Ever since the Philadelphia 76ers earned the third pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, there’s been much conversation. Some folks want to take Kentucky’s Malik Monk third. Some want to take Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac third. One person I talked to (whose name I’ll keep secret to protect his identity) wants the Sixers to take NC State’s Dennis Smith at three. (No. Please God, no.)
Every mock draft you can search for on the internet projects the Sixers to take Josh Jackson — the 6’8″ forward out of Kansas. Presumably, Washington’s Markelle Fultz goes number one to Boston and Lonzo Ball from UCLA goes to the Lakers at number two. (If God is not vengeful, of course, Ball will go number two. Lonzo Ball in a Sixers uniform is something I’m not mentally ready to handle.) That leaves the Sixers and Jackson.
With Jackson’s size and athleticism, it is easy to rationalize that the Sixers will plug him in as the two-guard or small forward. That’s a fair rationale. What about this, though? The Sixers take Jackson at third overall and plug him in as the secondary ball handler with Ben Simmons.
(The regular readers of this column who want to burn me at the stake as a heretic are already getting the wood and fire ready.)
Is that a crazy idea, though?
One thing that teams love about Josh Jackson is his versatility. Jackson is a decent enough ball handler. He’s not going to pound the ball and make several hundred dribble moves and cross someone over, but he’s not a turnover nightmare, either. Jackson has a very high basketball IQ, which grants him the ability to see the floor and where his teammates are in relation. Isn’t that more or less what you want in a point guard?
Imagine that in transition. Jackson getting a pass off a rebound from Embiid or Simmons, running the break, and hitting a teammate with a perfect pass like that. That’s not an easy pass to make (split two defenders with a bounce pass leading the man to the basket). Jackson makes it look almost effortless.
In the half court set, Jackson can utilize his basketball IQ in drive-and-kick situations like this play against Baylor.
Jackson beats his man on the baseline, sees two Bears roll to him and kicks it out to Lagerald Vick, who drives to the basket for the acrobatic layup. Then, of course, this is my personal favorite.
So, that’s pretty amazing, actually. Jackson gets the easy rebound off a Texas Tech miss and does his best “Kevin Love outlet pass” impression. He hits Graham in stride (albeit with a little too much leading) who then passes it off to Vick for the finish.
Statistics support the idea that Jackson could be an option at the point guard position. His counting stats don’t really say it, since he only averaged 3.0 assists per game, but what was he supposed to do? Frank Mason III was the point guard (and a damn good one) at Kansas. Jackson’s advanced statistics, however, show promise. Jackson averaged 5.4 assists per 100 possessions with an 18.2% assist percentage. That’s a part of Jackson’s game that will translate to the NBA right away.
Relying on that strength of his game allows Jackson to focus on and practice a little bit more on what people always comment on: his shooting. There’s no easy way to say this. Jackson is a streaky shooter, and that’s just being nice.
However, some have been way more critical than me. Jackson did turn it on towards the end of the season to finish at 37.8 percent from deep. The question that remains is if that spike was just a hot period that Jackson rode? Is that last three months of the college season the norm or was it a small tease?
Let’s say that it was a small tease. It does not mean the Sixers should be wary of that if they pick Jackson at three since he has other tools (i.e. ball handling, defense, athleticism). I get it. The most important thing you need to be able to do is put the ball in the basket. It’s why Malik Monk is the subject of some conversation at number three. He gets buckets. Jackson is versatile in so many areas, however. If his three-point shot stays around 35-38 percent, then that’s the gravy on the mashed potatoes. Below 35 percent would present a bit of a problem.
Granted, the idea of Jackson at the point goes against the natural desire of everyone in town who wants to see Ben Simmons as a 6’10” point guard. My position has always been the same on where Simmons belongs: on the block using his size, speed, finishing, and passing ability to drive opposing big men insane. That position was one of my first acts of heresy according to many Sixers fans. Let me present you with the following lineup, however:
PG (for position purposes): Josh Jackson
SG: J.J. Redick
SF: Robert Covington
PF: Ben Simmons
C: Joel Embiid
Redick has shot close to or over 40 percent from three in each of the last four seasons including an insane 47.5 percent from three two years ago. The Sixers will likely have to overpay a bit to get Redick to come. That’s still a better idea than driving a Brinks truck full of money to Kyle Lowry’s house. (For the record, I don’t hate the idea of Lowry to the Sixers, but Lowry has said he wants a ring. He has a better shot of that staying in Toronto or taking a MASSIVE pay cut to go to San Antonio.)
Offensively, you have Jackson running the offense with two shooters (Redick, Covington) and two post players (Simmons and Embiid). Pick and rolls, pick and pops, drive and kicks are all available with this starting five. If Jackson is at least a 35 percent shooter from three, he’s at least a threat to drop one in from deep.
Defensively, look at that lineup. That entire lineup can switch. Yes, you do not want Redick on someone like Kyrie Irving too often on a pick and roll. I understand, but that’s the nature of NBA offenses, now.
Mismatches on offense are going to happen, but the team defensive potential of that lineup is ridiculous. Jackson and Covington would he an impressive wing duo in terms of on-ball defending with both Embiid AND Simmons protecting the rim. (Don’t forget. Simmons can block shots, too. Maybe not with the prowess of Embiid, but he’s not useless.)
In the ever-evolving NBA, the concept of “positionless basketball” grows. Josh Jackson could be an interesting piece in this puzzle because he can be plugged in to do several different things. The Kansas product can be plugged in multiple outlets, and plugging him in at the point guard position from a technical standpoint is not the worst idea.