(First posted at Upside & Motor.)
Josh Jackson enters the season as the top-ranked prospect in the 2017 draft, according to ESPN’s Chad Ford.
There is some skepticism of that status due to his age. At 19 years old with a birthday in February, he’s barely three months younger than Devin Booker, who is already about to enter his second year as a pro while Jackson is about to enter his first year in college.
But there’s some merit to the idea. Whether Bill Self is the right coach to unlock his potential and give him the proper opportunity to look worthy of being picked number one overall is a different matter, but at the high school level and as a part of the United States Junior National Team, Jackson has shown to be the sort of versatile player NBA teams are looking for in this Era of basketball.
Standing at six-foot-eight with a 203-pound frame, Jackson has prototype size for a wing.
As a weak-side defender, he lacks length (average six-foot-nine wingspan for someone who is six-foot-eight) to be a disrupting force playing the passing lanes for steals and deflections but is attentive to his help-defensive responsibilities rotating inside, not just to take up space and crowd driving lanes but also elevating out of two feet explosively to play above the rim as a shot blocker.
Jackson struggles navigating traffic chasing shooters around staggered screens but has tremendous closing speed to recover and run them off the three-point line, though at times he sells out to do so and gives up an easy escape dribble.
But what truly stands out is his ability to guard bigger and smaller players.
In order to defend point guards, Jackson can bend his knees to get lower in a stance, has lateral quickness to keep pace in isolation and strength to contain dribble penetration through contact. He struggles navigating through ball-screens as well, often getting stuck on picks, but can recover to contest shots and passes from behind as a trailer.
Jackson impresses the most guarding true big men, though. He is scrappy enough to front them in the post, strong enough to hold ground when he can’t prevent a post entry and tough enough to box them out on the glass. The United States Junior National Team often played him as a power forward at the 2015 FIBA World Championships U19 and Prolific Prep had no issue playing him at center at times.
And Jackson has proven his skills as a big man defender against high profile competition too; successfully fronting seven-footers Thon Maker in a game Prolific Prep visited the Athlete Institute in Canada and DeAndre Ayton at the Nike Hoop Summit, boxing out six-foot-10, 225-pounder Konstantinos Mitoglou in the semifinal of the Worlds U19 against Greece and holding ground in the post against Marko Arapovic in the title game of that tournament.
On the other end, Prolific Prep had Jackson running offense from time to time. Nothing advanced, mostly simple high middle and side pick-and-rolls, but on those, he flashed some appealing court vision creating good looks for others.
His handle is not that tight and he’s at times reckless trying to thread needle through a crowded passing lane, making him rather turnover prone.
But Jackson has proven able to play with pace around a ball-screen, stop on a dime and make crosscourt passes across his body to shooters spot-up on the weak-side or high-low type of passes to a big man diving to the basket diagonally out of side pick-and-roll. He can also scan the defense from the top of the key, spot cutters diving to the basket and deliver alley-oops.
Jackson is just as adept at creating a good look for himself, though scoring is a different matter. He can dribble side-to-side to navigate through traffic and has a spin move to maneuver his way to the rim but lacks burst to attack length at the basket with a lot of explosiveness often and his touch on non-dunk finishes against rim protection is only so-so.
Jackson is also a lousy pull-up shooter at this point of his development. He’s able to get separation and elevate with good rhythm but doesn’t have much touch on his jumper and his release looks almost like a push-up shot at times.
That’s also the case on his jumpers out of catch-and-shoot opportunities. Jackson can make an open shot from the corner, as his six-for-12 three-point shooting at the Worlds U19 attest. But it doesn’t seem that sort of percentage would hold up over a longer sample size.
He’s a bit mechanical, as elevating and releasing look like almost two separate motions. Jackson turns his body in the air like most good shooters do but doesn’t have much touch in his delivery, with his release also looking like a push-up shot off the catch as well.
He has a good first step to get by most of his opponents attacking a closeout or off a live dribble and has strength to maintain his balance through contact against those who can stay attached to his hip.
Jackson is a very willing passer on the move against the defense collapsing to his dribble drives and does have explosiveness elevating out of one foot unimpeded on a straight-line path.
He’s flashed some ability to play above the rim as a target for lobs filling the lanes in transition but hasn’t shown to be a particularly instinctive cutter in the half-court yet.
His most impactful skill, as of now, off the ball is his offensive rebounding. Jackson has second-jump-ability to fight for tip-ins, 50-50 balls or pursue the ball and then rise up again for putback attempts without needing to gather himself. According to RealGM, he collected 13.4% of the United States’ misses when he was on the floor at the Worlds U19.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor and at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara