Junior forward Justin Jackson has been a special two-way performer all season long, and it’s been no different in the NCAA tournament.
The North Carolina Tar Heels are nobody’s Cinderella, but it doesn’t mean they haven’t earned a chance for a sixth championship. When you think of Carolina players, they are tough at both ends of the floor. Playing for head coach Roy Williams, guys have to be defenders first. From the outset of his career in Chapel Hill, Justin Jackson has shown he’s got all the tools to be an outstanding wing defender.
With his 6-8 height, and 6-10.8 wingspan (according to DraftExpress), it’s no secret as to how he’s so crucial to Carolina’s defensive schemes.
He plays with sound technique and allows that length to do the work for him. Jonathan Givony of Draft Express was particularly impressed by Jackson’s play against the Oregon Ducks Saturday night.
It was clear that the length and versatility of the Carolina forward really frustrated the perimeter shooters of Oregon. It wasn’t in the gameplan to score when matched up with Jackson, who was a huge reason they held the high-powered Ducks to 37.9 percent shooting and just 26.9 from three (according to ESPN).
His skill set on that end is ideal for the current NBA game, which is predicated on wing defenders needing to have the length to negate the quickness of both guard positions and small forwards. He always has active hands both on the ball and as an adjacent defender in passing lanes.
Jackson’s gotten better each season at getting run-outs from steals with that length, which leads to easy transition buckets. He’ll need to put weight on for consistency in low-post defense, but he projects as a solid shot blocker on the wing already and in help situations.
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What has been the huge difference for Jackson this year is the offensive end of the floor. He was the ACC Player of the Year with an average of 18.3 points per game and an effective shooting rate of 53.8 percent (per Sports Reference). He’s been showcasing the ability to make all kinds of shots; that was not how it was for him initially.
The tangible improvement for this lanky small forward is the emergence of the three ball. He must’ve been practicing that all offseason, as Jackson is shooting 38.2 percent from there and was second in the ACC in made three-point field goals.
His big shots throughout the tourney have provided steady production when UNC has needed it most. With that high release point, it’s so difficult to get a solid closeout on him, and that’s killed UNC’s opponents. He’s also very adept coming off screens and firing. He paced the Heels throughout key stretches against the Ducks with his four threes.
That said, the junior is much more than a catch-and-shoot player. He has great athleticism to get to the rim, where he can finish with both hands. His quick first step opens up the pull-up game off that, too, and he routinely gets defenders off balance. In addition, he has a beautiful floater both in the lane and along the baseline. That three-ball gives him a deadly pump fake, which is a shooter’s best friend (especially one with a near 6-11 wingspan).
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Last but not least, Jackson’s basketball IQ projects very well for the NBA. With him establishing his all-around scoring acumen, he has made his teammates better as well. His offensive box plus/minus of 7.6 and total points produced (643) were both second in the ACC, which was likely the best conference in the country this year.
DraftExpress has him going 12th in the 2017 NBA draft. That seems about right to me, but no matter where he ends up, this guy has the level of maturity to be a future All-Star in the Association. Whoever selects him will be thrilled to have a great two-way prospect with loads of upside and great character.
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