Frank Jackson recognizes the benefits of an unexpected year watching from NBA sidelines

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

Among the dozens of mini-controversies that raged around the NBA last season was a First Take-ready Rookie of the Year debate, one that pitted Donovan Mitchell of Utah and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons. The latter, an LSU product, was officially still a rookie in 2017-18, but many were adamant that Simmons held an unfair advantage as a second-year pro, having missed all of ’16-17 due to injury. The dispute picked up even more steam when Mitchell began sporting a T-shirt featuring the Webster’s Dictionary definition of the word “rookie,” but Simmons eventually earned the coveted ROY trophy.

While New Orleans guard Frank Jackson isn’t going to channel his inner Stephen A. Smith and weigh in on who was right or wrong in that argument, he’s quick to agree that sitting out a season can bring numerous benefits. The No. 31 overall pick of the 2017 draft was supposed to begin his NBA career a year ago, but foot surgeries prevented him from stepping on the court. Although the Duke University product couldn’t gain any in-game experience as a result, he made a conscious effort to soak up every other aspect of the Pelicans’ eight-month season.

“There are a lot of things that help – a lot,” Jackson said of being with the team from September to May. “From traveling and being in the hotels (on road trips), the treatment you get (from team trainers), being around players who’ve been in the league and picking their brains to see what has worked for them.

“Last season was rough because I couldn’t play, but at the same time I took so much out of it, seeing how the NBA works, honestly. Guys who are fresh in the league this year can’t know, but I do, because I have that vision. I know what practices look like. I know what training camp is going to look like, just from being there last year. I will really be able to tell (how important it was) at the end of this season, but right now I have an understanding of what’s coming. I’m not going in blind. It’s an advantage.”

Jackson is eager to bring that edge to the basketball floor, something he’s only done at the NBA level for 13 summer league minutes in Las Vegas (in another setback during a bad-luck start to his career, he sustained an ankle sprain July 6 vs. Toronto that sidelined him).

“I can’t wait,” Jackson said of New Orleans’ preseason opener Sunday at Chicago. “It’s (less than) a week away. It’s been so long. To have a jersey on, on the court, to be part of the actual team. I’m excited for it, to compete, do what I love, and show what these people what I can do.”

Unfortunately, Jackson’s lack of game action in ’17-18 left Pelicans fans, media and even teammates without much of a scouting report on exactly what that is, which is why a viral video this summer featuring his high-flying emphatic dunks seemed to raise eyebrows. Jackson laughed when he was asked about the feedback he’s received from the Instagram video.

“It was funny to see people say, ‘Woah, I didn’t know he had that!’ ” Jackson said of his soaring slams. “Everyone I’ve talked to is excited for me and to see what I can do. They just want to see me play. On my Instagram, I had people commenting and telling me they are excited for this and that. It was something that made people think I was capable of doing (athletic) things.”

Jackson said the dunks in the video are ones he’s been able to do since high school – not that it was that long ago for the 20-year-old – and didn’t expect them to create a stir. He joked that the reaction to the clips made him rethink his approach to how active he is on the Internet.

“I’ve never really been big (on participating) on social media,” he said, smiling. “But maybe I need to now. I can get people more excited.”

Regardless of whether or not he gets a chance to show off his elite elevation Sunday night in the United Center, many Pelicans supporters will be pleased to see him in an official NBA uniform for the first time. On the eve of New Orleans training camp, Jackson felt exactly the same way.

“I’m really excited, even for preseason,” he said. “I know it’s not the same thing as the regular season, but I’m so excited to play basketball, against the best competition in the world.”