Josh Jackson is a rare non-shooting prospect worth selecting in the top-5 of the NBA draft.
Welcome back to Prospect Profiles, a series breaking down the games of the best NBA prospects ahead of the 2017 NBA Draft. In the first article of the series, I took a look at freshman point guard Markelle Fultz, who looks primed for stardom. Fultz can do it all on the court and is presently leading the pack to be the No. 1 pick. The race for No. 2, though, is wide open.
The next several players that will be profiled are currently right in that conversation to potentially be the second guy taken in New York in June. With that being said, here’s a deep dive into another exciting college freshman, Kansas’ Josh Jackson.
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Meet Josh Jackson, a 6-foot-8 wing from Detroit with a 6-foot-10 wingspan. He is potentially the best player in this draft class not named Markelle Fultz. Jackson is a monster of an athlete, known for big time dunks and acrobatic blocks, but he’s so much more.
Jackson is a rare wing that plays unbelievable defense, churns out an abundance of steals and blocks, and is also an unheralded playmaker for his position. Through 16 games, he is averaging 15.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game. And he’s doing all of this with a lot of his minutes coming as a small-ball power forward who can’t really shoot.
On the year Jackson is well under 30% from three and his jump shot is not pretty. That combined with the fact that he’s older than Brandon Ingram could affect his draft stock. However, as you’ll see, Jackson is so elite at nearly everything besides shooting and age (he’ll be 20 on draft night) that he might get drafted higher than the plethora of stars in this class who can shoot.
One thing that tends to stand out when evaluating prospects is what they cannot do. At this juncture shooting from downtown is not Jackson’s strength. I would not go as far to say has no hope to improve, but his first NBA team will have to re-work his shot. His release point is fairly low, which could affect his scoring when he faces NBA length on a nightly basis.
He’s shooting just 25.7 percent from three and also struggles from the line, shooting it at 56.6 percent. Free throw shooting is known to be a good indicator for future shooting prospects, so this is not encouraging. The odd thing about Jackson, though, is that he’s hit over 41 percent of his two-point jumpers.
Given the data we have and the ability to watch Jackson live, that number may be more of an outlier. Regardless, having a mid-range jumper in his repertoire only makes him harder to guard and it could become a very regular part of his game when he gets better and has to break down his defender one-on-one more.
But, even if the mid-range jumper is a reliable shot for him, his mechanics will have to change because he cannot attempt an entire NBA career with that jump shot. He really needs to become at least around league average from three. Should Jackson become an average or close to an average three-point shooter, he has superstar potential because he’s pretty much elite in every other aspect of his game already.
Given that Josh Jackson is a poor three-point shooter, most of his scoring comes within the three-point line with a decent amount of his points coming in transition. He has great footwork, has already showing flashes of a euro step, as well as fantastic athleticism that helps him finish on the break. In a recent game against Kansas State, the freshman went coast to coast using an advanced hesitation dribble to slide by an incoming defender. As mentioned above, Jackson is a legitimate NBA athlete who can throw it down with the best of them. When Jackson gets a full head of steam you best get out of the way.
But he is more than just an explosive, athletic wing that can fire up a crowd with tomahawk jams. What makes Jackson unique is his motor. What this translates to in his game is plenty of offensive rebounds, often leading to second chance points, as well as the ability to make terrific cuts off the ball.
At Kansas, Jackson is being used as a small-ball power forward, so he’s in better positions to grab boards than if he were playing his more natural small forward position. But, what you’ll notice from watching Jackson is that while he may be in position for more rebounds by playing power forward, his rebounding numbers are due to him outworking his defender night in and night out.
If you go on YouTube or catch Kansas’ next game, it’s impossible to miss all the second chance opportunities Jackson creates. This clip exhibits Jackson’s inner drive better than most. Right from securing the tip-off he is in attack mode. He showcases a lovely euro step, but more importantly stays with his shot and impressively scores off of his own miss. Jackson is a rare alpha dog who never stops working on both ends of the court. Fran Fraschilla of ESPN recently compared his work ethic and competitiveness to Kevin Garnett.
Now while Jackson’s motor and hunger for boards puts him in a class of his own, his ability to operate as a great off-ball cutter adds an extra dimension to his game. For someone who struggles stretching the floor, making great cuts will be necessary for Jackson at the next level until he can shoot more consistently.
Jackson’s timing here is impeccable. As soon as Devonte Graham comes out of his spin, the freshman is already bolting to the cup. Before the weak side help can turn around, the ball is into Jackson, who skies for an emphatic finish. Most college players would have stayed in the corner and waited for Graham to find them; not Jackson.
He not only cuts because he’s not the best three-point shooter, but because he’s intelligent enough to see the gap in the defense. Whether he develops a shot or not, Jackson has the potential to be an elite cutter in the NBA, perhaps as a poor man’s Dwyane Wade. That’s not to say he’s the next Flash, just that he has that potential as a cutter.
For someone like Jackson to be able to impact games without a great jump shot, he has to dominate below the three-point line. We’ve seen that he can score in transition, hit the glass and even hit some mid-range jumpers, but he’s also a cold-blooded killer when attacking the basket. On the year, Jackson is shooting 69.8 percent on shots at the rim.
Here, Jackson utilizes a good pump fake to drive baseline and is strong enough to absorb contact and still finish. He routinely does this at least once or twice again. His ability to finish is also paramount given that he’s such a poor free throw shooter. Jackson looks to have a wiry frame, but is already plenty strong and will only become a stronger finisher as he fills out physically.
Through 16 college games, Jackson has shown the ability to finish through contact and creatively at that. He’s known for big time dunks, but has also showcased pretty reverse layups and even signs of a floater and spin move. If he can consistently hit these kinds of shots, it will only open up his offensive game despite his shooting flaws.
On this first play, we see his nice touch on that floater in just his second game in college against Duke. But what’s more impressive is what sets up the floater. Jackson knows teams are going to peg him as a non-shooter or at least a shooter they can live with shooting, which means they give him space.
What he’s already excellent at, as we see in the second clip as well, is attacking the space he’s given. Be it to set up a floater, to attack the rim, like in that above finish against Davidson, or to drive and kick, Jackson does not just wait in the corner and hoist threes.
That exemplifies not only his intelligence to get better looks for himself and his teammates while playing to his strengths but also shows the potential of his devastating speed. Jackson is very difficult to stay in front of and Bill Self is even letting him run some pick and roll from time to time. Jackson has shown the ability to score out of a pick and having the ball in his hands opens up arguably the most dangerous part of his game: passing.
Jackson’s motor, footwork, finishing at the rim and high basketball IQ are all tremendous traits, but his passing is what makes him an elite prospect. On a team where he plays as a power forward next to two point guards, he still assists on nearly 20% of Kansas’ baskets when he’s on the floor. The NBA is trending more and more toward players being able to be multidimensional. With Jackson’s defense and passing, he has the potential to lock down power forwards, lead the break and maybe even play some point in his future.
In this first clip, we see how Jackson’s motor helps his passing. He attacks the middle of the zone and instantly swings the ball to the corner. Most guys would need a second or two to find their teammates. But what’s more impressive is that Jackson doesn’t stop and is able to secure his team’s miss. Yet, it doesn’t even end there, as Jackson whips it around to another teammate.
Now because of my time limit on GIFs, what you don’t see at the end of this play is that Jackson’s teammate missed the second shot. And guess who was there to clean it up? You guessed it: the freshman sensation. These are intangibles that Jackson has that you cannot teach and they make him extremely unique.
As mentioned above, Jackson also excels offensively in transition. While I showcased his strengths when it comes to scoring on the break, he can also find open teammates, furthering my projection for him to be able to operate as a fast break facilitator at the next level.
This may seem like a simple play, but like everything Jackson does it’s all about timing. He sucks in the entire defense and passes to Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk on the wing as the strong side defender was still backpedaling.
By waiting to pass as he sucked the defense in and then hitting his teammate right in the chest, he ensured that the shot would not really be contested. These are the types of smart reads that Jackson makes; the smallest of details that most players don’t pay attention to that go a long way.
So far we’ve seen how Jackson’s offensive strengths enable him to get easy looks for his teammates, but they far from solely define him as a passer. Jackson’s vision, along with his motor, is what his next NBA team will be buying high on and we’ve already gotten a sneak preview of what Jackson would look like as a secondary ball handler at the next level.
Here we see Kansas run a 4-5 pick and roll, similar to what we see in Cleveland between LeBron James and Tristan Thompson. Now, this isn’t a perfect play because Jackson’s defender falls down, but just look at how he zips that pass into his big man. Jackson’s vision in the half court, where there is less space than on the break or off of an offensive rebound, still makes a killing. That’s an elite point guard-caliber pass from Jackson.
He not only makes the smart and right reads as a passer but could be the best passer on his future NBA team. He’s that good. It’s encouraging to see him having the ball in his hands a lot at Kansas, despite not having great shooting numbers, because frankly when he does, he often looks like the Jayhawks’ best player. He’s a game changer who should be able to operate as a true playmaking wing at the next level and maybe even someone who can run his team’s offense down the road.
What stands out first and foremost are his stats, as Jackson gets plenty of both steals and blocks. On the year, he’ averaging two blocks and 2.2 steals per-40 minutes. This means he his causing turnovers and protecting the rim, which is rare for wings. It shows that he is an elite defensive wing on paper, and then when you watch him play he backs up what the numbers say and more.
Before getting to some film on his defensive capabilities, here’s a chart from the Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks that demonstrates how rare a defensive prospect Jackson is. Tjarks compared Jackson’s steal and block percentages to players from the last five years who were taken in the top-10 and who were at least 6-foot-6.
Jackson is in a class of his own, even now as the numbers have dipped to a combined 7.9 percent. There are many similarities between him and players like Justise Winslow and Stanley Johnson, players with strong defensive profiles but who had shooting shortcomings. Jackson still has a poor jumper, but neither Johnson nor Winslow had the combination of a high gear motor and incredible passing that Jackson does.
Now onto more film! Jackson is 6-foot-8 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, so he’s not exactly disrupting passing lanes with Giannis-like arms. His wingspan is solid, but what that means is most of his plays are an aggregation of aggression and timing. As we’ve gone over, Jackson is an incredibly smart player so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he has great instincts when it comes to getting deflections and jumping passing lanes.
Jackson starts this play well below the free throw line, sprints past a screen and gets his hand on a cross-court pass, leading to a big time dunk in transition. He has the ability to jump passing lanes, but his motor and fight are in full effect here. Jackson reads the play and has the drive to beat the ball to his man. This is what we can expect Jackson to do frequently for the rest of his career.
That’s not all Jackson excels at though, as he has also gotten his fair share of big time blocks. Similarly to fellow top prospect Markelle Fultz, Jackson has a nose for transition blocks. Transition blocks epitomize Jackson’s defensive game, as a lot of them come down to a desire to get back and impeccable timing.
Here against UNLV, Jackson was the third Jayhawk behind the play. He quickly blew by a lethargic teammate and handed out quite the rejection. What’s even more impressive is that he kept the ball in play, another sign of how intelligent he is. Many young players live for the highlight spikes out of bounds, but those plays give the opponent an extra possession. By keeping the ball in play, Jackson takes away a possession and potentially unleashes a fast break opportunity for his own team.
While Jackson has shown he can make outstanding plays when defending the fast break, he’s also shown that he has the makings of a very adept team-defender. He’s already shown strides of being able to switch positions and guard just about anyone when defending the pick and roll. In addition to that, he has potential to be an extraordinary help-defender.
Again we see Jackson’s timing, as he breaks from the weak side to reject this shot in a big rivalry game against a very good Kansas State squad. He waits long enough to not allow a pass to his man and then pounces on the chance to block the shot. Jackson has a long career of blocking shots in his future, which is extremely valuable for a wing.
And his blocks are not just restricted to transition swats and weak side rejections, as he blocked a three-point attempt in a game against Davidson earlier this year. Jackson can do it all on the defensive end and what makes him perhaps most impressive on that end is how he can completely shut down his opponent one-on-one.
This isn’t some ordinary sequence against an ordinary opponent. This is Jackson locking up Duke’s Luke Kennard all the way from above the key down into the paint. Here we see his speed, strength and length all together. Plays like this are a huge reason to bet on Jackson, even if he never develops a shot. This kid could legitimately become one of the best defenders in the NBA.
If Josh Jackson had a jumper, he might have a case to be the No. 1 pick in 2017. Between his athleticism, defense, passing and intelligence, he checks off nearly every box you’d want in a prospect. He’s going to be a two-way threat, and I would bet he puts in the time to become at least somewhat of a threat from three. Should Jackson develop a jumper, he’s destined for stardom, and he might be already.
One thing that stands out is that Jackson matches up very well with the other wings in his draft class. While he is a tad below Jonathan Isaac and Jayson Tatum when it comes to a combination of block and steal percentage, neither is in his wheelhouse with assist percentage. Jackson is generating just about as many blocks and steals as Isaac, but assisting on far more possessions, making him a more well-rounded and impactful player. Jackson’s combination of 7.9%, of blocks and steals, is even above Indiana’s defensive stalwart OG Anunoby, who spots a ridiculous wingspan that well surpasses seven feet.
Aside from Fultz, Jackson has arguably the best all-around game of any prospect. In fact, he has a higher Box Plus-Minus than Fultz, Tatum, Isaac and Anunoby. If I’m an NBA general manager, especially one without a massive hole at the point guard position, I’d have Jackson high on my draft board. He plays with toughness and has a tremedous feel for the game. In my opinion, for the time being, he’s the second best prospect in this draft. By the end of this college basketball season, there may even be a considerable gap after he and Fultz.
Edited by Vincent Choy.
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