressed.
“Terrance in four years will be a standout in the NBA,” Wright said recently.
“The things he learning and catching up on are things he needs to. He’s preparing himself to be the best he can be.”
For the majority, Ferguson’s shot selection has been smart and appropriate. With NBA scouts flying across the world to see him play, it would be incredibly tempting for Ferguson to perhaps take ill-advised shots to show what he can do from distance. And while he does take the odd ‘bad’ shot, overall Ferguson has played within the offence and hasn’t forced up his looks.
He has also seemingly bought into the system in Adelaide.
“We have a young team but Joey’s offensive system and defensive system work perfectly for us,” Ferguson said earlier this year.
The 36ers are running Ferguson’s direct defender through a multitude of screens to get him wide open looks on the perimeter. They quite often employ a floppy set in which Ferguson will move down into the key then receive a screen on the left and/or right side that he uses to briefly lose his defender and curl out to the 3-point line.
“I’ve been doing so much off the dribble lately,” Ferguson said on a recent appearance on ‘The Sidelines‘ podcast.
“Coming off of ball screens, reading the screen, reading the defence, coming off down screens, all that.”
Ferguson is also used quite frequently in after timeout plays (ATO’s). The goal of the play tends to be getting Ferguson the ball in the block against a smaller defender. Ferguson, who stands 6’7, is then able to rise over his opponent for a clean look at the rim.
On the defensive side of the ball Ferguson looks to be fully engaged. However, the strength mismatch between he and the grown men he is going up against has caused issues. Fighting through screens has been a struggle and he has been bumped off the ball a number of times. Despite this, Ferguson should develop into a great defender, as his committment to that side of the ball has been clear and he will certainly develop his strength more in the coming years.
One speed bump in Ferguson’s time in Australia was his one game suspension for striking Cairns forward Mark Worthington during a game in October. The strike, which happened when fighting for a rebound, was deemed to be medium impact and high contact. Ferguson plead guilty, served his one game suspension and has seemingly put the incident behind him.
Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress recently did an incredible job of breaking down both Ferguson’s strengths:
In a recent interview on ‘The Sidelines’ podcast with Evan Daniels, Terrance Ferguson said his decision to spurn the University of Arizona for the Adelaide 36ers was the best decision he ever made.
“It’s the best just because of development over here. I’m playing against grown men. I’m getting to prepare for the next level which is the NBA hopefully,” Ferguson said.
“Also it’s a opportunity to start taking care of my family a little earlier than expected.”
Both DraftExpress and NBADraft have Ferguson going pick 18 in their respective mock drafts, and Josh Gershon of Scout said on ‘The Sidelines’ podcast that prospects around the late lottery and lower first round have the most to gain from going overseas.
“The less info the scouts have on you, the better,” Gershon said.
“You can hurt yourself in scouts eyes playing so many college games by having the amount of people around you that can give bad information on you.”
“The scouts can’t gather that information, they certainly can’t watch you play as many games. You’re probably going to be drafted a little higher than you would have otherwise,” Gershon explained.
Ferguson is clearly enjoying his time in Australia. He has been able to take care of his family, learn and prepare for the NBA against grown men, potentially improve his draft stock, sign a sponsorship deal with Under Armour, work on his craft full-time and, experience something few people his age have ever done.
All of this would have been impossible in 2016 had Ferguson gone to Arizona as planned.
With all that in mind, it’s clear Ferguson’s choice to come to Australia for a season rather than play college basketball has been a gamble that has, and will, pay dividends.