2017 NBA Draft

Kansas Jayhawks freshman Josh Jackson strong defensively with offensive tools to develop

Small forward could be top choice for teams that don't need point guards

Scott Howard-Cooper

Josh Jackson is the alternative, arguably the best non-point guard heading into the NBA Draft that will be dominated at the top by point guards. An option. The recourse if, of course, Jackson opts for draft eligibility.

Lottery night, May 16, is everything to his chances of going No. 1 five weeks later, when the selections are made and he tries to become the second University of Kansas wing at the top of the draft board in the last four years, following Andrew Wiggins in 2014. Simply, if the team on the clock needs a primary ball handler, Jackson is not good enough of a small forward to bend the conversation back in his direction.

Except that he is good enough to be chosen first overall if the ping-pong balls land land right on May 16. That’s when Jackson and another small forward, Duke’s Jayson Tatum, learn if they still have a chance for the spotlight as the first pick and the pressures that go with it.

“He’s one of those guys who you’d throw out there and he’s going to do something positive,” one general manager said.

Also, he’s one of those guys who could go top three on June 22 even if the team choosing No. 1 needs a point guard, or even the teams going 1-2. Jackson is 6-8, great size for a small forward, might grow more and add enough weight to handle small-ball power forward, and has enough guard skills to find the open man in transition or create.

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“I like him a lot,” one executive said. “I don’t know if he has elite offensive skill. I know people compare him to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. That’s not a bad comparison. I think (Jackson is) a little more advanced offensively. But I don’t know if he has the same defensive ability. But he’ll be good because he can defend and he’s athletic. I think he’s close to being bust-proof on the defensive end. Everybody can be a bust. It can happen. But he can pass and his motor and his toughness and he’s a leader. He shows leadership. I like the way he plays. But he’s got a ways to go offensively.”

As in shooting 37.7 percent behind the arc as Kansas opens the NCAA tournament Friday in Tulsa, Okla., as the top-seeded team in the Midwest. Or the 55.9 percent from the line, bad enough to have a Hack-a- named after you in the NBA. If he’s not drafted by a team that runs a lot, Jackson will either develop a shot or have trouble scoring.

“I think he’s close to being bust-proof on the defensive end.”

A league executive’s observation on Josh Jackson

“His jump shot,” the same executive said. “It can’t really hurt you right now from the perimeter. But that’s the easiest thing to fix.”

It’s not the only part of his life that will receive scrutiny. Jackson was involved in a December altercation with a member of the Kansas women’s team outside a Lawrence, Kan., bar that Thursday grew to include the release of an affidavit that claimed Jackson allegedly threatened violence against the woman. He had previously been charged with misdemeanor criminal property damage in the incident, in addition to being cited in an unrelated case of backing into a car on campus and not reporting the accident to police. He received three traffic violations and was suspended for one game.

All indications from Kansas officials, including coach Bill Self, was that the news Thursday would not impact Jackson’s role in the tournament.

Whether the claims from the December incident impacts Jackson’s draft stock remains to be seen, with an arraignment scheduled for April 12, according to the Kansas City Star, and several face-to-face meetings with front offices still ahead. Teams will want to be very comfortable with his answers, in the current climate more than ever, before adding a player who has been accused of threatening violence against a woman.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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