With the draft on Thursday the excitement is rising. The Mavericks, who own the fifth pick, are scouting through various prospects. One prospect that offers a lot of intrigue is Michigan State center Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jackson Jr. may possess the highest two-way potential in this draft, and he also has the perfect skill set for the modern NBA. He has a perfect combination of physical tools, youth and potential, which gives scouts more than enough reason to drool.
The Michigan State Spartan is one of the most physically gifted players in this draft, as well as one of the most skilled big man in a draft full of skilled big men. His size, length, strength and overall athleticism are top notch, and his frame is still filling out.
His defense is already near-elite and is still getting better. What really sets JJJ apart, is his polished offense and potential. He has a funky, yet great shot with range out to the three-point line. He has also shown potential as a post scorer and driving the to the rim. Jackson Jr. has a lot going for him, the question is, can he put it together?
Jaren Jackson Jr.
University: Michigan State
Statistics: 10.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.1 APG, 3.0 BPG
Slash line: 51.3 FG%, 39.6 3PT%, 79.7 FT%
Strengths: offensive skill set, elite defense
It all starts with the physical tools. Jackson Jr. has the size to play both front court positions with his size and length. At 6’11” and 236 pounds, he can handle the five, and with his wingspan, he is able to block and alter shots.
He is also an outstanding athlete. He has the strength to handle centers and the quickness to handle wings in the perimeter. That combined with his length, makes him the perfect big to defend in the modern NBA. Those physical tools helped him convert a great 65.4 percent at the rim at Michigan State.
His athletic ability also translates very well in transition, where he can fill the lanes and score at a high rate in transition opportunities. While at Michigan State he was a big factor on second-chance points, converting an excellent 77.8% of his putback attempts.
Offensive skill set
Jackson Jr. also has an excellent, albeit a bit raw, skill set. One of of the things that Jackson has proven is that that he can shoot the three with consistency, converting on 39.7 percent of his attempts.
He has a funky, but consistent, looking shot that has worked for him so far. His shot does not just work behind the arc, it was deadly inside he arc as well. Jackson nailed a nice 40 percent of his two-point shots. He also is a menace at the rim, and is not just because of his tools.
Jackson Jr. was assisted on 47.1 percent of his attempts at the rim last season. Let that number sink in. Jackson has an excellent post repertoire, which, in combination with his athleticism, are extremely difficult to defend. He was able to score at will inside with his post skills, and that is an excellent foundation for a young prospect, especially at 18 years old.
Even though his offense is a big reason for scout drool over him, what really makes JJJ so intriguing is his defense. Jackson Jr. is the the best individual defender in the draft, and he and Mohamed Bamba have the highest defensive ceilings as well. His height and wingspan allow him to patrol the paint with massive success, and was one of the best shot blockers in the country last season.
Jackson Jr. was seventh in the nation in blocks per game (3.0), fifth in total blocks (106) and second in block percentage (14.3). His length, quickness, timing and instincts are all elite, and even though his wingspan won’t get any longer, his timing and instincts can improve with discipline and fundamentals.
He is also an excellent perimeter defender, guarding the pick-and-roll with ease, as well using his great length and quick feet to engulf opposing guards. He is more than capable to edge and recover to block shots and can block perimeter shots as well.
Besides his aforementioned second-ranked 14.3 block percentage, Jackson Jr. also ranked second in defensive plus-minus with 10.3, and fourth on defensive rating with 86.4. Those are more than enough to warrant his status as an elite defender and prospect.
Weaknesses: rawness, lack of discipline on defense, rebounding
As great as he was on the offensive end, Jackson Jr. still lacks a degree of consistency with his game. He has shown the ability to attack off the bounce in a straight line and attack closeouts, yet that is not a consistent weapon.
Despite having a versatile post repertoire, there is no go-to move in it. He also shows problems of creating shots for teammates, averaging just 1.1 assist per game, and also averaging 1.8 turnovers per game.
On defense, Jackson lacks discipline. Even if he blocked 3.0 in less than 25 minutes per game, he also fouled 3.2 times, which hinders his impact greatly. His rebounding is also concerning. For someone of his size, 5.8 rebounds per game is a very low mark.
Jackson simply does not have a good nose for the ball and his motor wavers a lot in this situation. How much is his defense worth if he can’t finish the play by rebounding? How much is his 77 percent on putbacks worth if he can’t be consistent on the offensive board? Jackson needs to be able to rebound at a high level if he wants to be a star.
For this draft Jackson Jr. is a mid-risk high-reward player. He possess the talent to be a two-way superstar in the league, with his length, athleticism, skill set and youth. He might be the best fit for the Mavs, on any team in fact.
However, Jackson is not a complete product. If Jackson improves his discipline and learn the finer points of the game, he could become a big, shot-blocking version of Kawhi Leonard. His potential is as high as DeAndre Ayton, and if he falls to Dallas, there should be little hesitation.