NBA Position: SF
General Information: 20-year-old Freshman, played for Kansas. From Southfield, MI.
Measurables: 6’7.75", 203 lbs, 6’9.75” wingspan, 8’3” standing reach.
2016-17 Season Statistics: 16.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.1 BPG, 2.8 TOPG (35 games played, 30.8 minutes a contest) – 51.3% FG, 56.6% FT, 37.81% 3P
Josh Jackson mixes multi-versatile offensive talent plus high-impact defensive ability with a 6’8” body and explosive athleticism. Aside from a worrying hitch in his jumpshot, he’s got a well-rounded skill set and can make a big impact even when his shot’s not falling due to his playmaking ability. In terms of on-the-court talent, Jackson arguably has the second highest ceiling in the class, but he also had two serious off-the-court incidents in the last year that will adjust how teams view him.
Jackson is a jack-of-all-trades player with no elite skill at this point, but his closest elite skill is his playmaking ability. The demand for playmakers has never been greater, and Jackson’s 18.2% assist rate (3.9 per 40 minutes) highlighted great individual court awareness and unselfish play. This allows Jackson to be an impact player even in games where his shot isn’t falling; he’s never going to completely fade into the woodwork, even on his worst nights.
Jackson isn’t a truly elite physical prospect, but he’s a damn good one, and he showed it in every fast break. He was effective at getting to the rim and scoring at a high clip (69% field goal at the rim with over 40% of those unassisted, highlighting his cutting ability). It was impossible for most college wings to keep up with him in transition, and his ability to play both ends of the break will made him a danger in the NBA. He’s a dynamic dunker with plenty of vertical pop and smoothness to his game, and if the rest of his game catches up to his explosiveness, no one will never consider his tools a weakness unless he’s matching up with LeBron, Giannis, Kawhi, or Durant.
As with 90% of players in the modern NBA, a ton about his offensive potential depends on how his jumpshot – complete with hitch and lower-release point – translates at the NBA. He’s not a fluid shooter by any means, and little about his motion is consistent. That 37.8% three point percentage looks nice, and while that improved over the course of the season (28 for 43 in his final 16 games), his ugly 56% free throw numbers signal he might be in for a regression. He’s much better when he can move and bounce before shooting (38% field goal, 65th percentile per Synergy Sports) than on no-dribble shots (34%, 50th percentile).
Jackson’s success on defense has become somewhat overhyped; he’s a very solid defensive prospect, but he wasn’t elite at the college level and doesn’t project to be one at the NBA. He’s got the quickness to switch on some guards and the height to handle some forwards, and the quick-twitch athleticism to contain many. He finished with a 3.1% steal rate and a 3.5% block rate, both very impressive numbers (the Ringer did a solid table on how this compares to other recent lotto wings) His motor was nearly omnipresent, but he also was too willing to help out on defense and left too many opponents open. He’s also exceptionally foul prone due to his competitiveness, finishing with 3.9 fouls per game.
Jackson’s lack of NBA size is a bigger concern on defense than it was on offense. He currently lacks the muscle for the position, and he’ll struggle off the bat against bigger NBA bodies who will punish him inside and will stretch his quickness tools to their limits in ways college never did. Compared to Jonathan Isaac (6’10.5” size, 9’0 standing reach) and OG Anunoby (7’2, 8’11), his 6’8 size and 8’3 reach aren’t great. A ton about his defense depends on his physical maturation, being able to add weight to his frame, and continuing to be an impact vertical and twitch-quick athlete.
Jackson had two serious events in college – a misdemeanor charge for property damage after he damaged a woman’s car and verbally abused her outside a Lawrence nightclub in December, and a hit-and-run in February. Both serious events, and the former is inexcusable in any context. A lot will depend on how the teams, with full information on the events and the ability to interview Jackson about them, view these.
On the court, Jackson is an intensely competitive player, and aside from Frank Mason Jr., Jackson was the emotional leader for Kansas. This is both Jackson’s second-biggest strength (behind his playmaking), and one of his weaknesses; he’s going to make an impact on the court and affect the game in many positive ways, but he’s also going to struggle with fouls. He’s going to get beaten on defense because he was too ready for help-D. And he’s going to have off-nights when he gets rattled; when Jackson got nailed to the bench early against Oregon, he never mentally recovered and Kansas was pretty much doomed from that point. How players and their physical/emotional motors mature on the NBA level is impossible to predict, but despite the flaws it brings, teams will love Jackson’s competitive edge above most anything else.
De’Aaron Fox is well-loved for his gym rat attitude, but Jackson is the same way. He made serious strides over the course of the year, including bumping up those shooting numbers. He flashed a two-way scorer game in his biggest one-on-one matchup (Myles Bridges and Michigan State) that, while still depending on screens and step-backs, highlights plenty of reasons for optimism that he can figure it out on offense.
Fit with Sacramento:
If Jackson doesn’t come in for a workout/a formal interview with the Kings, his off-the-court events are a much bigger concern. Teams should have the full information on Jackson where we do not.
But if B.J. Armstrong (Jackson’s agent)’s comments to CSN’s James Ham on the Kings (“If other people see problems [with Sacramento], we see enormous opportunity”) are anything to go off, the team will hopefully have a chance to talk to Jackson face to face and get the full chance to cover his background. In the absence of that information, any opinions about Jackson’s spot on a big board – or his inclusion on one – are understandable.
Jackson plays a position of need and adds something the Kings desperately need – individual playmaker. Jackson can handle the ball more than any of the Kings youngsters, and even assuming the Kings add a point guard, having a secondary-passer with Jackson’s vision would open up so much of the offense; more off-the-ball options for Buddy, more Willie fast breaks, more space for Skal to operate.
Additional shooters are necessity with Jackson, and who he gets paired up with at the lead-guard spot will be a critical part of maximizing his potential as an individual offensive producer. He really benefited playing next to a shooting point guard who didn’t NEED the ball to be able to impact the offense (see Mason, Frank)… both of which are skills Frank Ntilikina offers. It will be important, especially early in his career, for his point guard to be able to take back over possession control when defenses fight to close off Jackson’s passing lanes and he starts making mistakes.
Jackson doesn’t project as the guaranteed elite stopper the Kings might want at the position, but the potential defensive versatility in Jackson, Skal, and Cauley-Stein (with Georgios Papagiannis in for muscle) paring up with a clever defensive coach in Dave Joeger… yes, please. You’re not getting a better defensive rotation out of the class besides MAYBE selecting Jonathan Isaac, and Jackson isn’t a positional redundancy while Isaac somewhat is.
When considering his on-court skills alone, Jackson is arguable the safest of the 2nd tier players to be an impact starter at the NBA level. His big skill risks are less of a concern to me than Ball (predictable individual scorer), Fox (worse shooting numbers at a position with much bigger need for the talent), or Tatum (more polished scorer, less anything-else). Jack-of-all trades type players with A- NBA tools most certainly CAN end up adding those elite skills.