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30Q: Did the Kings miscast Justin Jackson last season?

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The rookie was utilized almost exclusively as a shooter, not necessarily his skill set.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Jackson’s rookie campaign was not a resounding success, filled with more disappointments than accomplishments, more missed shots than made, and more consternation than confidence. As the third-oldest player selected in the first round, Jackson was expected to be more NBA-ready than his counterparts, but he was unable to tap into that experience to make a positive impact. Our young wing never found his outside shot, and while the majority of the responsibility for his poor play rests on Justin’s shoulders, some fault can also be found in the way in which he was utilized during his first year in the league.

Jackson was touted as a knockdown shooter coming out of college, which was part of the reason he was drafted by a team bereft of quality small forwards, but that designation as a sniper from deep was always an exaggeration. In his junior season, he did manage to sink 37% of his attempts, but that was from the shorter college line and still barely above NBA average. Furthermore, Justin only hit 29% of his three-pointers in his sophomore year and 30% in his rookie season. He was never an elite shooter.

Despite the ordinariness of Jackson’s collegiate numbers, the Kings pigeonholed him as a Kyle Korver-esque player, a shooter first, second, and third, with everything else coming after, rather than allowing his own offensive talents to evolve and speak for themselves. His shot distribution follows an alarming Dave Joerger trend: too few shots from a player’s best areas and far too many from their worst.

A quick glance at the graph above reveals a fundamental flaw in the way Jackson was deployed on the offensive end of the floor last season. The vertical placement of each orb shows how far above or below Justin placed from league averages, while the size of each sphere demonstrates the frequency of that particular shot type. Almost half of his shots came from the three-point line, while another considerable portion originated in the midrange, both areas in which he was well below-average. In total, more than 65% of Jackson’s attempts came from his weak spots, with only 19% coming from his area of most success, around the rim. And while it’s true that every player’s percentage grows as they move closer to the restricted area, Jackson was absolutely deadly in that realm. He made 76% of his shots at the basket, placing him fourth among all qualified NBA players.

Conversely, he jacked up three-pointers with abandon, although that was within the design of the offense, as more than 44% of his field goal attempts generated from beyond the arc, a ratio that was higher than 70% of the league. His three-point rate fell within the range of elite-level shooters, even though he was one of the least accurate players from deep:

Volume 3-point Shooters

Player % of FGA 3PT 3PT %
Player % of FGA 3PT 3PT %
Damian Lillard 44.5% 36%
Rodney Hood 44.3% 38%
Justin Jackson 44.2% 30%
Klay Thompson 44.1% 44%
Kemba Walker 44.1% 38%

Jackson’s percentages look poor surrounded by those particular shooters, and the numbers don’t get any more encouraging in contrast to the rest of the field, either. His 30% conversion rate from beyond the arc placed him fifth-worst among the 101 players with a three-point rate of at least 44%. He was a poor outside shooter cast as a great one: a recipe ripe for disaster.

Of course, determining what Jackson didn’t do well is only half of the battle, and the less important half at that. Acknowledging that our young wing was assigned an incorrect role on the offensive side of the ball opens up the conversation surrounding his positive offensive traits – and they do exist. Justin’s biggest triumphs always found their genesis in purposeful movement: either as a cutter finding a seam in the defense or as a slasher attacking the lane.

One aspect of Jackson’s skillset that sneaked by most Kings fans last year was his ability to handle the ball. He won’t be slotted in at point guard anytime soon, but J.J. has enough control over the rock to drive into the key without being stripped by opposing players. Last season, he drove the ball 88 times, a little more than once per game, and turned the ball over exactly one time. The lack of turnovers aren’t the result of a timid player either, as Jackson’s drives resulted in a points percentage (number of points per drive, not the percentage of times the ball was scored), of 77.3%, surpassing all other Kings players, and more impressively 12th best in the NBA.

It comes as no surprise then that Justin was at his most efficient when he dribbled before shooting the ball, recording an eFG% of 55.6% after two dribbles, ranking in the 76th percentile, compared to just 48.6% as a spot-up shooter, dropping all the way to the 41st percentile: additional evidence that he was miscast as solely a menace from deep. His deadliest weapon after a shot fake and drive to the lane was the odd little floater that he deployed successfully in his collegiate career, and again during his rookie campaign.

Although he didn’t take the shot as often as one might expect, or as frequently as he should have, Jackson managed to nail 26/45 (58%) of his flips at the rim, an impressive conversion rate for a tough-to-defend shot that’s fallen out of favor with the majority of the league. Increasing the number of those attempts next season will undoubtedly increase his overall effectiveness when trying to score.

An area of Justin’s strength that did translate from college to the NBA was his intelligent decision-making on and off of the ball. His penchant for sneaking behind out of position defenders resulted in numerous easy buckets, a rare feat for the 2018 Kings.

As a cutter last season, J.J. scored 1.27 points per possession and ended the year with an eFG% of 66%, landing him in the 53rd percentile. Those numbers aren’t particularly stunning, but they are still far superior to that of his three-point shooting, as he slotted 213th out of 238 players who attempted at least 100 shots from deep. 90% of the league was better than Jackson. Converting his offensive game from putrid to simply average would go a long way toward converting him to a quality NBA player.

It’s no secret that the easiest way for Justin Jackson to become a positive member of the rotation is for him to hit his outside shots during his sophomore season. The majority of modern day wings are at least average from beyond the arc, and those that aren’t are elite in other areas: DeMar DeRozan in the midrange, Andre Roberson as a defender, and Giannis Antetokounmpo in every other basketball skill. The responsibility to get into the gym and lock-in his range from deep lays solely at his feet; however, the Kings can also do a much better job of adjusting Jackson’s role on the offensive end of the floor. It’s quite possible that lowering the frequency of his attempts from deep, while expanding his role as a cutter and slasher, will increase his confidence, his accuracy from beyond the arc, and his overall impact on the court.