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Justin Jackson is on a mission to prove he’s a solid small forward

The Kings’ second year forward is playing the best basketball of his young career over the last month.

Kimani Okearah

Sacramento Kings small forward Justin Jackson has improved his play in recent weeks as an offensive spark and reliable defender off the bench.

In the four games played so far in January, Jackson is averaging 11.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1 steal, while averaging 52 percent from three and 50 percent from the field in 26 minutes. For the season he is shooting 37.7% from three, a marked improvement from his 30.8% mark as a rookie.

The second-year forward followed up his 28-point breakout game against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday with 11 points (44 percent from the field and 50 percent from three), 4 rebounds and 2 assists against the Orlando Magic on Monday night.

Following the game, Jackson spoke to Sactown Royalty about his improved play.

How good has it felt over these last couple of weeks? It seems like you have got into a bit of a groove on the floor and a little more comfortable.

Yeah, it definitely feels good. Just going out there and just playing like I know how to play – try to be a solid small forward, that’s my whole goal.

What has the coaching staff been stressing to you this season?

A lot of it has kind of been defensively, certain ways to guard certain guys and things like that, but honestly, it’s just been kind of encouraging and lifting me up. There’s not one thing that they really have been hammering home to me, just being real positive with me.

Throughout the season it seems like Coach Joerger has had a lot of confidence in you, using you regularly whether it is a lot of minutes, or a little amount of minutes, but he’s still getting you into games on a regular basis. Is it nice to have that sort of confidence from your coach and do you feel that?

Yeah, for sure. I think if you ask everybody what helps them a lot I think it is knowing that the guys around them have confidence in them. So, for coach to have confidence in me to put me out there in whatever situations and feel like I’ll be able to help the team, I for sure feel that and that motivates me and allows me to go out there and play pretty free.

Outside of your shooting improving, you have made an effort to crash the basket, hit floaters and move without the ball. Is that something you had to learn how to do at the NBA level in terms of picking the right spots?

Yeah, there is always certain spots that you go to, certain spots that you will get shots within our offense and things like that. So, it’s just kind of getting comfortable with where you know you might get a shot and just being ready whenever you do get it.

Coach talked about how the whole team cut to the basket well tonight – you guys had 64 points in the paint to their 24. How much does it help you guys as a team when you are attacking the basket like that?

It’s huge. It opens everything else up for us. The threes that everybody loves to shoot, we’re a little bit more open whenever we get them because everybody is so worried about us going to the basket, or scoring in the paint.

Defensively, as one of the only true small forwards on this roster, you have to sometimes take on the responsibility of guarding some of the elite forwards in the league. What do you try to defensively to slow some of those guys down?

Honestly, a lot of times you just hope they miss [laughs]. For me, I just try to make everything hard, whether it’s being more physical, trying to get guys a little bit off the spot that they really want to get to, or just trying to make the catch hard so that maybe they exert a little bit more energy trying to get the ball instead of trying to make a move. Just little things, trying to make all their touches a little bit different so that they can’t just be as comfortable as they usually are.

Like any player in the NBA, I am sure you hear the negativity out there on social media and everything, have you been able to block that out this season?

Yeah, I mean I don’t have it on my phone. It’s not necessarily because I don’t want to see all that, but you waste a lot of time on social media anyway. But of course, we’re all humans, we all see the negativity, ‘the Sacramento Kings need a better small forward,’ and things like that, but that is why I say whenever I go out there and play I just try to show that I’m a sufficient enough small forward.

Do you feel like you have done that recently?

I feel good with what I’ve done, so I’ll let everybody else judge that.