By Mike O’Connor
Kansas freshman Josh Jackson is one of the most compelling NBA draft prospects in recent memory. His incredibly versatile skill set, alongside glaring flaws, leave his exact fit in an NBA offense mildly unclear.
Jackson has been projected as a shooting guard through most of the early draft process due to a wiry 6-foot-8 frame. But with a diverse agglomeration of skills, he may be best served outside of the archetypal NBA shooting guard role.
Looking at Jackson’s skills and output last season at Kansas and putting aside the bugaboo that is his jump shot—and it’s going to be very difficult if he can’t shoot at an average level in the NBA—here’s how he could help without:
Josh Jackson played mostly power forward at Kansas and often spoke about playing out of position:
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) May 17, 2017
But his time spent there could be invaluable to finding his footing quickly in the NBA. There are three ways Head Coach Bill Self utilized that should translate very well to the NBA.
First, through duck-ins in the low post. Self often made these secondary actions to disguise them, and Jackson was able to punish smaller defenders.
College spacing limited its effectiveness at times, but Jackson frequently got great position on smaller guards.
The Philadelphia 76ers—Jackson’s presumed destination—and their oddly sized lineups will create matchup problems for teams with small back courts. With teams having to put a shooting guard on Jackson, these duck-ins will punish.
Even when he’s not able to get a seal, he’s got solid touch and can finish over a mismatched defender.
The duck-in isn’t there on this play, but check this out:
How many shooting guards can duplicate this possession? Imagine Brett Brown designing blind pig action around his shooting guard. Defenses are ill-prepared for that kind of versatility.
Pick and Rolls
With the right ball handler, Jackson is a great option as a screener. Blitz the ball handler, and Jackson can use his downhill speed and vision to punish.
There just aren’t many players who can put this much pressure on the defense as a roller. He’s lightning quick, yet controlled and balanced in his attack.
Jackson could be Draymond Green-esque once getting the ball on the roll. His vision, speed and body control is that good. In these examples, he isn’t operating out of the pick and roll, but he shows incredible recognition from the exact position where we’d expect him to receive the ball.
Some teams may try to switch to defend the pick and roll, leaving a point guard on Jackson. In these cases, I like his chances of forcing help on a drive. Then, this pass, but to Joel Embiid.
Let’s put this even more into Sixers’ context. Jackson is a ridiculously good entry passer. He has incredible touch, vision and precision to fit the pass in from anywhere.
This is a somewhat hidden and relatively small skill, but allow me to explain why I like it so much. Check out this Sixers’ staple, Horns Lift:
Now, imagine Jackson lifting and Embiid rolling. Embiid gets the slightest seal and Jackson can hit him. Or vice versa. Or, Jackson keeps it and attacks downhill. The possibilities are endless.
Here’s an example of Jackson getting that quick seal, then flashes some unfathomable vision.
With his skill set, there are plenty of ways to make Jackson a productive pick and roll player.
While he struggled mightily as a ball handler in the pick and roll, he flashed his superb vision at times. His size allows him to see over the defense, and here’s a testament to his vision. This defender is half a step late on the bump down, and he’s toast:
This is something he can really improve at with NBA space and development. But I’m more excited about him as a screener.
The Sixers were fourth in the NBA in elbow touches, in large part due to their use of Mike D’Antoni’s “Elbow” Series:
Now, this might be my favorite Josh Jackson play ever. Just look at what he can do with the middle of the floor to play with:
This portion of his skill set, however, must be taken with a grain of salt. Self only brought Jackson to the elbows against zones, where Jackson was able to toy with the rotations. He won’t have the same privilege against man defenses in the NBA. That being said, he’s an incredibly unique weapon in the middle of the floor.
I really like him being able to make quick burst drives from the elbow.
He’d benefit as the man at the elbow in the Sixers’ elbow series. Defenders won’t be able to sag and Jackson can read the defenses from the inside-out.
Now, before getting to some weaknesses, let me pause and ask this question. Does this look like a shooting guard to you?
Because here’s the thing, his weaknesses are the shooting guard-y things. Tasks such as creating his own shot off the dribble, spot-up shooting and orchestrating the pick and roll are what give teams pause about drafting Jackson.
Can a non-shooting, non-(self)creating player fill an archetypal shooting guard role? Probably not. But, he does too many things well to be uncomfortably crammed into Shooting Guard role. For that reason, he should be considered a small-ball Power Forward.
There’s only one problem with Jackson being on the Sixers, and his name is Ben Simmons. And it’s not a positional problem. The issue is that it’s extremely difficult to run a fluid offense in the NBA with two guys who can’t shoot, especially when neither of them are your center.
As their skillsets stand, I don’t believe he can play with Ben Simmons on offense. When both are off-ball, how is any player with the ball supposed to operate? The two can work together in bursts. When both are involved in the action, and one has the ball. But outside of that? It’s a massive headache for Brett Brown.
So, for the Sixers, the decision to draft him comes down to this: how confident are you in his shot? Or Ben’s shot? Sure, you can stagger them. Craft lineups to cater to them. But eventually, something will have to give if they can’t share the floor. The Sixers’ dilemma is that it’s near impossible to predict. If they both figure out how to shoot 35 percent from three? It’s a cinch. If they both struggle to scratch 30? Forget it. And their chances are almost impossible to predict.
There should be cautious optimism that he can shoot well enough off the catch to keep defenses honest and ensure spacing.
While it’s foolish to use a narrow lens to classify positions in today’s NBA, Josh Jackson is considerably closer to a power forward than he is a shooting guard. That being said, he may not be an ideal fit for the 76ers with his shot being a major question mark. Regardless of the probabilities, it’s a significant risk for the 76ers to take or pass on Josh Jackson.
[newsbox style=”nb1″ display=”tag” tag=”staff” title=”More BBALLBREAKDOWN Staff Articles” number_of_posts=”2″ show_more=”no” nb_excerpt=”0″]