(First posted at RealGM)
For as much thought as we put into overanalyzing the draft, we really don’t know anything.
Every year there is a player with jaw dropping physical talent and some skill that suggests he might have superstar potential but who also possesses an undeveloped area that might be a fatal flaw and cap such potential.
If that player can make the sort of substantial improvement that will push him into superstardom tends to depend on things we cannot predict; such as if he will have the work ethic necessary, even though he will be earning a lot money that will afford him other types of time-consuming opportunities, or if he is drafted by a team that knows how to teach him right or puts him in the best position to limit the effects of his weaknesses.
This year, that prospect seems to be Josh Jackson.
I’ve profiled the six-foot-eight combo forward for this website in January and added a note about his hot shooting streak on our look at the top 10 draft prospects whose teams qualified for the tournament but for the tl;dr crowd, here are the basics:
- Jackson is a very impressive athlete. The Kansas alumni has an explosive first step to blow by his man in isolation (especially attacking off grab-and-go’s on ball reversals or off a live dribble) and can bounce off the ground furiously off one foot to dunk with power. He’s also proven himself able to adjust his body in the air to score around rim protectors with reverses and up-and-under’s, finishing his 184 attempts within three feet at a 69% clip.
Defensively, Jackson has shown pretty good lateral quickness to guard smaller players out on an island. He is not yet polished enough to navigate over ball screens consistently, though, so he should add flexibility as a defender who can switch onto smaller players late in the shot clock rather than picking them up on a full possession-basis, at least for the immediate future.
Jackson has also shown the sort of strength needed to guard big men for stretches and might have a future spending most of his time on the floor as the biggest wing on four-out lineups, which is how he played a lot as at Kansas.
- Defending as a big, Jackson was required to rotate off the weak-side as the last line of defense and impressed with his recognition skills. Aside from showing explosiveness elevating off two feet to act as a shot blocking threat, Jackson also did little things that went unrecognized on the boxscore (like bumping the roll man, crowding the area near the basket and clogging driving lanes to prevent dribble drivers from getting to the rim) but that contributed a lot to Kansas ranking 24th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency.
On offense, his intelligence shined through his court vision. He can make thread the needle-type of passes in transition, passes across his body to the opposite end of the court out of playing with pace in the pick-and-roll, lob tosses in traffic, pitch-backs going downhill in the pick-and-pop and drop-offs to his center at the dunker’s spot penetrating the lane in isolation or off attacking a closeout – assisting on 18% of Kansas’s scores when he was on the floor.
- Jackson did most of his shot creation handling in transition and playing the second side or attacking closeouts in the half-court, and he was exceptional at it. Aside from his pure quickness, he also showed some polish in terms of change of direction and stop-and-start moves that consistently helped him reach the basket and put maximum pressure on the defense – taking 42.9% of his shots at the rim and averaging 6.4 foul shots per 40 minutes.
Aside from that, Jackson also contributed on offense by improving his spot up shooting as the season went on – eventually finishing the season nailing 37.8% of his 90 three-point attempts and averaging 1.33 points per possession on open shots.
However, Jackson’s catch-and-shoot shot still doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. He has a low release and is very mechanical, as rising up and the actual act of shooting look like two unconnected motions. The ball doesn’t come off easy, so Jackson passed up a lot of good spot-up looks, even as he was on fire the last couple of months – averaging only 3.3 three-point attempts per 40 minutes. The fact he shot 56.6% on 173 foul shots also suggests the hot streak that made his three-point percentage rate above average might be a mirage.
- Jackson’s superstar potential is dependent on his ability to create shots against a set defense. I think more highly of his handle than I did when I wrote about him in January but on the other hand I find his decision making a little more suspect. His 1.07-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is particularly concerning.
But the most troubling issue regards Jackson’s pull-up shooting. He is pretty terrible at it at this point of his development and it afforded opponents the opportunity to duck under screens when he handled in the pick-and-roll and sag off him when he isolated against a defender on a standstill stance. As a result, Jackson averaged just 0.54 points per possession in the pick-and-roll and 0.61 points per possession in isolation, which are remarkably poor figures for anyone, let alone someone who will be picked in the top five.
Draft Express ranks Jackson third in its top 100 and under that scenario, these are the five teams expected to draft him – according to Tankathon:
Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn, 17.8% chance at the third pick): Having drafted someone with a very similar profile at this exact same slot last year, it would be surprising if Boston picked Jackson. However, there might never be such a thing as too many wings given the way the game is played these days.
Adding Jackson to an already impressive collection that features Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown and Avery Bradley could give Brad Stevens a ton of lineup flexibility to go against Cleveland the next couple of years. The upside would be all on defense, though, as Jackson figures to be someone who will struggle to adjust to the NBA three-point line early in his career and won’t solve Boston’s long-standing issue of generating offense when Isaiah Thomas rests.
Nonetheless, the moment the Celtics draft Jackson, I expect people will be more interested in speculating him as a trade chip on a potential swap involving Jimmy Butler or Paul George rather than considering his role in the rotation.
Phoenix Suns (17.1%): Phoenix has a vacancy on the wing – with PJ Tucker gone and TJ Warren never really totally securing that spot alongside Devin Booker as his – and Jackson figures to be a welcomed addition to a defense that ranked 28th in scoring allowed per possession.
He wouldn’t be the best possible fit on offense alongside Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker right away, due to his inability to shoot, but Phoenix could be building a team with incredible switching-ability and versatility on defense if Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender develop in the long run.
Los Angeles Lakers (15.6%): If the Lakers maintain this group together for a little while longer, Jackson is probably the exact sort of piece they need. He could enjoy opportunities to work off a live dribble in Luke Walton’s motion-oriented offense and add someone with potential to develop into a difference-maker defender in the future – which this group currently lacks.
But much as is the case with the Celtics, the expectation is that as soon as Jackson is drafted, more attention will be paid as to whether he can serve as the centerpiece of a potential swap involving Paul George.
Philadelphia 76ers (13.3%): Jackson wouldn’t be a great immediate fit in Philadelphia. Even if they go through with the plan of having Ben Simmons play as a pure point guard (running offense and then defending the opposing lead ball handler on the other end), the minutes vacated at one of the combo-forward spots need to go to a low-usage floor spacer, which Jackson is not yet.
Orlando Magic (10.7%): Much like Boston, Orlando has also drafted a similar prospect a short while ago in Aaron Gordon. Like Gordon, Jackson’s best possible role is probably as the biggest wing on four-out lineups.
But if they learn how to shoot, at least to a point where it’s possible to accommodate them in the same lineup, having these two combo forwards together would offer exceptional flexibility on defense.
 According to hoop-math
 According to kenpom.com
 According to our stats database
 According to sports-reference
 According to research by Draft Express’ Mike Schmitz
 According to research by Draft Express’ Mike Schmitz
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