Less than a week away from the 2018 NBA Draft, the top five picks are still totally up for debate. But whichever team selects Jaren Jackson Jr. will get the best rookie in the league in the coming season.
Jackson is most likely going to either the Atlanta Hawks at No. 3, Memphis Grizzlies at No. 4 or Dallas Mavericks at No. 5. None of them are anywhere near the playoffs, which will make things a little harder, but Jackson is a good enough player to take a big step in the NBA no matter how bad the team is around him.
The pre-draft buildup has been kind to Jackson, who has used all of his workouts to wow teams. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, teams around the league are working to trade up into the top four picks just for Jackson.
Sources: Jaren Jackson Jr., had a monster workout for Suns on Sunday, and continues to be the long-term prospect those outside Top 4 are working to move up and select in draft. Offers to Sacramento, Atlanta and Memphis may become increasingly aggressive between now and June 21.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 12, 2018
What separates Jackson from the other top draft prospects is also what seems to be keeping him from the top few spots – his offensive game and his lack of playing time.
But if anything, that is more an argument against Tom Izzo than Jackson (I know, blasphemous, but it’s true). Izzo is undoubtedly a great coach, but he just didn’t know what to do with Jackson. The big man never fit into the offense, and Izzo never changed things to better fit the best player on the court. Instead, Jackson spent key moments on the bench.
Imagine a world where Jackson was allowed to play more than an average of 22 minutes a game. Imagine having a team of top level coaches developing Jackson’s raw talent.
This isn’t meant to be a big knock on MSU. The college game asks for different things than the NBA. Izzo needed to win as many games as he could with Jackson before he left, and didn’t have the time to build a team around him. That’s exactly what Jackson will get at the next level.
Jackson was never able to develop in an offense, but with all that being said, he’s still 6-11 who can hit from deep and has the athletic ability to be a showstopper at the rim. And more than that, he has the pure basketball skill to be a threat to score from all over the court.
When properly set up, Jackson roasted opposing defenses who would put a big man on him at the perimeter, driving by with the ease of a point guard. And when switched with a wing or a guard, the big-man showed off his 40 percent three-point percentage.
“You can see in the conference finals,” Jackson said, according to SB Nation’s Ricky O’Donnell. “There’s a lot of spacing. You got to be able to handle the ball. You can’t be a liability on defense or offense. Just me being out there, I feel like I can space the floor and help get my teammates involved.”
That’s a 6-11 center talking about spacing the floor and getting his teammates involved. How scary can Jackson eventually be on offense?
But that’s not going to be what makes him the best rookie in this draft class next season. Every one of the top prospects can score, but none of them can play defense like Jackson.
Jackson’s 7-foot-5-inch wingspan gives him the reach to be a true rim protector, and while he’s not as long as Mo Bamba, anyone who has watched the two play knows Jackson more than makes up for the difference with his agility. Jackson can guard at the perimeter and stay with an opponent on an attempted drive.
Jaren Jackson Jr. is a better defensive player than Mo Bamba.— Brad Rowland (@BTRowland) June 11, 2018
That is all.
More than that, Jackson has the defensive wherewithal to know when to help off his defender, work through switches and force teams to be aware of where he is at all times. Jackson had an amazing 106 blocks last season, absolutely destroying the previous MSU all-time single-season blocks record. In fact, Jackson’s one season was enough to tie him for sixth in career blocked shots for the Spartans.
His elite defense combined with his special offensive skill set put Jackson in a rare category. From O’Donnell:
There have been 10 players since 1992 to post a block rate greater than 14 percent and a true shooting percentage better than 63 percent. Those other nine players combined to hit two three-pointers. Jackson hit 38 by himself as a freshman at MSU, making them at a 40-percent clip. Over the same period, only five players have ever made at least 35 threes and blocked more than 100 shots. Jackson is on that list, as well.
There is a lot of talent in this NBA Draft. But without a transcendent player like an Anthony Davis, Jackson can take stand out as the biggest star of the year.
And then we can all laugh at the teams who passed on the MSU star.