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March Madness Prospect Watch Day 9: Justin Jackson

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Justin Jackson has had an excellent tournament, leading North Carolina to the Final Four.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-Kentucky vs North Carolina Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Jackson - North Carolina

Projected draft spot: 12th (Draft Express), 14th (CBS Sports), N/R (ESPN)

Stats: 31.7 minutes, 18.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks, 44.7 FG%, 38.0 3PT%, 73.3 FT%

Strengths: Three-level scoring, Aggressive slasher, Passing instincts, Wing stopper potential

Weaknesses: Thin frame, low steal/block numbers, bust potential as shooter, Focus

Game Time: Saturday v.s. Oregon at 6:49 PM MST

What to watch for: Justin Jackson is a junior playing forward at North Carolina. He was the ACC Player of the Year over players like Luke Kennard, Dennis Smith, and Donovan Mitchell. Combined with junior Joel Berry and senior Kennedy Meeks, the trio has led the Tar Heels to the Final Four. They will face Oregon, led by Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell.

Jackson is a wing player that always seems to float on the perimeter until he’s knifing to the lane. His role at UNC is to space the floor first and foremost, as evidenced by his seven three point attempts per game. As he has become more comfortable with the basketball, his game has expanded as a pick and roll and isolation player. His ability to get to comfortable spots on the floor set him apart this year offensively, and it’s a skill that could really help him in the NBA.

With Jackson, the floating aspect of his game is both good and bad. On one hand, the defense is rarely ready for when he begins to attack. This helps when he’s running a dribble hand off with a big man from behind the arc, since Jackson can just as easily rise up over the defense to shoot as he can drive the lane. His lanky frame and solid wing span help him with this as well.

On the other hand, Jackson can sometimes disappear on both offense and defense. With just 34 combined steals and blocks in over 1,200 minutes, his focus on both ends is questionable at times. For perspective, Kansas forward Josh Jackson accumulated 96 combined steals and blocks in over 100 minutes less than Justin Jackson. He doesn’t lack the tools to be an impact defender, but he does lack the intensity in college, and that can be an issue. He accumulated five steals against Arkansas in one of his best games of the tournament thus far, so it’s not like he’s incapable. Offensively, he settles for shots behind the three point line at times, averaging nearly as many three pointers as he attempts two pointers.

In his contest tonight against Oregon, he will be matched up with Dillon Brooks, one of the leading scorers in college basketball. How will he respond in a high pressure situation? Will he commit to playing defense hard against Brooks? With Jordan Bell protecting the paint for Oregon, will Jackson stop attacking if one of his shots is blocked at the rim?

For the Nuggets, Jackson plays a position of need and shows many of the same scoring traits that Danilo Gallinari possesses. With Gallinari possibly exiting in free agency, it’s possible that Denver could select Jackson in the hope of replacing some scoring punch. That being said, I’m wary of selecting a player that doesn’t get his hands dirty on the defensive end, and so far, Jackson hasn’t committed to that end. Even if he turns into a solid three-level scorer, I’m not sure he’s the best fit for the Nuggets.