Weight: 236 lbs.
Standing Reach: 9-2
Birthday/Age: 9/15/99 (turns 19 in September)
Projected NBA role: Center
Hometown: Carmel, Indiana
School: Michigan State University
Strengths: Shooting, Athleticism, Defense, Agility, Speed, Quickness, Motor
Weaknesses: Passing, Post Offense
Thoughts and Comparisons
The son of former NBA role player Jaren Jackson, most well-known for his steady contributions to the San Antonio Spurs in the late 90s and early 2000s, Jaren Jackson Jr. can do what his father did (shoot the three) and then some.
Barring injuries, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Jaren Jackson Jr. doesn’t become a very valuable player in the NBA. Players his size aren’t supposed to be able to move as fluidly as he does. If you didn’t know any better, you could easily confuse him for one of the Spartan wings, such as sophomore Joshua Langford. No hyperbole: Jackson stays in a stance and slides his feet as well, if not better, than any big man prospect I’ve ever seen. Based on Jackson’s foundation of skills, particularly shooting and defending (at the rim and along the perimeter), his floor is probably Thon Maker.
It was a shocker (to most) when Maker was a lottery pick back in 2016, but his selection at No. 10 isn’t surprising in hindsight. I remember the first time I saw Maker live, and it was incredible how quickly he was able to get up and down the court. He literally looked like a buck out there, gliding rapidly from end to end. We might be singing a similar song a year from now if/when Jackson is selected ahead of fellow marquee big man prospects like Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley and Mohamed Bamba. Jackson is younger than all three of them, and he already has the tools to contribute on a contender at the next level. He’s a bit foul-happy, averaging 3.2 fouls in 22.2 minutes per game. I’d argue some of that can be attributed to questionable calls, as most young players who give a crap on defense are bound to be whistled. Maker has been prone to foul trouble too, averaging 4.5 fouls per-36 minutes through 121 career contests.
For Jackson, the middle ground might be a Serge Ibaka impersonation. Ibaka’s ability to protect the rim, shoot the three and slide along the perimeter defensively has allowed him to slot in at power forward and center for contenders. Ibaka is better off at center these days. Still, his malleability provides myriad options for coaches when it comes to constructing lineups. Jackson will need to put in a lot of work before he’s built like Ibaka. But Jaren may be more agile than Serge ever was, and eventually more able at the 4 should the squad that selects him already have a solid starting 5 (or have a chance to acquire a star center thereafter).
This brings us to one of the ultimate power forward/centers of all-time: Kevin Garnett. The Big Ticket is famously referred to as 6-13. Listed at 6-11, for the rumored reason that he wanted to avoid banging with centers in the paint, Garnett is supposedly at least seven feet tall. He won his title playing alongside Kendrick Perkins and operated at power forward for the vast majority of his career, but if K.G. were coming into the league now he’d almost certainly be viewed as a perfect center prospect. Coming straight out of high school, Garnett was the fifth pick (1995), turning 19 years old a month before the draft. Jackson won’t be 19 until September. As a scrawny 19-year-old rookie in the NBA, Garnett averaged 10.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists to 1.4 turnovers, 1.6 blocks and 1.1 steals in 28.7 minutes per game. The rest is history. Even at the end of the road, The Kid was dynamite on defense.
K.G. knew where to be, had the motor to get there, and used his quick mitts, windshield-wiper wingspan and overwhelming will to win to wage war against opposing offenses. Whether it was a big block, strong close out, hedge on a screen, textbook box out, elbow in the gut or hand in a passing lane, his presence was always felt. Jackson will have a hard time matching the same level of intensity and dedication as a man possessed to the extent that Garnett was in his Hall-of-Fame career. However, triple J does get visibly hyped from time to time. Keep your eyes on him and you’ll see the fire in his soul burns bright. He’ll even throw in a fist pump to fire himself up every once in a while. If it hasn’t already been made clear, Jackson relishes the challenge of defending, and it’s usually stops that amp him up the most.
Even Jaren’s biggest believers aren’t expecting him to be a go-to scorer akin to Kevin. In today’s league, one-on-one play isn’t as important though, and even Garnett was at his best when he limited his time of possession. Especially with the Celtics, he made the most of his touches and didn’t waste time, shooting, making a move or passing the rock as soon as he got his hands on it. His dribble hand-off, complete with a not-so-sneaky sliding screen door, will remain etched in my mind. Living up to such a lofty projection won’t be easy. Jackson hasn’t been a good passer in college either. Nevertheless, he does boast a promising ability to put the ball on the ground and drive to his left. So much so that my favorite basketball writer mistakenly assumed that Jackson was left-handed. Opposing defenses have to honor Jackson’s shot. If he notices the defense is out of control and sees a lane to the cup, he’ll pump fake, put it on the deck, blow by them and slam it home with his off hand. It’s utterly horrifying. Michigan State doesn’t feed Jackson the ball in the post often. It’s probably for the best, all things considered. Post offense isn’t what it was back in the day. That he attacks closeouts off the dribble when defenders try to disrupt his jumper speaks to his patience and maturity.
Ideal Landing Spots
Jaren Jackson Jr. is a fit on your favorite team, your least favorite team and every other one in between. Jackson would be dangerous next to star big men like Joel Embiid, Marc Gasol, Kristaps Porzingis, Al Horford and Dwight Howard. He’d be absolutely perfect for Chicago, especially if the plan is to start Lauri Markkanen long-term. Markkanen needs a paint presence, which Rob Lopez provides, but Lopez can’t slide his feet well enough to cover 4’s. There’s only so much a team with a player who can’t really protect the rim or guard perimeter players can do to hide that guy. Landing Jackson may be the Bulls’ best chance at finding that player. I’m no Bulls fan, not since ages six to eight, post-Space Jam brainwashing. And I was low on Markkanen and the Jimmy Butler trade. But I’m sort of rooting for this to happen. Phoenix is desperate for defense and three-point shooting: need I say more about the Suns? Atlanta: Why not? Cleveland could convince the King to reconsider if Jackson joins the fold. Rick Carlisle would be jumping for joy. Orlando has big men (Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo) and could probably use Trae Young more just in terms of need. Disclaimer: I’d still be downright giddy about a Jaren Jackson-Aaron Gordon-Jonathan Isaac frontcourt. Jackson’s 3-and-D skillset could even accommodate Willie Cauley-Stein, De’Aaron Fox and company in Sacramento.