Frank Jackson was not expected to have a meaningful role right away. But injuries to Grayson Allen, Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III and Marques Bolden created a vacancy in the rotation through most of Duke’s non-conference schedule. And in the absence of the higher profile freshmen and the team’s top returning player for a game or two, the 18-year-old point guard (who turns 19 in May) played fairly well in a small role off the bench.
Jackson has not been given enough opportunity to show he might be more than just a minutes-eater and because of that, it seems unlikely he would declare for this year’s draft already. Draft Express currently ranks him 62nd in its top 100. But by producing ahead of expectations, on a team contending for the national championship, Jackson has proven he’s someone worth keeping track of moving forward.
Jackson does not get downhill running middle high pick-and-roll against a set defense regularly but he’s flashed a very appealing skill-set operating around ball-screens on more than a few instances late in the shot block. He’s shown pretty good feel for reading the defenders involved in the two-man game in terms of whether using or declining the ball-screen creates him the best advantage.
Jackson has an explosive first step and can turn the corner, though he’s yet to show if he can play with pace on slower developing pick-and-rolls.
Jackson has also not shown to be a particularly prolific passer on the move at this point of his development – posting an unimpressive 10.8% assist-rate, according to basketball-reference – but has flashed some ability to make a bounce pass in a tight window to a big diving down the lane and make a pass across his body to the opposite end of the court.
Despite not being very explosive elevating out of one foot in traffic, he’s proven himself to be a legit scoring threat within close range – taking more than a third of his attempts at the rim and converting them at a 68.3% clip, according to hoop-math. That said, he’s yet to develop some craft using his six-foot-four, 208-pound frame to draw more contact, as he’s earned just 3.4 fouls shots per 40 minutes so far.
Jackson still needs to develop a pull-up jump-shot as well, to prevent defenders from going under screens regularly against him, as he’s missed 20 of his 29 mid-range shots this season.
In isolation, Jackson can use his explosiveness to get by his man on speed and has a crossover to shake him side-to-side as well. And there are no complaints about his handle, as he’s averaged fewer than two turnovers per 40 minutes.
This is all very encouraging for the future, though. In the present, Jackson’s role is as a weak-side floor spacer or an attacker on catch-and-go’s off dribble-handoffs, posting only a 20.6% usage rate.
43.7% of his attempts have come from long range, almost all of them of the catch-and-shoot variety, as 19 of his 22 three-point makes have been assisted. He’s nailed 40% of his 55 such shots. His release is getting quicker as the season progresses and he’s improving on the details, flashing the ability to escape a closeout and hit one-dribble pull-ups.
But Jackson is only an open-shot shooter at this point of his development, not yet showing anything in terms of dynamism coming off staggered screens or sprinting to the ball and launching stop-and-pop long bombs off dribble-handoffs like Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard often do, let alone take pull-up three-pointers off the pick-and-roll.
His shooting has been a pleasant surprise but what has earned the confidence of the coaching staff so soon is his individual defense.
He has an advanced physical profile for someone his age but matches his athletic gifts with discipline and effort. Jackson has lateral quickness to stay in front and uses his body to contain dribble penetration through contact in isolation.
Due to Matt Jones’ presence and the nature of Duke’s switching defense, I did not notice Jackson navigating ball-screens a whole lot but he projects as an asset in these instances as well. His six-foot-six wingspan is a weakness for him as a wing defender but becomes a strength for him against smaller players, allowing him to contest shots and deflect passes tracking dribble drivers from behind.
As a weak-side defender, he works hard to closeout and stay in front and is attentive to his help responsibilities rotating inside to crowd the area close to the basket. That said, his tangible contributions through blocks, steals and defensive rebounds are marginal at best, which helps explain why he ranks last on the team among rotation players in defensive rating.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara