On first blush Jaren Jackson will remind you of Serge Ibaka. At his worst he’s a shot-blocking stretch-big, at his best he can be much more.
The first college game I watched this year was Michigan State vs. Duke. I was watching the game because of the hype surrounding Marvin Bagley, and knowing that Miles Bridges had been a lottery type guy who came back. I knew nothing about Jackson going in but he quickly got my attention. I was not surprised when I looked him up and found out that he was also a lottery prospect, though most had him in the 8-10 range at that time. With the expectation being that the Mavs would finish in this area, he was a guy I kept my eyes on.
Strengths – Defensive ability/ Shot blocking
The reason why a lot of people have quickly moved Jackson up their draft boards is because he possesses something that Ayton and Bagley do not. With teams like the Warriors and Rockets running the league currently, an agile big man who can switch onto perimeter players is important. Jackson has this ability, and also has longer arms that Ayton and Bagley. He’s an aggressive shot blocker which is both a good thing and a bad thing for him. He remained in foul trouble during his one year at Michigan State and fouls may be an issue for him as a rookie. However, once he’s adjusted to the speed of the game and learned to stay on the ground more, he should be an elite shot blocker. He’s great both on the help-side and on the ball.
Though he is prone to ball-watching, he’s quick and long enough to still get back to his man typically. This combined with his tendency to bite on fakes is currently a problem but it usually is for young guys who enjoy blocking shots. Like Zach Collins last year, I think he’ll iron this out.
Jackson vs. Bamba
Since he and Bamba receive the most comparisons as defenders here are some rankings from last season:
Defensive Box Plus/Minus:Jackson, 2nd in the nation. Bamba 7th.
Block Percentage:Jackson- 14.3%, Bamba- 13.1% (2nd and 3rd respectively, behind Sagaba Konate of West Virginia).
Defensive Rating: Jackson- 4th, Bamba 12th.
Strengths – Scoring Ability
Besides his great defensive ability Jackson can also score the ball. His shot isn’t the prettiest but he shoots it at a high rate. He finished his freshman season shooting 39.6% from 3 on 2.7 shots per game. That’s good for 2/5 of his shot attempts. He’s a great catch-and-shoot guy which means he’ll probably do well in the pick and pop game. Playing with an explosive point guard will open things up for him on the outside.
Besides his shooting ability he can also put the ball down and get to the rim. He’s very comfortable with the ball in his hands and has a little bit of wiggle with the ball as well. More than he should as a big man anyway. He’s got decent size and tries to use leverage when driving with the ball or on the block. He does get pushed around on the block but he’s young and has time to get stronger.
Another strong aspect of his offensive game is his spacial awareness. He is never standing around and always moves to the open area with his hands ready for the catch and shoot.
Opportunities for growth – Rebounding
If there is one reason that I am not all-in on Jackson it is this. While I love that he is a strong defender, and I love that he has a jumper, he doesn’t rebound well at all. He only averaged 5.8 rebounds per game in college where his peers were averaging twice that. People will say that he played less minutes but even his per-40 number only hits 8.7 where Ayton, Bagley, and Bamba were in double figures.
For comparison purposes yet again:
Defensive Rebounding Percentage: Bamba- 28.2%, Ayton- 28.2%, Wendell Carter- 23.2%, Bagley- 21.5%,Jackson- 19.7%
Offensive Rebounding Percentage: Bagley- 13.8%, Ayton- 13.5%, Carter- 12.8%, Bamba- 12.2%, Jackson- 8.8%
Rebounding is not typically something that people learn so this would leave a hole that would need to be filled by whatever team drafts him.
Screen Setting- I could have listed this as a weakness but opted to just make a note of it. He currently sets very weak screens and if he is going to be a pick-and-pop big that will need to improve.
Athleticism- Jackson is yet another extremely athletic big man from this draft class. He’ll run the floor and can get up in space.
This is tricky. As I mentioned, I would love to see him on a team with a dynamic point guard who will open up space for his jumper. With that said, the Mavs desperately need rebounding. If you view Jackson as a center then you get a rebounding 4 man to put beside him. Julius Randle is the hottest name on the Mavs short list and he’d fit that bill. I personally view Jackson as a stretch 4 but as I’ve been told, I’m old school. Because of his age, there is also the potential that Jaren is still growing so that could also change the way I view him long-term.
Where should he go?
Again, a team cannot have enough athletic big men in today’s NBA so I don’t think there is a completely bad fit for him. Depending on where the Suns land I don’t think he’d be great there if they still believe they’ll turn Chriss into something. Other than that, his options are wide open.