2017 NBA Draft Profile: Justin Jackson

 After the bombshell trade late Tuesday evening, which saw the Hawks shipping Dwight Howard and the 31st pick in NBA the draft to the Charlotte Hornets for Marco Bellinelli, Miles Plumlee, and the 41stpick. The Hawks still have several moves to make, with all signs leading towards a rebuild and a complete overhaul in Atlanta. With the shocking move coming days before the 2017 NBA Draft, it seems likely that Atlanta will lose All-Star Power Forward Paul Millsap and shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. to Free Agency. Dwight’s trade seemed impossible due to his contract and the revolution of small ball; so, if the Hawks can find a suitor for small forward Kent Bazemore, I fully expect them to move on as well . 

With a potential rebuild eminent combined with the arrival of new Hawks General Manager Travis Schlenk, the Hawks are big players in this year’s NBA draft. The Hawks are not only looking to draft a solid player tonight, they want to land a corner stone piece with their two proven stars in Point Guard Dennis Schroder and rookie sensation, Taurean Prince. 

In the current NBA, many feel that teams should draft a player that fills a need on your roster; however, I personally prefer the best player available and at 19, that player is North Carolina Tarheels Small Forward/Power Forward, Justin Jackson. Jackson is slated to go in the top 20 of this year’s draft and he has enormous potential. His upside is as great if not greater than many of the potential lottery picks, but he fits into Mike Budenholzer’s system perfectly. At 6’8 195, he has the size and frame to be a nightmare for defenses at the power forward position. 

The Hawks already have a budding star in Taurean Prince that plays the same position; however, I could see the Hawks using Jackson at Power Forward.  In his final year, he averaged (18.4) Points Per Game and (4.7) Rebounds Per Game, as well as shooting (51%) from the field and (37%) from the three-point line. Jackson’s style of play is similar to last year’s 2nd overall draft pick, current Los Angeles Lakers Small Forward, Brandon Ingram, which is a guy the Lakers called “untouchable” in trade rumors. They are practically the same height with exact same wingspan at 7’0. Both have similar skill sets and playing styles, however the player I think both have the potential to ascend into is NBA Finals MVP, Kevin Durant. Although those are major shoes to fill, Jackson has the potential despite being shorter than Durant.

Jackson’s notable strength is his high basketball IQ. In college, that became an benefit for a player who lacked extreme athleticism with his knowledge of the game, Jackson could easily read and pick apart what defenses wanted to do with him. In the NBA, in more complex defensive schemes, he’ll need to get stronger inside if he looks to be a dominant scorer. From Jackson’s sophomore season to his final year in Chapel Hill,  his shooting mechanics changed which enabled him to become a three-point shooter. Also, his mechanics allowed him to get shots off quicker as well as having an obvious fluid release. Another aspect of Jackson’s game was his ability coming off screens and pulling up for a jump shot, which he was well known for during his tenure at UNC making him a defensive nightmare for opposing teams. 

Jackson’s knowledge to read screens in multiple sets to find open spaces in the half court reminds you of Kevin Durant. Jackson is a crafty finisher at the rim and a lot of fans love that about him, however he’s 6’8. In the NBA, he’ll need to attack the paint and draw contact to earn Free Throw Attempts. He’s developed a floater that will benefit his progression at the next level; however, he can’t just depend on those shots. An underrated factor is Jackson has a low turnover ratio because he’s a smart ball handler, and has excellent vision to find open or cutting teammates. He’s the best passing forward in this year’s draft, Mike Budenholzer would love to get Jackson in his offense just on that skill alone.

However, Jackson struggles to create shots off the dribble, If he expects to unlock his full potential, that would be an attribute to improve during  Training Camp and the beginning stages of his NBA career. Jackson’s most notable weakness is as a defender, Although he has improved enormously  by getting quicker laterally, he struggles in the Post. His struggles against Power Forwards that can stretch the floor concerns you when he faces guys like Draymond Green, Kevin Love, Dario Saric, among others around the NBA today!

Jackson can develop as a defender over his NBA career so defensive concerns will be a minimal area for him to improve because he’ll be a top notch player for years to come. Jackson could also work on being a better rebounder. You can’t be a 6’8 Forward averaging a dismal (4) Rebounds Per Game, once he develops that factor, he could average double doubles per contest!

Personally, I feel if the  Atlanta Hawks select Justin Jackson, he will thrive with Dennis Schroder and Taurean Prince. Although the Hawks wouldn’t have many expectations for the 2017-2018 season, I would love to see those three build chemistry and emerge into a force in the NBA. Atlanta’s goal is to establish a bright future as a Eastern Conference contender years from now and Howard’s trade was the beginning of the new era. If Jackson is our selection, my confidence will be very high in the direction of the Atlanta Hawks . He’s the prototypical fit in Mike Budenholzer’s scheme and it would be a shame if he excelled in another NBA destination.

 I fully expect Justin Jackson to be a star in this league and a possible “super star”. As the Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green reminded the world last week,  They didn’t have a number one pick as their “Big 3”, two of the three crucial elements to the defending NBA Champions were not Top 10 Draft Picks. Draymond was a second round pick and Curry, Green, Thompson all became All-Stars and eventually lured Kevin Durant. I hope the Hawks are taking notes, investing in your future would be the best way to build a championship team. If Jackson is an Atlanta Hawk, could the Hawks be the next team in line? Let’s hope so! 

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