The 2018 NBA Draft is now less than a few weeks away, which means it's time to start studying up on the top prospects. This is a talented class, featuring a number of big men projected to go in top five. One of the most intriguing of those players is Jaren Jackson Jr., a freshman out of Michigan State.
The 6-foot-11 Jackson, whose dad, Jaren Jackson Sr., played in the NBA for 12 seasons and won a title with the Spurs in 1999, is currently projected to go No. 5 overall to the Dallas Mavericks by CBS Sports' Reid Forgrave and Gary Parrish in their latest mock drafts.
He averaged 10.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and three blocks per game, despite only getting about 22 minutes a night for the Spartans. A figure, which, after you watch his highlights, seems absolutely absurd. Now, part of it was his penchant for getting into foul trouble -- he averaged 8.6 fouls per 100 possessions -- but even still it seems like he should have played more.
OK, let's get to the film to take a closer look at Jackson's strengths and weaknesses on each side of the ball.
The first thing that jumps off the screen is Jackson has a bunch of plays that just make you turn your head. It doesn't seem possible that someone of Jackson's size should be putting the ball on the floor and making these types of plays.
But while it's certainly not a bad thing to make jaw-dropping athletic plays, it doesn't guarantee success at the next level, so let's dive further. What's impressive about Jackson is how versatile his offensive game is for his size.
He was a machine in the post, scoring an excellent 1.22 points per possession on his post-ups, which was good for 24th in the entire country, per Synergy. That's out of over 1,200 players, by the way, and only one player ahead of him had more than Jackson's 53 post possessions. Now, he's not exactly Hakeem Olajuwon or Kevin McHale, but he wasn't just overpowering people either. He had a nice variety of moves, and was capable of playing with his back to the basket, and turning to face up.
Jackson was more than capable of taking his game outside though as well. His shooting form is a little odd, and it does make you wonder a bit if it will translate to the longer 3-point line. But he was certainly consistent with it in his one season with the Spartans, knocking down 39.6 percent of his 2.7 3-point attempts per game.
Furthermore, he was active, and showed a willingness to move without the ball. He scored over 1.2 points per possession on both cuts and transition opportunities. There weren't many flaws in Jackson's offensive game -- in addition to the previously mentioned points, he shot nearly 80 percent from the free throw line -- but if there was one that stuck out, it was that he can get a little wild, a little out of control at times. Especially when he puts the ball on the deck.
All in all, though, Jackson looked quite impressive, especially for a kid who won't turn 19 years old until training camp. Whether or not he can consistently knock down NBA 3s with his funky shot will go a long way toward determining just how good he can be at the pro level, but with his ability to score in the post and his energy and athleticism, he should have no trouble contributing. But, of course, offense is only one half of the game.
From a physical standpoint, Jackson has all the tools you would want on the defensive side of the ball. He's 6-11 with a 7-5 wingspan, and possesses both the size to battle down low, and the agility to stick with opponents on the perimeter.
Just as he does on the offensive end, Jackson has some moments that really jump off the screen. These are just a few of those examples, especially in the first clip below, where he perfectly handles a pick-and-roll, jumps out at the guard, then recovers to his own man to shut off the drive before using his length to block a fadeaway jumper.
All of these clips also highlight Jackson's main standout ability on the defensive end: blocking shots. Jackson averaged three blocks per game, which considering he only played 22 minutes per game is just ridiculous. He also boasted a 14.3 block percentage per Basketball Reference, which means he blocked 14.3 percent of all two-point attempts while he was on the floor -- a thoroughly impressive stat.
In addition to protecting the rim, the other facet of Jackson's game that keeps showing up is his ability to move his feet and stick with opponents on the perimeter. There really wasn't much of a mismatch when he got switched onto a guard. He has good agility, and such long arms that he can recover to block, or at least bother shots even if the quicker player gets a step on him.
There is a lot to like about Jackson's defensive game, and he should continue to get even better at that end of the floor, but there were a few areas of concern. The main one, is that he is constantly fouling people. He averaged 3.2 fouls per game in just 22 minutes, which is one of the reasons his playing time was so low. On a per-100-possessions basis, he was up near nine fouls. Now, that's certainly something he can improve on -- for comparison, Rudy Gobert averaged 6.9 fouls per 100 possessions in his rookie season, but was down to just 4.2 this season -- but it's definitely a bit of a red flag for now. You can't do much to help your team if you're always sitting on the bench because of foul trouble.
In addition, he could at times get a bit off balance when defending one-on-one in the post. He was a very solid post defender, and wasn't a guy who was biting at every pump fake, but this is definitely an area he could improve upon.
As a whole, Jackson's defensive abilities are what make him such an intriguing prospect. He can protect the rim without being a liability on the perimeter, and as these NBA playoffs have shown us, having bigs who can do that is a must. Jackson showing so much promise in those two areas as an 18-year-old is very exciting.
After diving through hundreds of Jackson's possessions, both on offense and defense, it's clear why he's likely at the top of the draft boards in many NBA front offices. He has all the tools to be a perfect big man for the current era. He can shoot from deep, he can protect the rim and has no problem switching out to guards in the pick-and-roll or isolation. There's always somewhat of a risk when you're selecting at the top of the draft, but Jaren Jackson Jr. is a risk worth taking.