Making the Case: Jaren Jackson Jr.
Quick note before the actual article, this is going to be the start of a little series I’m going to be doing leading up to the draft where I go over various prospects and look at specifically their strengths as basketball players. It can be very easy to get caught up in what a player can’t do so it’s important to look at what a player can do and why they are even a prospect in the first place.
So, first up is Jaren Jackson Jr. of Michigan State, a player that has a lot of fans in the draft community, some even believing he could be as good as the 2nd best player in this entire class.
Jaren Jackson Jr. is among the youngest players in the draft, born September 15, 1999 he won’t even turn 19 by the time he’s drafted. His father Jaren Jackson Sr. played at Georgetown in the late 80s and eventually the NBA for a while, including winning an NBA championship with the Spurs in 1999. And his mom Terri is the Director of Operations for the WNBA’s Player Association, so basketball runs in his family. Jackson Jr. was a McDonald’s All-American and a consensus top 10 recruit coming out of high school and has since become a key member of Michigan State’s team this year, a team many think has a shot at a national title.
One of the big reasons Jackson has a lot of fans among draft writers is because he’s probably the best jump shooter of the top big men in this class. He’s currently a 44.6% 3 point shooter and an 80.8% free throw shooter with an impressive TS% of 67.5%. His shot isn’t perfect mechanically, it is a little low arcing, but it works for him and he’s able to hit open shots pretty easily. His size at 6’10 with a 7’4 wingspan makes it easy for him to catch lobs or shoot over smaller defenders as well. He’s a good finisher at the rim who has shown the ability to finish with either hand and uses his strength very well. The biggest thing for me is that while he probably won’t be asked to score much in his rookie year, I’m very confident that he’s going to be effective when given his opportunities.
One thing I think doesn’t get talked about enough is his ability to put the ball on the floor. Obviously handling the ball isn’t what you want him to do a lot, but he’s capable driving to the basket, including this impressive coast to coast play he had vs. Illinois:
Outrunning players as a big man is impressive, but how many big men can outrun players with lightning stripes on their jerseys?
My favorite thing about Jaren Jackson Jr. and why he is such a highly regarded prospect is his defense. He’s incredibly intelligent for being so young and is already a fantastic rim protector, averaging over 6 blocks per 40 minutes and having a 14.5% block percentage. He’s got great timing and is a smart help defender, as you’ll see on this play:
He’s got great lateral movement skills and quick enough feet to make plays anywhere in the halfcourt and should be able to switch onto guards very smoothly at the next level. Of the top big men in the class, I don’t see how he isn’t the most ready defensively with his instincts and versatility. He’s good on closeouts and his ability to switch will make him very valuable in an NBA that stresses versatility on that end.
I really, really like Jaren Jackson Jr. as a prospect, but advanced stats might like him even more as he still currently leads the NCAA with a box plus/minus of 16.6. The most interesting thing about him is that he’s got such a rare blend of youth and intelligence/polish that I think is just too tough to pass on in the top 5 of this class. He should be able to step in right away and play a role for a team as a helpful or even impactful defender who doesn’t need the ball a ton on offense but when you give him a chance he won’t let you down. I think he’s got a chance to be a very special player especially if he gets paired with some elite scorers/offensive players that can give him open looks and while playing on a defense that allows him to do a little bit of everything.