The Hawks hold the rights to the #3, #19, #30 and #34 picks in the upcoming June 21 NBA Draft. At Hawks.com, we'll be talking to some of the writers and bloggers who watched some of this year's key prospects most closely.
Today we speak to Ryan O'Bleness (@RyanOBleness), assistant site manager of The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors), SB Nation's website for Michigan State Spartans sports, about freshman center Jaren Jackson Jr.:
What does Jaren Jackson Jr. do well?
Jaren Jackson Jr. is incredible on the defensive side of the ball, and truly has the potential to be NBA All-Defensive First Team in the next few years. His incredible length and timing allows him to block shots at a phenomenal rate -- he shattered the Michigan State single season record for blocks in a season, finishing with 106 blocks (the old record was 72 blocks). Additionally, in only one season at MSU, Jackson ranks in the top-10 all-time in career blocks for the Spartans. Jackson has the ability to switch and doesn't back down from guarding anybody on the floor, including out on the perimeter. He received both Big Ten Freshman of The Year and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Jackson can also score from both the post and from the outside. In fact, he shot nearly 40 percent from three-point range on 96 attempts. He is versatile on both ends of the floor. He also has great NBA pedigree, as his father Jaren Jackson Sr, was a 13-year NBA veteran, and won a championship with the San Antonio Spurs. The best part about Jackson is that he is such a young prospect (doesn't turn 19 until September 15), he is only going to get better and grow fundamentally, intellectually and physically.
How does his game transfer to the NBA?
I truly believe Jackson is the best two-way prospect in this year's draft. He is the kind of player who can come in right away and become a role player for an NBA team, with a great chance to start immediately depending on where he is drafted (such as Atlanta). He is currently looked at as a stretch-four, with the ability to shoot the basketball from mid-range and deep, and space the floor. However, his 6-foot-11-inch frame, and 7-foot-five-inch wing span (per the NBA Combine) also gives him the ability to play center. While I mentioned he can score from the post, he didn't have a ton of opportunities to show off his full-post arsenal during his college career, and that may be something he would like to strive to get better at.
Jackson is not the type to put up eye-popping numbers in any one category, and I think some people have an issue with that, but what he does is stuff the stat sheet everywhere. During his one season at MSU, Jackson averaged 10.9 points per game, 5.8 rebounds per game, 3.0 blocks per game and 1.1 assists per game in 35 games (with 34 starts). He also shot 51 percent from the floor, nearly 80 percent from the free throw line and, as I mentioned above, shot just below 40 percent from three-point land.
What can he do to improve?
The first thing that immediately comes to my mind is that he needs to improve his strength. Going along with my first point, his physicality and demeanor will need to take a step up against NBA competition. I've also heard a few people call Jackson a bit of a "tweener" (position-wise), but like I said, I think he makes a great stretch-four that defenses will have to pay attention to.
One other knock on Jackson is more of an aesthetics thing, as he has an odd-looking shot, which analysts sometimes refer to as a "moonball." His release point is low and his shot lacks a lot of rotation, but it works for him. He may need to work on the release point and his tendency to sometimes rush his shots, but that's nothing that NBA coaching can't fix. Jackson is still learning, and I think things like his basketball IQ, passing vision and ability to handle the double-team better are all things he can improve on with time.
What style of play suits his game best?
Again, I see him as a stretch-four who can space the floor and create matchup problems for less athletic power forwards guarding him, with the ability to play in the post as well. He's an explosive, albeit raw, athlete who also has the ability to run the floor on fast breaks and catch ally-oops, so a more up-tempo team that likes to run would work out well for him. Jackson is a great candidate for pick-and-rolls as well, since the defense will have to respect his mid-range shooting ability and of course at the rim.
He's solid at finishing at the hoop, and can finish with either hand, so his versatility gives him the opportunity to fit into many different offensive schemes.
Obviously, his ability to guard pretty much anybody on the floor makes him a great asset on the defensive end, too, and his NBA coaches will feel great about defending against pick-and-roll plays since he can switch and use his length and incredible timing to alter/block shots.
To which current or past NBA player would you compare him to?
I've most often heard Jackson compared to Marvin Williams of the Charlotte Hornets and Serge Ibaka of the Toronto Raptors, both of those make sense in certain ways, and he has been compared to few others as well. It's hard to compare Jackson because his game is so versatile and his defensive prowess is unlike anything we've seen come out of the draft at his position in a quite a while. With all of that said, I think a good comparison for Jackson is a more-athletic upside Myles Turner of the Indiana Pacers. Turner is a 6-foot-11 big man who shoots nearly 35 percent from deep, 78 percent from the free throw line and averages 12.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and nearly 2 blocks per game thus far in his NBA career. Their college stats are very close as well.
Of course, Turner is a more-polished player after spending three seasons in the league now, and I wouldn't expect Jackson to be able to produce at the same rate as a rookie, but I think he will be there in the near future. The best thing about Jackson is his ceiling is much higher than that.
There are some who believe Jaren Jackson Jr. is going to be the best big in this year's extremely talented draft class.