Markelle Fultz Scouting Report – Offense: In this video, Pete takes a look at the offensive game of Markelle Fultz, who is considered by many to be the best player in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Markelle Fultz Scouting Report – Offense: In this video, Pete takes a look at the offensive game of Markelle Fultz, who is considered by many to be the best player in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Josh Jackson Scouting Report – Defense: In this video, Pete Zayas takes a look at Josh Jackson’s strengths & weaknesses on the defensive end.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Many Laker fans have clamored for D’Angelo Russell to move to SG since he was drafted, where he can tap into his natural scoring ability without the burden of running the offense. To that end, Lonzo Ball represents the “pure PG” who can facilitate this change, capable of orchestrating the action just as he did at UCLA, and thereby establishing the natural order of the Laker backcourt for the next decade.
Not so fast.
Ball is a remarkable facilitator in transition, whipping advance passes up court that are as effective as they are simple. He has unparalleled spatial intelligence for a 19 year old, and punishes the transgressions of cheating defenders with swift adjudications that put his teammates in the advantageous position of attacking opponents whose feet are not set.
The latter concerns me less than the former does. Few college offenses are nearly as sophisticated as their NBA equivalents, a fact that is exacerbated by the prevalence of zone defenses and the talent discrepancies between respective NCAA programs. College PGs get relatively little experience making the type of reads against high caliber man defenses that they need to make in the pros, so there is an inevitable learning curve that all of them experience as they transition to the NBA. Despite his considerable talents, I don’t expect Lonzo Ball to be any different in this respect. UCLA’s offense is relatively basic, and the lion’s share of his half court responsibility involves delivering the ball to shooters as they come off of pin-down screens.
The half court decisions that he is required to make don’t extend far beyond this and a couple of other simple actions. Teams have also taken to running a good deal of zone against the Bruins, which require a different set of reads from Ball which are not as directly translatable to the next level. I have little doubt that he will be able to adapt, as many less talented players have before him, but to expect him to be capable of immediately navigating NBA defenses while orchestrating an NBA offenses is unrealistic.
My pick & roll concerns have deeper roots. Prior to UCLA, he took the basketball world by storm at Chino Hills High School, with an unconventional style of play that included 70-foot outlet passes, 30-foot three point attempts, blistering pace…and very few ball screens, which is a phenomenon that has persisted during his time in Westwood. In the 5 games that I charted, he was involved in just 18 ball screens or handoffs, a remarkably low number relative to his position, generating just 13 points (0.72 PPP). The NBA game is far more pick & roll intensive than college is, and he will need to add this to his repertoire in order to fulfill his potential as a PG.
Ball is notoriously reticent to shoot mid range jumpers, which on its surface demonstrates an understanding of what constitutes a good shot, but the reality of the NBA is that sometimes the defense is going to succeed in protecting both the basket and the 3-point line over the course of 24 seconds. Quite often, that mid range look is all that is available, especially if a team is incapable of spacing the floor out to the 3-point line at 4 or 5 different positions. One of the means by which NBA defenses accomplish this is by soft hedging/corralling pick & rolls, with the defensive guard fighting over the screen and the big hanging back in the paint.
If Lonzo Ball has taken this type of shot in an organized game, I haven’t seen it. While there is danger in speculating about something that player doesn’t do, the individual components of his shot don’t translate toward this part of his game developing particularly well. He typically uses a step-back move to create space on his pull-up 3-point attempts, but that is not available against a soft hedge due to the back pressure from the defensive guard. Furthermore, the additional space is necessary for him due to his shooting stroke, which crosses both his body and his head on the way up, and can be bothered throughout that process as a result by the hedging/corralling big.
Ball’s workaround for this is a teardrop off of one foot. These shots are typically very low percentage, with few exceptions.
His ability to attack switches is questionable as well, as he possesses an average first step and good-but-not-great moves off of the dribble. This was the most common coverage that he faced in the games that I charted, where he was usually only capable of attacking opposing 5’s with a stepback jumper. One of the most significant differences between NCAA and NBA level talent is the mobility of the big men, so if he’s struggling to get a decent shot off against switches at UCLA, it could be very problematic in the pros.
I am more bullish on him as a spot up shooter than most, and believe that the negative effects of his shooting stroke are mostly counteracted by his excellent footwork and tremendous range. His ability to hit from 30+ feet compromises the defense regardless of how they decide to defend him. If they help off of him, he’s quick to get the shot up, capable of converting at a high rate, and the defender won’t be close enough for his shooting stroke to be disadvantageous. If they stay at home on him, he has now effectively spaced the floor for teammates by taking a help defender much farther away from the basket than they would usually be.
He has some catch & shoot ability coming off of screens as well, where he uses quality footwork to quickly get into his shot, and often leans back a bit to mitigate against the contestability of his shooting stroke. Despite that fact, his success at the NBA level will likely be determined by how much space he’s able to create prior to the catch.
The Lakers are an ideal fit to mask his offensive deficiencies and accentuate his positive attributes. Ball isn’t nearly as ball dominant as you might expect from a player who is amongst the NCAA leaders in assists per game, and has a great feel for back cuts and counters off of the ball. If Luke Walton wants to go further down the path of the Golden State Warriors, who run more off-ball screens and fewer on-ball screens than nearly every other team in the league, a D’Angelo Russell/Lonzo Ball backcourt would go a long way toward achieving that. Russell’s immersive education in pick & roll play and offensive organization over the last 6 months minimizes Ball’s weaknesses and inexperience, Ball impacts the game in transition in a way that Russell never will, and both can spot up and work as a cutter while the other runs the show. Their biggest collective weakness is the ability to get to the basket off of the dribble, which certainly matters, but isn’t a fatal flaw within a Laker offense that presumably seeks to emulate the ball and player movement of the Warriors more than it’s been capable of with their existing talent.
Lonzo Ball’s effectiveness in the NBA may largely hinge on who drafts him. Much of his success at UCLA is predicated on simply making the “right play” over and over again, and getting the ball to excellent NCAA-level finishers (Leaf, Holiday, Alford, etc.) in advantageous positions, where they can exploit a closeout or mismatch through the force of their own talents. In many ways, Ball’s value is proportional to the talent that he’s surrounded by, so a team like Brooklyn, with limited talented that could desperately use a sun for their planets to orbit, could be disastrous for his career. Conversely, he could fit in seamlessly with a talented older team (Boston), which is unusual for a player his age, or become a foundational piece for a young team with a collection of weapons surrounding him. (Lakers, Phoenix, Minnesota)
His court vision, spatial awareness, intelligence, and unselfishness draw rightful comparisons to NBA greats like Magic Johnson & Jason Kidd. He has almost single-handedly changed the culture of UCLA basketball, turning them from a group of mismatched individual talent into a cohesive and historically effective offense. Even his ability to make open 3’s from NBA range have an application in the modern game, despite his unique delivery. Yet his inexperience in running the most common of NBA plays is worrisome, and the aforementioned shooting form may very well prevent him from growing significantly in this area. This enormous polarization within his skill set makes him one of the more fascinating prospects in years, with the potential to make both his supporters and skeptics look spectacularly wrong in retrospect.
I’m glad that my job doesn’t depend on being able to answer either of them correctly.
Coming Soon: Lonzo Ball Scouting Report – Defense