Getting to the Rim
Josh Jackson possesses a level of athleticism and physical superiority that would be a welcome addition to a team that’s used its last two 1st Round picks on D’Angelo Russell & Brandon Ingram, both of whom are lacking in this respect. This is most evident in transition, where he’s fantastic at both filling a lane or cleaning up as the trailer. When he is able to collect his feet and get on the runway, he can tear the rim off of the backboard.
In half court situations, he’s capable of overwhelming an overmatched defender with his physical advantages rather than always having to rely on technical expertise. He frequently uses the motion of the offense — often in Weave situations at Kansas — to gain a step on his defender. From there his physical gifts kick in on straight line drives, where bigs are too slow to stay with him, and guards are too small to not get bumped off of their spot.
When he needs to change direction, he has a crisp crossover dribble that he’s capable of using left-to-right or right-to-left with near equal proficiency, which is an encouraging attribute for a wing, although he’s much better at finishing with his right hand than his left.
Despite the beautiful inside out + crossover combo above, the vast majority of Jackson’s ventures to the rim are straight line drives that don’t involve changes of direction, which can separate a decent scorer off of the dribble from an excellent one. If Jackson’s initial penetration is thwarted he will generally shoot a pull-up jumper while going right, with limited success, or a step-back jumper while going left, with a bit more accuracy. That type of shot is a win for the defense.
Over the course of the 7 games I watched while evaluating Jackson, I didn’t see him utilize any jab steps or other triple threat moves to create a shot opportunity, nor did I see him as the ball handler on more than a couple of pick & rolls. To be fair, Kansas doesn’t really put him in the position to run either of those actions. He is most frequently used as the screener on pick & pops and in the aforementioned Weave scenarios. Neither situation lends itself to triple threat opportunities, and unlike most NBA teams, Kansas’ Weave doesn’t usually end in a ball screen, at least not at Jackson’s position. These are areas I would heavily emphasize in any pre-draft workout with him. You can be a high-caliber scorer in the NBA without a deadly 3-point jumper (Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade), but you need to excel in the pick & roll and/or out of triple threat position in order to get there. If I had to guess based on his footwork in other scenarios, Jackson won’t be that kind of guy, but that’s admittedly speculative on my part.
The Truth About His Jumper
Jackson has steadily improved his 3-point percentage throughout the season, shooting a respectable 35.3% on 2.6 attempts per game. Yet even Jackson’s most ardent supporters concede this is a relative area of weakness, and this notion is furthered by his 56.3 FT%, a figure that is typically more predictive of NBA 3-point percentage than NCAA 3-point percentage and doesn’t bode well for him going forward.
Almost all of his 3-point attempts are spot up jumpers, with his feet set. I charted 59 of his 71 3-point attempts on the season, with an emphasis on the closest defender. Please note that the following chart consists of my estimates, and are NOT as exact as the SportsVU data on nba.com that this information mimics. With that “grain of salt” disclaimer:
These stark results can be read in one of two ways. The optimistic version is that while he may not be a knockdown shooter overall, opponents will have to at have at least a modicum of respect for his jumper, otherwise, he’ll make them pay. The more skeptical interpretation is that he’ll be open for shorter windows of time at a longer distance on the NBA level, spotlighting his relative inability to make contested jumpers.
The reasons for this discrepancy could be answered 5 different ways by 5 different shooting coaches (which I do not claim to be), but my observation is that Jackson is consistent with his feet on nearly all of his shots, and the problem is with his shooting stroke, which he speeds up in an effort to get his shot off against closeouts.
The fixability of that is debatable, and the cause of that flaw is likely related to shot mechanics that are beyond the scope of this scouting report, but I don’t think it would be wise to draft him under the presumption that this will change. If it does, it’s a pleasant surprise.
How Does He Fit Alongside Brandon Ingram?
Unlike the offensive fit between Lonzo Ball & D’Angelo Russell, a Josh Jackson/Brandon Ingram pairing is questionable on the offensive end due to their limited shooting ability. In Ingram’s case, he is merely a theoretical shooter at this point, with Laker fans hoping that his college success behind the 3-point line (41% on 5.4 attempts per game) translates long term in ways that it hasn’t during his rookie season (30.2% on 3.0 attempts per game).
The combination of two wing players who are subpar 3-point shooters relative to other wings around the league is untenable and further exacerbated by the fact that neither of the PFs in the young core (Julius Randle, Larry Nance, Jr.) are 3-point threats as well. Most functional offenses in 2017 have a bare minimum of 3 players who can at least pose a credible threat from 3-point range on the floor for most of the game, and in many cases, they have 4.
Zooming out a bit to look at the young core as a whole, the Lakers only have one player (D’Angelo Russell) where you could make a credible argument that he will eventually be an above average shooter relative to his position. Jordan Clarkson, Ingram, Randle, Nance, Jr, & Tarik Black don’t fit that description, and you have to cling to a 4-11 performance from behind the arc in the D-League in order to convince yourself that 3-point proficiency is in the cards for Ivica Zubac.
Drafting for need is folly in the first place, but while you can make a decent argument that Brandon Ingram will one day be a good shooter, Josh Jackson’s shooting deficiency would be stacked upon an existing Laker weakness. That would ultimately need to be addressed if the Lakers drafted him, where it would be wise to move a couple of those players in exchange for players who are more effective at spacing the floor.
What Offensive Position Does He Play?
Jackson is not a SG by any stretch of the imagination, at least within the context of the Lakers’ offense. Beyond the questions surrounding his spot up shooting ability, he has almost no experience running the types of action that would be required of him at this position. Think about how Nick Young & Jordan Clarkson get their points, often navigating off-ball screens, catching & firing off of kickbacks, or utilizing drag screens in transition. Jackson doesn’t run any of these actions — nor does Ingram, for that matter — and it’s a stretch of the imagination to believe that either will be able to do so anytime soon. If they struggle on spot up 3’s, they’re nowhere near being capable of being functional shooters without their feet set.
Jackson actually starts at PF for Kansas, alongside a three-guard lineup of Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham, & Svi Mykhailiuk, playing the majority of his minutes at that position. He’s often used in pick & pop situations and as a high post/low post option against zone defenses, where the 4 & 5 positions are interchangeable. I believe that Jackson primarily projects to be a SF in the NBA, but his secondary position will likely be a small ball PF rather than SG.
Basketball Intelligence & Court Vision
Freak athleticism and basketball IQ are often antithetical. Gifted athletes can be prisoners of their own talents, dominating on lower levels via sheer physical supremacy, never learning how to do things the “right” way because they could achieve results without doing so. Conversely, middling athletes need to understand the game on a deeper level if they ever hope to compete on the NBA stage, where they start from a deficit that most cannot overcome.
Josh Jackson is the rare exception to this rule, demonstrating a degree of spatial intelligence that rivals his physical tools. He’s not only bigger, faster, and stronger. . . he’s smarter too. This is most evident in his ability to drive & dish or drive & kick, where he’s able to read help defenders and move the ball accurately with either hand.
This attribute also manifests itself when he’s the recipient of the pass, as he’s fantastic at both relocating on the perimeter and cutting from the weak side to exploit available passing lanes.
I usually loathe player comparisons as they relate to incoming draft prospects, as their accuracy rarely survives superficial scrutiny, but Josh Jackson reminds me quite a bit of a bigger and younger Andre Iguodala. He’s a phenomenal athlete with a good deal of intelligence and ball-handling ability, but also a questionable jumper and skill set as an individual scorer. Yet the book is hardly written on Jackson in these respects, as those are skill-based weaknesses, which can be developed over the course of time at the NBA level. This scenario would take him out of Andre Iguodala territory and into the Kawhi Leonard stratosphere, with Leonard being a shining example of someone with similar attributes coming out of college, who was able to drastically improve his game in the exact areas where Jackson is weak.
But the road to retrospectively foolish draft analysis is paved with faulty assumptions of improvement, so proceed with caution.