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Is Josh Jackson the star the Boston Celtics are looking for?

Josh Jackson had a promising freshman year at Kansas, but how much of his skill is transferable in the NBA?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Kansas vs Oregon Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Well, so much for Markelle Fultz, huh? After the Boston Celtics traded away the first pick to the Philadelphia Sixers for what will be the third pick and a LAL pick protected 2-5, fans are now left to quickly re-adjust expectations. The question no longer is whether we can get another guard to fit into our roster, but a question of which wing do we like the best. It’s now been reported by multiple outlets that the Celtics will most likely be picking between either Josh Jackson or Jayson Tatum, with the latter just completing a workout for Boston early on Monday. As a fanbase, trading the number-1 pick is always a tough pill to swallow for a reason as simple as just hearing your team pick first on Thursday night and being able to claim the consensus best player as your own. But it’s important to remember that who a prospect is will not always translate to who he is once he becomes an NBA player, and it seems that Ainge didn’t see the same separation between Markelle Fultz and players such as Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson, and Lonzo Ball that other experts did.

So let’s talk about one of their new potential targets, Kansas forward Josh Jackson. Jackson stands at roughly 6’8” with a 6’9” wingspan, though that may be in question:

From a basketball perspective, he does seem like the prototypical Danny Ainge pick. He’s known for being hyper-competitive and playing aggressive defense, and he looks like the type of prospect that fits seamlessly into the new and improved versatile heavy defense.

During his lone season at Kansas, Jackson posted 16.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 3 apg, was 37.8% from three, and shot a putrid 56.6% from the free throw line. Kansas made a decision very early in the season play him as a small-ball 4, and he absolutely excelled in the role by using his athleticism to get by slower-footed college defenders. His speed advantage also made life extremely difficult for opposing bigs.

Plays like this won’t show up anywhere on the stat sheet, but it’s that type of hustle and willingness to battle that made Jackson a fan favorite at Kansas and one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft.

Who is Jackson at the next level?

The biggest issue for Jackson is the question of just how transferrable his skills will be at the next level. His best and most underutilized asset in Kansas was his passing ability, and every so often he’d show off his ability to understand angles or get to the rim and drop it off to at just the right moment as the defense collapsed.

Players don’t usually lose their vision when they go to the next level, and Jackson won’t be one of them, but the rest of his game is filled with more question marks. Jackson has a short wingspan for his height, and at 205 lbs it’s very unlikely that he’ll ever be able to be a full-time small-ball 4. Even in college his fit in the front court wasn’t always perfect. Jackson would constantly get bumped around by bigger players, and despite battling hard, a majority of his rebounds were mostly uncontested. Without the ability to play the 4 at the next level, rebounding isn’t something you should expect from Jackson at a high level.

Potential as a scorer?

Going even further into his offensive game, one has to believe that if you’re taking Jackson with a top 3 pick, it’s under the assumption that he can become a real offensive weapon. In his defense, Jackson did show some flashes as a guy who could create for himself, but there’s catch.

It all comes back to Jackson’s ability to create over other wings rather than the slower bigs he was primarily playing against while in college. In Kansas, Jackson flourished finishing around the rim and mid-post thanks to a soft touch around the basket and his ability to get by opponents with an electric left-right crossover that even had De’Aaron Fox tripping over his feet:

According to hoops-math.com, Jackson only had 41.7% of his shots assisted at the rim and still finished at a whopping 69% at the rim, signifying his ability to get to the rim and finish on his own. In the mid-post is where Jackson really shows some of his offensive potential, hitting defenders with an array of stepbacks and crossovers which, mixed with his athleticism, make him a danger to get to rim against smaller or bigger opponents. Another place Jackson excelled was in the low post, where he showed off a soft touch. With his passing ability, he could develop into a player who could run the offense through the post against smaller guards.

A big part of Jackson’s upside potential will come from how well he can shoot the three-ball. On one end, this is seen as a negative for Jackson’s game because of his shaky jumpshot mechanics that include a bad hitch and flaring elbows that are simply no-nos when trying to get a strong shot together. In the beginning of the year, Jackson was shooting the ball under 30% from beyond the arc, and he looked like a prospect that may fall into the “athletic wing who can’s shoot” category. Then came the second half of the season, where from January to the end of his season he made 43.5% of his three-point shots on about 2.8 attempts per game. Jackson’s mechanics were still shaky, but he learned where and when to take the shots a bit better and capitalized on the opportunities where he was open, hitting 50% of his open or wide-open shots via lakerfilmroom.com. Because of his hot finish, he actually ended up shooting 37.8% from three, which would be a very welcome sight in the NBA. The problem is that he also shot 56.6% from the free throw line on 4.9 attempts per game, which is generally not a good sign since free throws have at times been a good indicator of three-point shooting success at the next level. However, those cases usually don’t involve a player who has already shown he can hit three-pointers at a quality level. If the Celtics look at his mechanics and production at the three-point line and think that he could be an above-average shooter, than he becomes a very attractive prospect. Otherwise, he may just be too redundant to your team to even consider with the third pick.

What position does Jackson play in the NBA?

What makes Jackson even more difficult to evaluate is that he played the 4 and did small-ball 4 things well in Kansas, but in the league he’ll most likely play best on the perimeter at either the two or the three spot. This is true for a couple reasons. For one, Jackson’s slender body and smaller frame just won’t really allow him to bang in the front court the same way he did in Kansas. Second, being the head of the defense and the one getting over screens, chasing around shooters, and pestering smaller guards with his quickness is a much greater asset as a perimeter guy and member of the backcourt than it is to be battling with guys 20-25 lbs heavier. Another skill that makes Jackson an interesting fit in the backcourt is his ball-handling ability. Jackson consistently made the right reads with the ball in his hands and seemed to always have a good sense of where his teammates where while he was driving. Jackson averaged an 18.2 assist rate during his one year at Kansas, and though they never ran him through much pick and roll he was great at dump-offs to bigs or tossing it to open shooters whenever he was going to the rim. Also, Jackson got to run a lot of action from the high post, and he did an excellent job dissecting defenses with his vision and ability to get to the rim.

All indications point to Jackson being a player who will be able to keep up with backcourt players and could exploit some of their matchups due to his size and quickness. But his ability to score will be the biggest factor in determining how valuable he is in that position.

So is Jackson worth the number three pick?

Determining whether Josh Jackson is the correct fit or not really relies on asking yourself how much you believe in his jump shot. If you think he can eventually turn into a solid shooter, especially off the dribble, then you take him and give him legitimate opportunities to get better. Despite Jackson’s poor shooting from the mid-range area (38.1%), he showed a real ability to get some separation from defenders to get clean looks. If he figures out his form, then his game absolutely translates to him being a menace on the defensive end while potentially being a 20 ppg scorer and fitting well next to Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown.

On the other hand, if you don’t think his jumper improves and have no faith that he can ever really do much with his shot offensively except become a spot-up shooter, then maybe you look elsewhere. Jackson probably won’t be able to blow by people as effectively as he did in college, and chances are without an ability to knock down jump shots, there’s no way an NBA team would have trouble sticking him. Though you can argue that you’d still be left with a valuable swiss-army-knife type of player, on a Celtics team that is filled with hard-working, blue-collar, and prideful guys, that skill set doesn’t necessarily have as much of a need.

If it was up to me, I think you take a player that can provide something different. Jackson’s best skills are those that the Celtics have plenty of. The Celtics are already a great passing team and have some of the most versatile defenders in the league. When you have players at your disposal like Jayson Tatum who can get points and add another guy on the team who can get buckets outside of Isaiah Thomas, then chances are you go for that. It’s easy to hope for the best when it comes to an athlete with a good feel for the game, but this team may be better off with someone who can give them a tangible skill of need.

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