Justin Aaron Jackson was perceived as a potential mid-second round pick by this time last year. He disappointed as a shooter in his first couple of seasons at North Carolina but possesses the sort of height and length that permits teams to envision him as an eventual 3D wing in the pros. Nonetheless, Jackson opted to return for his junior year after doing poorly at the Combine.
And that decision has paid off nicely. The just-turned 22-year-old not only improved his three-point rate and the overall efficiency of his spot-up gunning but also developed some versatility to his shot and enjoyed a bigger role in last season’s team – with his usage rate rising up from 21% in 2015-16 to 25.7% in 2016-17, thanks to the departures of Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson.
The six-foot-eight sharpshooter won ACC player of the year, North Carolina avenged the previous year’s heartbreaking loss to Villanova with a victory over Gonzaga in the national championship game and he is now perceived as a borderline lottery pick – as Draft Express currently ranks him 13th in its top 100.
Thanks to the improvements in his footwork, elevation and mechanics, Jackson’s proven himself an excellent open-shot shooter spacing the floor away from the ball, as he nailed 37% of his 284 three-point shots (at a clip of 8.9 attempts per 40 minutes) and averaged 1.15 points per possession on catch-and-shoot jumpers over the first 31 games last season, adding value with his mere existence on the court.
Jackson also impressed with his intelligence working the second side, constantly relocating off drives or offensive rebounds to get himself open and cutting hard to create a second passing lane when a defender successfully denied him a catch or a teammate missed him in the first window.
But he is so highly rated right now because he’s also shown to be the most valuable type of shooter, that chess piece who can be moved around the floor and stress the defense with his movement. Jackson sprints hard around staggered screens, plants, adjusts his feet in a pinch, rises up with great balance and has a quick release to let it fly before the contest can be effective.
And if the defender can negotiate screens well enough to keep up with him and stay close on the catch, Jackson can take an escape dribble to readjust and then launch a one-dribble pull-up over him.
North Carolina put his shooting to use in the post here and there, trying to take advantage of a particular matchup, and Jackson proved himself able to make the eventual turnaround jumper over a smaller defender but nothing substantially impressive came out of it often. There is no diversity to his post game and he didn’t do so well that opponents rushed to double team him there and leave someone uncovered.
Most of Jackson’s shot creation came on straight line drives when he curled around pindown screens. He did not get all the way to the basket often — as just 22.1% of his attempts were at the rim, but converted stop-and-pop mid-range pull-ups and underhanded toss-ups from the in-between area over length reasonably well — as he nailed his 180 two-point jumpers at a 39.4% clip, with just a third of them assisted.
Jackson also flashed some decent passing on the move when he attacked closeouts, reading collapsing defenses well off dribble penetration — assisting on 15.8% of North Carolina’s scores when he was on the floor and turning it over on just 9.5% of his possessions last season.
However, Jackson didn’t do much of anything against a set defense. He has enough of a handle to get a pull-up three-pointer off a middle high pick-and-roll if he gets a good screen and the big man drops back and can run a side pick-and-roll against a bent defense to keep the offense moving but for the most part can’t assist with the shot creation process from the top when he is on the ball.
He doesn’t have an explosive first step, doesn’t have a lot of quickness to shake his defender side-to-side, hasn’t yet developed his handle to deal with pressure or manipulate his way into wherever he wants to get on the floor and doesn’t have a lot of strength in his 201-pound frame to maintain his balance through contact.
When evaluating players with Jackson’s height, one point of emphasis is trying to notice if he is versatile enough to defend bigger players on four-out lineups. Due to his lack of strength, Jackson does not figure to check that box in the immediate future.
But Jackson has shown he can offer flexibility on defense with his ability to guard smaller players, not just picking them up midway through the shot clock on switches but also cross-matching on ball handlers for entire possessions.
His thin frame should be a weakness against bulkier wings but has helped him navigate staggered screens trailing shooters as they sprint from one side of the court to the other and navigating over ball screens at the point of attack in order to beat them to the spot on the other side, stay in front and contest shots with his eight-foot-eight standing reach, though he could be more effective if he got into the pull-up shooter’s personal space some more.
If Jackson can translate that sort of on-ball defense to the pros is vital because he doesn’t offer a lot of value as a weak-side defender. Despite his six-foot-11 wingspan, Jackson didn’t use his length to make plays in the passing lanes or act as a shot blocking threat rotating to the basket area in help defense – with marginal contributions in steals and blocks.
He was also a below average for someone his size, collecting 9.3% of opponents’ misses in his 3,430 minutes on the floor during his three seasons at North Carolina.
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