(First posted at RealGM.)
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.
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.
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.
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