Josh Jackson is the newest addition to the rapidly growing Kansas one-and-done club, and tonight he will likely become the newest edition to KU’s Top 5 Pick club. In terms of the Self era, that would have him joining only Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Thomas Robinson. Let’s have a look at how he got here.
Jackson chose KU after narrowing it down to Lawrence and East Lansing as his landing spots. Unlike some other high-profile recruits Bill Self has landed in recent years (Selden, Alexander and arguably Svi come to mind), Jackson was pretty much everything he was advertised to be out of the gate. Big, strong, athletic, and almost insanely competitive with a very high basketball IQ. Oh, and his jump shot was horrific.
The only things that changed as the year went on were positives; a reduction in technical fouls and his jump shot becoming, if not less horrific, at least more effective. After a 9 point performance to start the season, Jackson reeled off 11 straight double-digit scoring games (he was held under 10 just three times) on his way to being KU’s second leading scorer after the prolific Frank Mason. At January’s midpoint, he was shooting under 25% from three point range, but through a combination of shot selection and perhaps limiting the moving parts in his bizarre shooting motion, he would end the season hitting 22 of 43 (51%) behind the arc over his final 18 games, showing that perhaps there’s hope for his jumper after all.
As far as his outlook for tonight, it’s a lot more settled than Frank Mason’s. Mason is pegged as a mid-second rounder, which could mean as high as early second round, or possibly not getting drafted at all. Jackson is a guaranteed top ten pick, and a virtual lock for the top 5. Originally, he was thought to have sewn up the 3rd slot for the 76ers. Then the Sixers traded up for the top pick with Boston, and rumors have started flying that the Celtics are in love with Duke’s Jayson Tatum. Tack on the fact that Jackson never had a tryout with Boston, and you have most mocks tabbing him at the four spot.
Of course, that fourth pick has become the subject of a number of trade rumors, including the possibility of San Antonio dealing LaMarcus Aldridge to Phoenix. Of course, the Celtics could still take Jackson, and he wouldn’t be the first KU lottery pick to slip further than anticipated. Right now though, the experts seem to agree that he’s a top five player. Draft Express, who I highly recommend as the best free source of draft information, has him going to the Suns at 4. CBS Sports’ Gary Parish agrees, but Reid Forgrave, also of CBS differs, with De’Aron Fox going to Phoenix at 4, and Jackson slipping to 5 and the...oh no...the Sacramento Kings. The killer of many promising NBA careers, including Ben McLemore and quite possibly Thomas Robinson. Let’s hope that doesn’t become a thing. NBA.com still believes in Jackson-to-the-Celtics as real at pick three, while Sports Illustrated has gone off script, sticking Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac at three to Boston, with Jackson still going to the Suns.
No major publications have Jackson falling out of the top five, though the idea of him heading to Sacramento should trouble all Jayhawk fans. I personally think the scenario of Phoenix passing him up for Fox is unlikely, given that they have a solid point guard in Eric Bledsoe. That being said, Phoenix is really hard up for big men, so if they like what they see from Jonathan Isaac and Boston really does have feels for Jayson Tatum, we could see Jackson headed to Sactown. Yuck.
As far as his prospects as an NBA player are concerned, there are some mixed feelings out there. The consensus seems to be that he has a high ceiling, but that there are enough holes in his game today to leave concern about him being a big-time contributor. From Draft Express’ profile on him, which is titled “the wildcard,” if that tells you anything, writer Mike Schmitz calls Jackson an “enigma” right out of the gate. He calls him “edgy, explosive and emotional” saying he looks like a number one pick when he’s playing at peak potential.
However, playing at that level means his shot has to be falling, and that’s still a question mark, this year’s shooting improvement notwithstanding. Draft Express notes his unusual shooting motion and questions whether that can serve him well enough at the next level. Obviously, guys like Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler have shown that poor-shooting small forward can develop a good enough shooting stroke to become a two-way threat. However, guys like Julian Wright have shown us that sometimes that just never happens. Going even further, sometimes guys like Shawn Marion come along and prove that great defense and a really weird jumpshot can make for an excellent basketball player.
DX’s favorite comp for Josh Jackson is Andre Iguodala, and while I don’t love that comparison, I can see it. Jackson’s defense has a ways to go to be at that level, and I think if his shot gets worked out, he could be a better pure scorer than Iguodala.
We’ll find out soon enough, but while Jackson’s draft range seems set, his future team is anything but.