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Jaren Jackson Jr. – 6’11″ Center, Michigan State University, 18 Years Old
Jackson Jr. enters the NBA Draft as a surefire lottery pick. As a freshman on Michigan State last year, Jackson Jr. broke out to the surprise of many, helping the Spartans finish the season 31-6, and he has shot up mock draft boards since.
Jackson Jr. put up 10.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks per game while shooting 51% from the floor, 40% from three point range, and 80% from the free throw line last season. He did this in 21.8 minutes per game. Many Spartans fans felt it was a mistake by Coach Tom Izzo to not give him more playing time, especially in their two tournament games, when he played only 15 and 18 minutes. Jackson Jr. hopes his impressive ability to track shots defensively along with his athleticism and jump shot will be enough to earn him a top five selection on June 21.
With the ability to be a shot changer on defense and space the floor on offense, Jackson Jr. is a prototypical big man in today’s NBA. His defensive prowess was off the charts last year as he blocked or altered many shots near the rim, while his efficient shooting percentages along with a respectable post game make him a difficult cover.
Jackson Jr. brings a certain level of intimidation factor for driving players, especially as he showed in college he was capable of piling up six, seven or even eight blocks on nights when he plays more. What’s striking about these numbers is he didn’t camp down in the paint but often guarded perimeter players. In doing so, he’s proven he has a high motor to move around the outside, fighting through screens and chasing players off the three-point line, while having solid defensive instincts to be close enough in help defense to challenge shots at the rim.
With a 40% clip from downtown and 80% rate from the line, Jackson Jr. is a very capable shooter. While he did not shoot at the volume of an elite shooter (2.7 3PA per game), he should be viewed as excellent for his position. The speed of the NBA game with bigger players and a further-back 3-point line will not allow him to shoot at these field goal clips right away, but he has showed a lot of promise with the potential to keep improving.
The main downside to Jackson Jr.as a prospect is his physicality. He may try to leap over people for rebounds rather than battling for position beforehand, and as such his rebound stats for his size/ position are a little low at 5.8 per game. Defensively, as he is seeking out blocked shots he goes for a lot of shot fakes and racks up fouls, a contributor of him missing out on minutes in college. He will have to be more disciplined on closing out NBA shooters.
On offense, he is proficient at using his size against smaller players in the post, but he does not seek out contact and can be content to turn over the defender and shoot when inside rather than backing down or making a couple of moves approaching to the basket. On his outside shots, he has a somewhat low release point that may have trouble translating to the quicker NBA close-outs. In terms of playmaking, he doesn’t yet have the ability to create his own shot off the dribble and he hasn’t shown he can be an effective passer, which he will have to find some semblance of if he’s operating from the NBA perimeter.
The new pace-and- space offense in the NBA fits Jackson Jr. well. He has all the tools to develop into a very good big man for a contender one day: great athleticism, imposing and active defensive presence, and ability to space the floor with his shooting ability.
He won’t be a dynamic scorer, but the Midwest native could well become a dependable starting four or five in the NBA. In a league that has seen teams pick on slow-footed defenders in the pick-and-roll at bordering on relentless levels, Jackson Jr.’s high motor and pedigree for already guarding perimeter players gives him a leg up on his peers.
NBA Player Comparison
Jackson Jr. is an intriguing prospect who coming into the league has the “unicorn” capabilities of a near seven-footer with a nice outside stroke and a lofty ceiling that should draw comparisons to Joel Embiid and Kristaps Porzingis. While he doesn’t have the dominant post game of Embiid or the pinpoint shooting accuracy of Porzingis, he will certainly be drafted with these players’ recent success in mind and has the tools to be even better than them at the defensive end.
Think of the Michigan State product as an athletic presence who can create a wall for opponents going into the paint as well match up problems. if his shot can translate to the pros. He is a young, talented player who if he can continue to develop his skills and work hard, especially on the glass, can be dangerous for years to come.
Look for Jackson Jr. to go in the top five or even top three on draft night, and be sure to stay updated with our complete coverage of the 2018 NBA Draft!