The Celtics could have started the regular season with a 15th roster spot empty. You can’t predict what you might need down the road of a grueling regular season. You never know what might shake loose from the free agent tree or if an extra slot might come in handy in a trade. But with long-term injuries to Robert Williams and Danilo Gallinari, Boston could use all the help to start the year.
With Noah Vonleh shoring up the need for backup big men, the team signed 5-year veteran Justin Jackson with their final roster slot. For Jackson, he knows that he’s deep in the pecking order of guards and wings for the Celtics.
“They already have a pretty good lineup. For me, it’s just a matter of pushing these guys in practice,” Jackson said after Sunday’s session and two days before the Celtics open the 2022-2023 season against the visiting 76ers. “It’s a long season, so there’s no telling what might happen, hopefully nothing. But for me, just staying ready for whatever opportunity might come.”
This has been a long time coming for Jackson. After falling just outside of the lottery in 2017, he went to the Sacramento Kings at #15, but never found his footing. Boston will be his sixth NBA city, but his second stint with the Celtics. Last year, he signed a ten-day during the winter’s COVID spike, but caught the coronavirus a few days into his contract.
However, his stay was enough for the team to invite him to join the Summer League squad late in Vegas and then eventually, to training camp this fall. While Jackson credits his faith and hard work for his journeyman career that has lead to another shot in the bigs, head coach Joe Mazzulla sees a young player that picks up concepts quickly and fits Boston’s system.
“He knows how to read the game, fits into our offensive system very well, and competes on the defensive end,” Mazzulla said after practice. After a disappointing outing against the Raptors in the second preseason game missing all eight of his shots, Jackson responded two days later in Charlotte, finishing with 16 points including hitting 4-for-8 from behind the arc.
“For me, it’s kind of being a floor spacer offensively, being able to shoot and play off close outs. Defensively, just trying to use my height, my length to hopefully guard some different positions,” the 6’8 Jackson said. “They like to switch a lot here, so there’s really no position guarding-wise because you end up guarding everybody, so just being able to do that and get used to that.”
There’s usually little fanfare for the 15th man on the roster, but there’s a quiet confidence in Jackson’s demeanor that makes him such an endearing and engaging prospect. His hard hat attitude should quickly endear him to the Boston blue collar fanbase immediately.
“There was a lot of hard work that went into it. It feels gratifying to see that hard work to turn into somewhat of a reward. For me, it’s just a matter of getting better each and every day,” Jackson said. “Obviously, that’s one step and a huge blessing. Me and my family feel very blessed to be here. For me, it’s about going forward and getting better each and every day.”