Isaiah Jackson
(NBAE/Getty Images)

Player Review 2022: Isaiah Jackson

Age: 20
Years Pro: 1
Status: Entering second year of rookie contract.
Key Stats: Averaged 8.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks over 36 games (15 starts). Shot 56.3 percent from the field.

Isaiah Jackson is ahead of schedule.

While fellow first-round pick and 24-year-old Chris Duarte was drafted with the expectation of playing right away, Jackson was considered more of a long-term project. He was just 19 on draft night, when Indiana pulled off a draft night trade to select him with the 22nd overall pick.

The Pacers' brain trust spoke glowingly about Jackson's upside as an elite athlete capable of playing above the rim. Head coach Rick Carlisle had made a point to mentor Jackson during a pre-draft workout in Indianapolis leading up to the draft and mentioned often the unique dynamic he added to the team as a lob threat.

But the expectation wasn't for Jackson to see a ton of playing time early in his rookie season. After all, he was behind two established big men in Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, who would take up the lion's share of the frontcourt minutes, not to mention third-year center Goga Bitadze and other assorted veterans capable of manning the power forward position.

But injuries and trades created an opportunity for Jackson to get on the floor more than expected in the second half of the season, where he flashed plenty of promise to have Pacers fans excited for the future.

Jackson's rookie season got off to an inauspicious start. He logged just two minutes over Indiana's first four games before being inserted into the rotation on Oct. 27 in Toronto. He tallied two points, four rebounds, and one steal in 10 minutes, but had to leave the game after suffering what looked like a significant left knee injury. Thankfully, it proved to just be a hyperextension, which sidelined him for a couple weeks.

But even after he returned, Jackson's early opportunities were limited. He spent a week after returning from his injury in the G League with the Mad Ants and logged just 44 NBA minutes between Oct. 28 and Jan. 18.

Injuries to Turner and Sabonis opened up the opportunity for Jackson to finally see extended playing time on the team's West Coast road trip in mid-January. He reached double digits for the first time in one of the most memorable wins of the season, tallying 15 points, seven rebounds, and three steals in 19 minutes in an overtime win at Golden State, where Jackson was one of four rookies in the rotation as the undermanned Pacers knocked off Steph Curry and the Warriors.

He remained in the rotation for the rest of the month, reaching double figures in three consecutive games to close out January. Jackson got his first career start on Jan. 31 against the Clippers and flourished, tallying a career-high 26 points on 12-of-19 shooting, 10 rebounds, and two blocks in 29 minutes.

Unfortunately, a sprained ankle limited him to just four games in February, but he continued to be productive. The rookie had 17 points, 11 rebounds, and five blocks against Oklahoma City on Feb. 25. He then averaged 10.5 points, 7.3 boards, and 2 blocks in March, reaching double figures five times in eight games and registering two more double-doubles.

Isaiah Jackson

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

Jackson missed the latter part of the month dealing with the effects of a concussion, but was back for the final five games in April and closed the season out strong. He averaged 12.8 points on 61 percent shooting, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks in the final month.

As he moved into the rotation over the second half of the season, Jackson quickly proved Carlisle right, showing a knack for finishing above the rim. He quickly became a favorite target of new teammates like Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield, who often looked for him on lobs out of the pick-and-roll.

Jackson, who turned 20 on Jan. 10, led Indiana with 46 dunks on the season. That figure represented 24.6 percent of his total field goals (for context, Jalen Smith had the next-highest dunk percentage at 13.1).

Playing primarily at the rim, Jackson posted a solid .563 field goal percentage, but Carlisle and the coaching staff continued to work with him throughout the season on developing his outside shot. He didn't shoot it often from outside, going 5-for-16 from beyond the arc on the season, but when he did, Jackson appeared confident in his stroke. One would expect him to expand his use of that particular tool in future seasons.

Defensively, Jackson proved to be a worthy understudy to Turner as a shotblocker. Despite ranking 42nd among all rookies in total minutes played, Jackson's 52 blocks were the fifth-most of any first-year player. He actually was every bit as prolific as Turner on a per-minute basis, swatting 3.5 shots per 36 minutes to Turner's 3.4.

The issue with Jackson on the defensive end was his tendency to get into foul trouble, a common problem for young NBA big men. Jackson averaged 6.1 fouls per 36 minutes on the season, fouling out of three contests and collecting four or five fouls in nine other games.

He did show a little more restraint as the season went on, saying that as the game "slowed down" for him, he focused on not over-relying on his hands to keep up with his man. Continuing to be more deliberate defensively to avoid foul trouble will definitely be an area of focus for him this offseason.

It remains to be seen what happens in the draft and free agency, but the door is certainly open for Jackson to take on an expanded role next season, particularly with Sabonis now in Sacramento. Carlisle deployed him both at power forward and center during the season, so he could potentially be slotted alongside Turner in the starting frontcourt or come in and play both positions off the bench.

In his exit interview with media last week, Jackson expressed his belief that he was poised to make a major leap heading into his sophomore campaign.

"I feel like this summer's going to be a big step for me," Jackson said. "Just going into my second season with the way I proved myself this year, I feel like it's going to be a big summer, just body-wise, mentally, everything. I'm looking forward to it."

2022 Player Review Schedule

April 18: Tyrese Haliburton
April 19: Buddy Hield
April 18: Tyrese Haliburton
April 19: Buddy Hield
April 20: Chris Duarte
April 21: Isaiah Jackson
April 22: Oshae Brissett
April 23: Malcolm Brogdon
April 24: Goga Bitadze
April 25: Myles Turner
April 26: Duane Washington Jr.
April 27: T.J. McConnell
April 28: Jalen Smith
April 29: Lance Stephenson
April 30: Terry Taylor