De’Aaron Fox has the hype. Harry Giles has the upside. Bogdan Bogdanovic has the Eurobasket highlight reel. But there’s a very real chance that the best rookie on the Sacramento Kings will be Justin Jackson. The quiet forward from North Carolina won’t enter this season with the most fan fare or the highest expectations, and he may not end up the best rookie beyond this year, but in year one there is nobody set up for success like Jackson.
Jackson demonstrated in Summer League was he’s capable of, showing off not just a three point shot, but a mid range game, floaters, and moves at the rim.
Jackson won’t be asked to carry the Kings, but the Kings will need him to be active on offense. He’s a capable scorer who doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective. That’s a perfect complement to the rest of the Kings roster, and could lead Jackson to a long, productive NBA career. We’ve often complained with Willie Cauley-Stein or Georgios Papagiannis that they’d be so much more valuable if they understood their strengths and didn’t try to be more that what they are. Jackson is capable of being a serious offensive weapon, but he seems to understand he doesn’t need to be a ball dominant wing taking guys off the dribble every play.
The question mark with Jackson’s game is his defense. We know Dave Joerger values defense, and we know he won’t be gifting minutes to anyone who doesn’t deserve them. Can Jackson’s defense be good enough that it doesn’t keep him from being on the floor? Jackson is 6’8” with a 6’11” wingspan, so he’s definitely big enough to hang with NBA forwards. But he’s not an elite athlete. He’ll need to be smart, and he’ll need to fit into the team defense. That’s something we’ve seen longtime vets struggle with, so it’s a big ask for a rookie.
In the end, the defense may not even matter. The Kings have no perfect solution at small forward. Garrett Temple, Malachi Richardson, or Bogdan Bogdanovic could all conceivably see minutes at the three, but they all lack ideal size and will have defensive issues of their own. Vince Carter can play small forward, but isn’t likely to see a huge workload this season unless he happens to be feeling good on a particular night.
Jackson will have every opportunity to win minutes in the starting lineup, a unique luxury on this Kings team. The rest is up to him.