The Big 12 Freshman of the Year, and a First-Team All-Conference member, Josh Jackson had a highly productive season on one of the top teams in college basketball. Kansas went 31-5 and won the Big 12 in dominant fashion, but bowed out of the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight to Oregon.
Jackson's physical profile is a mixed bag. He has very good size for the wing at 6'8, and is a quick-twitch and highly explosive athlete who plays above the rim with ease and covers ground seamlessly defensively. With that said, his small hands, 6'10 wingspan and narrow 207 pound frame may limit his effectiveness playing the small-ball power forward role he was so successful filling in college, and the fact that he's an older freshman at 20 years old makes you wonder how much more strength his frame will carry down the line.
Nevertheless, it is Jackson's defense and overall competitiveness that is one of his most attractive traits. He's a fiery guy who has been a two-way player his entire career, and showed the ability to guard anywhere from 1-4 in college. Jackson takes great pride in his ability to shut down opponents, and does an outstanding job of sitting down in a stance, sliding his feet and locking up players on the perimeter with his lateral quickness, often drawing charges. He's a physical player who throws his body around and isn't afraid to mix things up despite his lanky frame. Even if he isn't the longest player around, he gets in the passing lanes frequently with his quickness and anticipation skills, and also rebounds and blocks shots prolifically with outstanding timing. He'll need to get stronger to handle the bigger and more experienced players he'll encounter at times in the NBA, and is a little spastic at times gambling and getting lost off the ball, but his combination of intensity, athleticism and instincts leaves a great deal of room for optimism in his upside on this end of the floor.
Offensively, Jackson found quite a bit of success at the college level, scoring 21 points per-40 minutes on solid shooting percentages (55% 2P%, 38% 3P%). He's not the most skilled player around, but finds ways to be productive within the team concept by getting out in transition, making spot-up jumpers, cutting off the ball, and mixing in timely offensive rebounds and post-ups. Jackson is a versatile offensive player who shows the ability to be effective operating both on and off the ball, as well as contribute as a scorer or facilitator. He has a strong first step attacking closeouts in the half-court, or getting downhill in the open floor, using long strides, polished footwork and slithery body control, regularly going coast to coast pushing the ball himself off of defensive rebounds. He also shows a nice feel for cutting into open spaces and making himself available for lobs, and has excellent instincts crashing the offensive glass, exploding off two feet and throwing his body around impressively.
Jackson is a streaky shooter, but really found his rhythm as the season moved on. He started the season making just 9 of his first 38 attempts in the first ten weeks, but finished on a blistering note, knocking down 25 of his last 52 tries in the final two months. Overall, Jackson made a solid 39% of his catch and shoot jumpers, rising up with good balance, despite his very funky shooting mechanics that may need to be overhauled over time.
He doesn't shoot the ball the same way attempt-to-attempt, bringing the ball up from his hip, with his elbow flailing out and releasing it from the outside of his hand without much of a wrist snap, sometimes shooting it on the way down. Jackson made just 57% of his free throw attempts this season, and is a career 56% from the line on over 230 attempts in our database, which when combined with his mechanics, leaves a lot of question marks about just how good of a shooter he can become long term.
Jackson struggled in particular shooting the ball off the dribble in the mid-range this season, hitting just 20% of his attempts according to Synergy, which really limited his effectiveness as a shot-creator in the half-court. He made just 28% of his field goal attempts in pick and roll or isolation situations, doing so against collegiate power forwards with three knockdown shooters alongside him. Teams drafting a wing player this high in the draft are typically hoping to find someone who can carry a heavy shot-creation burden, which Jackson does not appear to be comfortable doing at this early stage in his development.
His ball skills are somewhat rudimentary, with a high handle and a bit of a wild streak, often picking up his dribble in tough spots in the half-court. He shows average touch around the basket on finishing attempts off complex moves, partially due to his small hands, narrow frame and the lack of extension he gets around the rim with his just-average wingspan. His inability to make pull-up jumpers consistently hurts him, as defenses like to sag off him and bait him into long 2-pointers, an area of his game he really struggles with at the moment.
With that said, Jackson shows encouraging flashes of effectiveness creating off the bounce at times, changing gears powerfully in the open court with excellent body control, using shot-fakes, driving with his head up, and being highly creative with his ability to find teammates for easy baskets. He's a highly unselfish player with impressive court vision who uses both hands and sides of the floor taking advantage of his ability to see over the top of the defense, and can make a variety of types of passes to help facilitate. He has as a long way to go to become an efficient and consistent shot-creator, but he certainly shows you enough flashes as a freshman to indicate he can improve significantly in time thanks to his athleticism and strong basketball IQ.
Every NBA team would love to bring into their organization an athletic, unselfish, competitive two-way player who loves to do the little things to help win games and makes teammates better. Still, there are some red flags they will need to explore before they are ready to pull the trigger. Jackson lets his emotions get the best of him at times on and off the court seemingly, as he was involved in a few incidents in his short time in Lawrence that will require some more research. His body language leaves something be desired at times, especially with the temper he shows towards referees. He struggled with foul trouble in plenty of Kansas' games, and got called for a handful of technical fouls that seemed to indicate he still has some maturing to do.
Nevertheless, the fact that Jackson wears his heart on his sleeve and plays as hard as he does regardless of the setting or who is in front of him bodes very well for his future. This is a trait that NBA teams love about him, as is the fact that he isn't reliant on his scoring ability in order to contribute. Even if his offense isn't there on a given night, he always gives you the defense, hustle, rebounding and passing component, which is attractive alongside the right type of players. Jackson has a very high floor, and plenty of upside to grow into given his athleticism, basketball IQ, versatility and competitiveness, which should all but guarantee him a spot in the top five of this year's draft.