3D wing, Tall Passer

Josh Jackson Scouting Report

CONTEXT

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:

(Check the rest of the post at RealGM)

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Pure Passer, Shot Creator, Tall Passer

Lonzo Ball Scouting Report

CONTEXT

Lonzo Ball is the one player in this draft class, other than Markelle Fultz, who has already shown potential to become a franchise-altering foundation piece. The passing magician led UCLA, a team that had lost 17 of its 32 games the previous year, to 31 wins in 36 matches and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen this season.

Driven by Ball’s natural inclination to speed up the pace of the game and ability to create three-point shots for others without necessarily needing to get deep into the lane to collapse the defense, the Bruins ranked second in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency – according to Ken Pomeroy.

Though it should be mentioned he had the fortune of playing with a good collection of talent around him, as stretch four TJ Leaf and alley oop finisher Ike Anigbogu will be drafted in the first round, pick-and-pop threat Thomas Welsh will be signed to one of those preseason deals and shooters Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford will get D-League looks, Ball was nonetheless fairly considered the catalyst of UCLA’s resurgence as a national power.

He alleviated some concerns regarding his ability to control an offense and make it run on his rhythm, create for others in the half-court within a more structured system and also make shots from long range, despite his unorthodox mechanics.

But Ball, as is the case with most 19-year-olds, still has areas to improve in terms of getting to the basket against a set defense, hitting the eventual stop-and-pop jumper and making the sort of difference on defense that his physical profile (six-foot-six height, six-foot-nine wingspan – according to Draft Express) suggests he should be able to.

(Check the rest of the post at RealGM)

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3D Point Guard, Pure Passer, Shot Creator, Tall Passer

Frank Ntilikina Scouting Report

(First posted at RealGM)

CONTEXT

Frank Ntilikina is the top European prospect eligible for the 2017 class. Draft Express currently ranks him 10th in its top 100 and it could be argued that’s a bit low considering the 18-year-old will be one of the youngest players in the class if he chooses to declare for it (only turning 19 in July) and the fact that no other lottery prospect has accumulated the level of experience Ntilikina already has.

The six-foot-five combo guard has logged 758 minutes of pro ball for French side Strasbourg over the past two years and this season has earned a role as a legit rotation player who has averaged 15 minutes per game in 29 appearances in the French Pro A and the Basketball Champions League.

Both competitions Strasbourg plays in aren’t of the highest quality, ranking a good deal below the best domestic and continental leagues in Europe – which are the Spanish ACB and the EuroLeague. Nonetheless, these are fully developed grown men Ntilikina is competing against, which is tougher than playing Washington State or Wake Forest.

That said, Ntilikina is not as well thought of as he is now because of what he’s done as a pro. Playing in an environment where wins and losses cost people money and jobs means prospects are rarely given much opportunity to expand their skill-sets during games. Such is the case as Ntilikina has filled a role as an off-guard for Strasbourg, mostly spacing the floor and rarely given shot creation responsibility, as he’s finished just 18.8% of his team’s possessions with a shot, free throw or turnover when he’s been on the floor – according to our stats’ database.

But Ntilikina’s performances against his age group, including leading the French junior National Team to the title of the 2016 FIBA U18 European Championships in December, are what have caught people’s attention.

As a part of national teams at the youth level, Ntilikina has shown he can act as a volume shot creator, capable of getting his team shots on an every-possession basis, which combined with his height, makes him an elite prospect, even in a class as strong as this 2017 one is perceived to be.

SHOT CREATION

Though his size offers positional versatility, Ntilikina is viewed as a legit lead ball handler based on what he’s done against his age peers and has impressed with how sophisticated a shot creator he is for a teenager.

He has very good understanding of how to maneuver his defender around a ball-screen, a nice feel for whether using or declining the pick gives him a better advantage for getting downhill and patience to play with pace waiting for driving lanes to clear against hedges, hard shows and half-traps.

Ntilikina has excellent court vision on the move, proving himself able to make passes across his body to the opposite end of the court. He’s also able to see over the average point guard-size defender when that defender manages to prevent him from turning the corner.

According to our stats database, Ntilikina assisted on 40.3% of France’s scores when he was on the floor in the 2016 U18 FIBA European Championships. His 1.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in this event wasn’t as pleasing but he posted a 3.3 ratio in this same tournament the year before, so it’s still unclear to which extent Ntilikina is turnover prone.

Creating for himself, Ntilikina has proven to be a little more limited without the aid of a screen. He does have a tight handle and has shown in the past a diverse arsenal of moves to get wherever he wants on the court. But he doesn’t have an explosive first step and has struggled to blow by big men on switches.

SCORING

Ntilikina can get around some defenders with craft and sudden change of direction but has struggled to get all the way to the basket regularly, instead relying a lot on his floater to finish over length from the in-between area. He has great touch on these finishes but it’s tough to make a living with this shot as your top way to score within close range, which is his case right now.

Ntilikina has flashed some explosiveness elevating out of one foot in traffic here and there in the past but doesn’t often do that. He also doesn’t use his length for extended finishes around the basket enough at this point of his development and doesn’t yet have a big enough frame to draw contact, as he averaged just 3.7 foul shots per 40 in the U18 Euros – which wasn’t an impressive mark in the context of his 24% usage rate.

Ntilikina has improved as a pull-up shooter, though. His low release still demands he gets a good deal of separation to get the ball out comfortably but he is a lot more capable of burning opponents who opt to go under the ball-screen and have the big man only go up to the foul line against him, even flashing the ability to make these shots from beyond the FIBA three-point line.

And as a spot-up shooter, Ntilikina has taken a substantial step forward. He runs some side pick-and-roll at Strasbourg but for the most part he is not relied on to create against a set defense, so his role is as a floor spacer. And in that role, Ntilikina has excelled.

His low release, while not necessarily textbook, has not limited him as an open-shot shooter, as he’s nailed 38.2% of his 55 three-point shots this season. His trigger is quicker than it was last season and Ntilikina has even shown some dynamism, coming off pindown screens from time to time. That’s not enough to suggest he has room to develop into an Isaiah Thomas-level of shooter who can sprint from one side of the floor to the other around screens but it’s definitely enough to envision him working as a screener on small-small pick-and-rolls Matthew Dellavedova-style.

One thing Ntilikina still needs to develop is a side-step to escape closeouts, though. He often dribbles in to take a one-dribble two-pointer.

DEFENSE

Ntilikina is expected to develop into an impact defender given his size, length and quickness. But he’s only halfway there for now.

Strasbourg mostly plays him as a weak-side defender and Ntilikina has shown good awareness off the ball, attentive to his responsibilities rotating inside to bump the roll man diving to the basket and using his six-foot-11 wingspan to make plays in the passing, averaging 1.7 steals per 40 minutes.

He hasn’t shown enough leaping ability to make plays at the basket and his defensive rebounding hasn’t translated to the pro level yet, though.

For the French junior national team, Ntilikina played mostly as an on-ball defender, with mixed results. He does go over screens and has the lateral quickness to stay attached to his man in side pick-and-rolls but hasn’t shown much urgency tracking his man back when he gets downhill, exposing the defense behind him.

Ntilikina has great potential to unlock as a pick-and-roll defender, using his length to deflect passes and contest shots from behind. But for that to happen, he needs to hustle back to his man quicker.

Ntilikina might also have potential to pick up bigger players on switches some day in the distant future but that’s definitely not the case yet as he lacks strength and toughness to get physical with them fronting the post and boxing out.

But Ntilikina truly shined in individual defense among his age peers. He gets in a stance and uses his lateral quickness to stay in front. When they tried to take him one-on-one, these European teenagers really struggled getting a good shot off against his length. And though he lacks strength to contain dribble penetration through contact, Ntilikina uses his reach to pickpocket opposing point guards, averaging 3.2 steals per 40 minutes at the 2016 U18 European Championships, which led to him posting the fourth lowest defending rating in that tournament.

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

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Shot Creator, Stretch Big, Tall Passer

Josh Jackson Scouting Report

(First posted at RealGM.)

CONTEXT

Josh Jackson started the season as the top prospect in Chad Ford’s top 100 but has fallen off the conversation for the number one pick since then. The six-foot-eight wing has a very appealing combination of size and intelligence but hasn’t yet developed an outside shot, which limits his star potential, especially considering he’s older than the average freshman, as he’s about to turn 20 in February.

It speaks volumes to how impressive his athletic ability and skill set are that Jackson remains highly thought of despite this substantial cause for concern, though. Ford currently ranks him third in his top 100, as shooting really is the one thing preventing Jackson from being considered the perfect player for this versatility-driven era of basketball.

ATHLETICISM

He is not a perfect athlete but a pretty great one who effectively translates his athletic ability into production all over the floor.

Jackson can elevate off two feet to play above the rim as a target for lobs on weak-side cuts or filling the lane in transition and going up for some thundering putback dunks or tip-ins. He has strength to maintain his balance through contact off the bounce and can adjust his body in the air to finish around rim protectors.

Defensively, Jackson has no trouble getting low in a stance and impresses with his lateral quickness – as he’s proven himself able to pick up smaller players on switches and staying in front of them in isolation. That said, he is probably not suited for being assigned such guards on a full time basis because he struggles navigating over ball-screens due to his larger frame and would be manipulated in the pick-and-roll with some ease.

Jackson is a much more impactful asset defending bigger players, though. Kansas has deployed him as their second biggest player on the floor almost full time since the beginning of conference play and he can be a real difference maker in this role. Aside from the fact this is working out great so far at the college level, Jackson had already been effective as a big in smaller lineups in high school and with the United States Junior National Team, as I profiled prior to the season.

Jackson has the strength to hold up from a physical-standpoint. He’s proven not to be any sort of liability defending the post and boxing out matching up with true big men – collecting 17.3% of opponents’ misses in his 166 minutes of Big 12 play, according to basketball-reference.

But where he’s impressed the most has been as a rim protector. Jackson’s eight-foot-three standing reach isn’t that big an asset on its own but he has pretty great explosiveness bouncing off the ground off one foot coming off the weak-side in help defense and even off two feet in front of the basket, as he’s averaged 2.1 blocks per 40 minutes.

BASKETBALL IQ

His athletic prowess is impressive but Jackson’s awareness shouldn’t be downplayed. He’s often in position to make those plays at the basket because he’s very attentive to his rotation responsibilities, not just affecting the game by going up to get some blocks but also by doing the little things that go unnoticed in 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 at all.

Eventually, if Jackson grows even bigger in three or four years, he might be a viable option to play center for stretches of a game. He doesn’t have the length Draymond Green has but could conceivably play bigger than his height in the same manner due to his leaping ability and recognition skills, being able to make plays at the basket or walling off dribble penetration to prevent the need for them in the first place.

There are doubts Jackson will grow much bigger than what he is now, though, given his body hasn’t changed much over the last two years and he doesn’t have the sort of broad shoulders that indicate his frame could fill out some more.

As a pure wing, Jackson has also shown pretty great instincts generating some turnovers. He doesn’t have reach to pick the pockets of the opposing wings defending on the ball and can’t shut down passing lanes on length alone, so the plays he’s making are based on his anticipation skills, which have earned him 2.2 steals per 40 minutes on average.

On offense, Jackson has shown exceptional court vision on the move. 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. According to our stats database, Jackson has assisted on 19% of Kansas’ scores when he’s been on the floor this season.

SKILL LEVEL

Jackson could develop into someone who runs offense against a set defense on a full time basis if he improves his handle, which is not very tight at this point of his development, as he’s averaged 3.3 turnovers per 40 minutes.

Aside from the passing skills, Jackson has a couple dribble moves (crossover, between the legs) to change direction with some suddenness and shake his defender off balance to create an advantage to go by him or get separation. According to hoop-math, 43.2% of his field goal attempts have come at the basket and he’s averaged 7.3 foul shots per 40 minutes.

Jackson has shown great touch on non-dunk finishes and flashed a floater to finish from the in-between area, converting his shots at the rim at a 69.6% clip – including 28 unassisted, non-putback makes that average out to 2.2 unassisted makes per 40 minutes.

But Jackson’s scoring is badly limited by his inability to shoot. Opponents can go under screens against him in the pick-and-roll, sag off him a few feet in isolation and not guard him when he’s spotting up on the weakside. He’s missed 76.3% of his 38 three-point attempts, 61.4% of his 83 two-point jumpers and 47% of his foul shots, adding up a below average .529 true shooting percentage.

His mechanics will probably need to be reworked and his confidence will need to be worked, as he’s averaged just three three-point shots per 40 minutes and consistently passed up open looks over the last month.

That inability to make shots is tangibly damaging. Despite the fact he’s a great passer and close range scorer, Jackson has the worst offensive rating on the team among rotation players, according to our stats database.

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

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