Grading anything as subjective as an entire NBA season is always a tough gig. Different people have different goals for an individual as well as different techniques for assessing a seven month long journey. To keep things moderately simple, I will be using the expectations we had heading into the season for each player as the barometer for how well their season went. These grades won’t necessarily tell us where they rank among their fellow NBA players or what their career trajectory may be, but rather it will help assess where we stand with that prospect today compared to where we stood in October.
Player: Justin Jackson
Reasoning: Justin Jackson struggled to consistently make an impact during his first year in the pros. As a 22 year-old rookie, many believed he was ready to contribute to our rebuilding franchise, but the former U.N.C. star never found his groove. His reputation as a shooter fell flat, and while there were glimpses of an NBA contributor at times, his season was one of unmet expectations.
Areas of Strength
A bit ironically, although he was cast as an outside threat coming out of college, Jackson’s true strength showed itself inside the arc. His contributions from the three-point line were anything but impressive; however, he was one of the best players on the team, and in some instances in the NBA, from different spots around the floor.
He had the fourth highest field goal percentage (75.9%) in the restricted area among all qualified NBA players. His success rate was much better than any of our guards on the squad, as Frank Mason hit just 43% of those same shots, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Garrett Temple hit 58%, and De’Aaron Fox nailed only 59% in that same range.
Jackson was also one of the most effective players on the team extending from the paint to the midrange:
|In the Paint (non-restricted)||27||61||44%||3rd|
Our lottery pick also demonstrated a firm understanding of the principles of basketball, as he rarely repeated mistakes. He may not have LeBron James’ godlike feel for the game, but he’s no Ben McLemore either.
Justin led the team in offensive efficiency when cutting, scoring 65 points on 51 possessions for an above-average 1.27 points per possession. He posted the lowest turnover percentage on the team between all rotational players, but also had the lowest usage rate as well. He didn’t control the ball a ton, but when he did, he didn’t throw it away needlessly. He was often outmatched in size when guarding opposing wings and power forwards, but held his own as a rookie, allowing opponents to shoot just 1.5% better than their average. That number isn’t great in and of itself, but it does prove that Jackson was able to use his savvy to make up for a lack of athleticism, strength, and experience.
He showed himself to be smart player who can hit a range of shots from floaters to layups to midrange jumpers. If he can unlock his three-point shooting over the next couple of seasons, Jackson can be a core part of the rotation moving forward.
Areas of Opportunity
Justin Jackson’s biggest weakness in his rookie season was one of his purported strengths: knocking down the long ball. After a dismal shooting sophomore year, Jackson received feedback in the pre-draft process that it would behoove him to return to school and work on some of his flaws as a player, and he did just that. His three-point shooting increased from 29% in his second year to 37% in his third.
That jump, while increasing Jackon’s draft day value, likely created an unhealthy expectation for his first year in the NBA. In reality, our young wing has yet to prove that he’s a reliable shooter from deep:
Year by Year
Junior vs Totals
|All Other Years||122||401||30%|
One year of slightly above-average shooting is heavily overshadowed by three rather poor ones.
Another concern for Jackson’s marksmanship arises when contemplating the three-point percentage of his one good season. The average percentage in the NBA is 36.2%. Justin shot just 0.8% better from a shorter distance in an easier league on the best team in that league. The likelihood of that number translating to the NBA was always far from certain.
Another indictment of Jackson’s future as a three-point sniper shows itself in the types of shots he misses. When attempting an open three-pointer (defender 4-6 feet away), Justin ranked #217 of 231 qualified players in the NBA, knocking down just 24% of those attempts. On very wide-open three-point field goals (defender 6+ feet away), he sunk only 34% of his shots, ranking #198 out of 246 qualified players.
Possibly the scariest part about Jackson’s shooting is that 178 out of his 185 three-point field goals were considered open to wide-open and he couldn’t knock them down. One has to wonder if opposing teams were instructed to leave Jackson open since he wasn’t going to hit his outside shots anyway. It was certainly better to give up an open look to our young wing than to almost anyone else on the team.
The other area of disappointment in Jackson’s rookie season is in his overall impact. He started 41 games, but that title of starter was given more as a way to find minutes for our first year forward, as well as out of positional desperation, rather than actual reward. As the only true small forward on the team, Justin regularly disappeared for large chunks of time and often submitted an almost empty box score at the end of the game.
He played in 68 games this season and scored 3 or fewer points in 21 of those contests, about a third of the time. Out of those 21 games, he played at least 12 minutes fifteen times. It’s not as though the opportunity wasn’t given. His assist and rebounding numbers also aren’t encouraging on either a per-game basis (1.1 assists and 2.8 rebounds) or on a per-36 minute scale (1.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds). There were explosions on offense and some nice rebounding games, but the rarity of those contributions is mildly concerning.
Final Thoughts: Justin Jackson’s rookie year was disappointing. For a player who had three years of college experience under his belt, and who was taken with a lottery pick, he simply didn’t have the impact that was needed. His understanding of the fundamentals were frequently on display, but his lack of athleticism, size, and outside shooting ability often nullified his intangibles.
If Jackson can get his shooting on track, he can become a solid role player for the Kings moving forward. It’s no coincidence that 9 out of his top 10 scoring games saw him hit at least two shots from beyond the arc. His efforts on the defensive end, while not always successful, were certainly commendable, and his skill set on that side of the floor should improve with time and experience.
There were glimpses of a rotational player at different points throughout the year, and if Jackson can push his outside shooting to better than league average, he can become an important contributor on the roster moving forward.