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Stiffs NBA Draft prospect watch: Justin Jackson

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NCAA champion Justin Jackson will take his scoring talents to the NBA this year.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Gonzaga vs North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Stiffs will be covering the top prospects for the Denver Nuggets in the 2017 NBA Draft in our Stiffs Prospect Watch series. Check back daily for video, stats, and of top first round prospects.

Justin Jackson - North Carolina

Stats

Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers Field Goal % Three point % Free throw %
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers Field Goal % Three point % Free throw %
16.3 8.2 2.4 0.6 1.1 1.5 61.70% 46.60% 67.90%
T.J. Leaf statistics - ‘16-17

Strengths

Physical Profile

Justin Jackson is the size of a prototypical wing in the NBA. Measuring at 6’8.25 in shoes, a 6’11 wingspan, and over 200 pounds, Jackson profiles as a small forward at the next level with the length to guard small ball power forwards. He shows mobility on tape, with the ability to slide on defense and switch onto guards for short stretches. On offense, he has the length to shoot over defenders, as well as a nice first step to get inside.

3-point shooting, off-ball scoring

Jackson is one of the best 3-point shooters in this class. It took him three years to get to this point, but he averaged 8.9 3-point attempts per 40 minutes in his junior season, a number matched by a select few draft prospects. He canned 37% of those looks in a variety of ways, but mostly off the catch. Much like a Klay Thompson-type, Jackson would rise and fire without abandon, sometimes in the face of two defenders. He would get these looks by running off screens and simply working within the offense for his shot. At the next level, Jackson should serve a similar role.

Passing potential

He doesn’t receive a ton of props for his passing skills, but Jackson has shown a willingness to make the correct pass. He doesn’t always do so, but when the read is there, he flashes some skill as a wing playmaker. He will push in transition, operate side pick and rolls, and simply give the ball up if he’s dribbling too much. He’s not a ball stopper, and that should help him fit into most NBA offenses.

Weaknesses

Defense

Jackson consistently struggled as a defender at UNC, which is a problem. Even in a large role, he shouldn’t have been so apathetic on the less glamorous end. As a junior, Jackson didn’t guard many of the opposing teams’ best wing scorers to save him on the offensive end, and when he did match up against those players, he struggled. He regularly loses players off ball when he’s not face-guarding them. He was mostly used as a perimeter defender, but in the NBA, we won’t have that luxury, as most small forwards will attack him inside. It’s hard to tell if Jackson will be ready to match up.

Streaky Shooting

Live by the three, die by the three. Jackson attempted nearly the same amount of three pointers as he did two pointers, which is unheard of as a forward. Only 15 forwards in the NBA posted a 3-point attempt rate greater than 50%, and only seven of them measured as average or better NBA players using Win Shares per 48. These players are either quality defenders or 40% 3-point shooters, and right now, Jackson is neither. He could easily develop into a Terrence Ross clone, someone who jacks up a ton of threes and shoots his team in or out of games since he doesn’t have the defense to fall back on.

Self-Creation

Jackson struggled to create for himself off the dribble. His handling isn’t where it needs to be as an older prospect, and while he showed potential as a passer, it wasn’t consistent. Jackson is likely to never be a quality isolation scorer, and that’s fine, but it also allows teams to guard him closer, making it difficult to get his shot off form the perimeter. J.J. Redick has developed as a creator off the dribble, and it’s kept his efficiency from the perimeter very high. Jackson may eventually do the same, but he’s not doing it right now.

Fit with the Nuggets

Jackson would be a “safe” replacement for Danilo Gallinari. He’s an NBA ready shooter who could shoulder some of the offensive load with a bit of time to develop. He has a higher defensive ceiling than what Gallinari can provide right now, and he works for his shots off the ball, something Nikola Jokic could take advantage of in the half court.

Still, he’s unlikely to move the needle, and Denver doesn’t need another offensive-plus/defensive-minus prospect. With Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Juancho Hernangomez also in the long term plans, Denver will need a prospect that won’t be a liability on the other end. I have no doubt that a Jokic, Hernangomez, Murray, Harris, and Justin Jackson lineup could have a 120 offensive rating, but it might generate a 125 defensive rating at this point.

Projected draft spot

SB Nation - 11

Draft Express - 15

Sporting News - 18

CBS Sports - 19 (Forgrave), 16 (Parish)

Final thoughts

I personally have Justin Jackson in the 20s on my NBA Draft Big Board. I have made some changes since this particular article, but the placement for Jackson is close to the same. There is only so much of an impact Jackson will be able to make at the next level, even if he maximizes his potential. His defense is never going to be more than slightly above average, and his offense may be dangerous off-ball, but that involves becoming a 40% 3-point shooter and an elite finisher off cuts and screens.

At his absolute maximum, I see an Otto Porter level contributor, someone who capitalizes on the on-ball efforts of others to be extremely efficient off-ball. That type of player is still incredibly valuable in today’s NBA, especially for a Denver Nuggets team with some solid on-ball playmakers. Still, the defense needs to improve for that to happen, and I don’t think it will improve enough to reach that level.

I have no doubt that this is a very real possibility being considered by Tim Connelly, Arturas Karnisovas, Michael Malone and company. Hernangomez is still relatively unproven as a starting caliber prospect, and Jokic could definitely use the spacing of another volume 3-point shooter down the line. I don’t think Denver ultimately goes down this route though: they need defense more than they need extra spacing.