Michigan State big man Jaren Jackson Jr. has long been atop teams 2018 NBA draft boards. He was a five-star prospect coming out of Indianapolis and was largely considered a lottery pick before he even set foot on campus.
He elected to attend Michigan State and play for an iconic head coach, Tom Izzo. Izzo, known for his rugged style and attention to detail on the defensive end, clearly made an impact on Jackson. Most notably, on the less glamorous end of the floor.
After all, Jackson does have excellent physical tools. Standing 6’11, with a 7 foot 4-inch wingspan, and being a fluid athlete, it almost seems like a no-brainer he’d be an impactful defender, right?
Not exactly. Contemporaries Marvin Bagley, and to a lesser extent DeAndre Ayton proved that not to be the case this season. While those two struggled to find their way defensively, Jackson shined.
It was apparent early that he has a natural talent for defending the rim and the concept of team defense. His quick-twitch athleticism, paired with his go-go gadget arms make for an excellent deterrent for guards probing the lane.
While relying on statistics to measure defensive impact is a good way to be mislead, Jackson had some eye-popping numbers.
For example, he averaged 3.0 blocks per game. Impressive, sure. But not game breaking.
However, he only was playing 22 minutes per contest. Take that into account, and you come to realize that he would have the highest blocks per minute rate of any player in the country, equating to 5.5 blocks per 40 minutes.
As we stated earlier though, numbers don’t mean much without context, so here are some visual examples:
While rim protection has long been considered the most important defensive skill for big men, the ability to defend in space is closing that gap.
And this is where Jackson really separates himself from the pack.
There is more space on the floor in this current era of basketball. Teams are ditching bigger, interior oriented players and opting for quicker, more skilled perimeter guys.
While Jackson maintains traditional big man size and ability to protect the rim, his coordination and ability to navigate in space and guard smaller/quicker players is what makes him so unique.
Just check this sequence out:
In this play, he rotates to tag the roll man, closes out to his man when the ball is swung to him, then closes out the play by helping on a drive, closing back out to his man and contesting with length.
This is the appeal in a guy like Jaren Jackson. He can anchor a defense in the same vein that guys like Draymond Green, Clint Capela, and Al Horford can with his switchable, Swiss Army knife defensive skill set.
And in Keeping with the theme of this era of basketball, another valuable trait Jackson has is his ability to stretch the floor.
It’s an unorthodox release, for sure. In fact, it’s kind of ugly. But, the numbers don’t lie. Jackson held firm as a 39% three point marksman over the course of the season, on about 3 attempts per.
The shooting mechanics could potentially be problematic though. There likely going to completely eradicate his ability to shoot on the move, relegating him to just stationary jump shooting, which will cap some of his offensive upside.
There was legit concern as to how well the shot would translate out to the NBA three point line as well. The further away from the basket the shooter is, the more each mechanical flaw is magnified.
But, according to the Stepian’s shot chart feature, Jackson took 58 NBA range threes and made an impressive 44% of them.
However, in my time watching his tape I’m not sure I recall seeing him take an NBA three. Take that for what it’s worth.
See the shot for yourself:
The clip above also gives you a glimpse into some of the other things Jackson can do offensively. He posted up switches effectively, put the ball on the floor, and made some nice passes.
But make no mistake, he is still raw as an offensive player and creator. He’s so young, and frankly has more length and athleticism than he knows what to do with. But the touch and skill flashed in the clip are innate and gives you hope his offensive game can be molded into something nice.
In conclusion, Jaren Jackson Jr. Is the prototypical “modern NBA” big man prospect. His defensive excellence and versatility fuels his value, while he also provides necessary floor spacing from the center position.
He’s still raw and unpolished as a player. He commits some stupid fouls, could serve to get stronger, and needs to become more efficient in his movement. But he is one of the youngest players in the class and has shown glimpses of upside that could be tapped into to maximize two way value.
Player comparison: Myles Turner/Prime Serge Ibaka.
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