Justin Jackson ended his UNC career on a high note, being named the ACC Player of the Year while averaging 22.9 points per 40 minutes on a 56% true shooting percentage. He then helped the Tar Heels redeem their crushing 2016 loss in the championship game to take home the 2017 title, by defeating Gonzaga. He had an outstanding NCAA Tournament, averaging 19.5 points per game, and was his team's second leading scorer in both crucial Final Four games, coming up big on the defensive end as well.
Jackson tested the waters after his sophomore season but after a disappointing pre-draft process, returned to UNC with a long list of improvement areas from NBA scouts. Jackson worked extremely hard to improve on his weaknesses and took advantage of an extra year in college by making substantial improvements, which has gone a long way in repairing his stock in the eyes of scouts.
While Jackson has shown clear skill development, there are still some things he has to address to compete nightly against NBA wings. At 6'8 with a 6'11 wingspan, he has very good size and length for a wing, but is just an average athlete by NBA standards. He's a fluid athlete, but lacks a degree of explosiveness. His frame is on the thin side at 201 pounds, which is a cause for concern as a 22 year old junior, since he'll likely always be somewhat lanky. He'll have to continue to get stronger to handle the physicality of a NBA schedule as a small forward, much less be able to spend any time as a small-ball 4-man, which many teams like to see their small forwards do these days.
Jackson relies on his feel for the game and high skill-level to make the right reads on and off ball to help him score. There will be an adjustment he'll need to make playing against more complex defensive schemes than he saw in college, but in a smaller offensive role, Jackson will likely find ways to use his basketball IQ to find openings to get good looks at the rim.
Jackson was able to take a major leap in every aspect of his shooting ability which has turned him into a far more complete player. The adjustments he's made to his shooting mechanics have helped the ball come out cleaner and faster, giving his efficiency numbers a significant boost. He is clearly a more confident shooter as his three point percentage jumped from 29% to 37%, despite more than doubling his attempts, but he is still not an elite shooter yet, and will need to continue to polish this part of his game.
While Jackson is finally beginning to realize his potential as a shooter, he is also becoming more of a threat on the move as someone who can bend the defense with his off ball cuts and shiftiness off screens. He is comfortable shooting after gathering himself when moving to his right or left and is able to quickly become balanced to get into his shooting motion. With his ability to read the defense, he can become a weapon reading screens in set plays or finding open spaces in a more free flowing offense.
Where Jackson struggles is creating offense off the dribble, either out of pick and roll or isolation opportunities. Lacking an elite first step to get into space and struggling to handle the ball in traffic, he is rarely able to shake his defender off the dribble. His drives are cut off before he can get into the lane and he is often stuck dribbling from sideline to sideline rather than toward the rim.
When he does find an opening, he prefers to score off floaters (41% on 75 attempts according to Synergy Sports Technology) or pull-up jumpers (31.5% on 73 attempts per SST) rather than attempting to take contact at the rim. He can be a crafty finisher at the rim (57.5% conversion rate per SST) but may have trouble finishing around the basket against longer rim protectors because of his lack of explosiveness and strength. He shot just 4.2 free throw attempts per 40 minutes, one of the lower marks among small forwards in our top 100 and rarely looked to initiate contact. He will have to prove that he can score inside the paint when he is run off the line, by both becoming a more reliable mid-range shooter, and being more physical with his finishes.
Jackson compensates for his just-decent shot-creation ability by being a willing and capable ball-mover. His 0.54 pure point rating ranked second best among small forwards in our top 100, which demonstrates his ability to survey the floor and deliver accurate passes to his teammates. He keeps his head up while dribbling and makes the smart pass to limit careless turnovers which helps the offense flow around him.
To Jackson's credit, he has made significant strides defensively, especially as UNC got deeper and deeper into their postseason run last season. He stepped up his intensity level while doing a much better job moving his feet and contesting shots on the perimeter with his length. However, he had difficulty when tasked with guarding NBA level wing players at times, as his lateral quickness and build didn't always hold up. Early on in his career he may struggle with the physicality of NBA small forwards, and will certainly be outmatched against stretch power forwards until he bulk and learns how to play with maximum toughness and intensity on every possession.
He was also a poor rebounder, averaging just 4.0 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes. His numbers were diminished partly due to the prowess of the UNC big men but he also was not confident enough to throw his weight around in traffic to fight for loose balls which will continue to be a hole in his game until he gets stronger.
Jackson is a great communicator on defense and with the intelligence he has shown offensively, he should be able to easily pick up the complex schemes of NBA defenses. While he may not be a lockdown one on one defender, he could be able to function well in a team concept to help him make an impact on that end.
Jackson is peaking at the right time with his role at the next level looking very clear cut coming off a very strong season. His role in UNC's success helps his cause, and his size, length, improved shooting, basketball IQ and willingness to do the little things makes him someone who will be easy to fit into an NBA roster.