December 9, 2018, 6:06 pm
In an era that has seen one-and-done players dominate the NBA draft, upperclassmen entering the league have been more regularly discussed as low-ceiling/high-floor prospects. With this dynamic in place, these players are usually expected to produce early in their careers and run a much higher risk of being labeled a “bust” after early struggles.
Second-year forward Justin Jackson is certainly no stranger to these expectations. After a Junior season that saw him earn ACC Player of the Year honors en route to the NCAA Division I title, Jackson was discussed as a player who could potentially contribute immediately. While he did have some encouraging moments during his rookie season, he was mostly unable to live up to these expectations. Jackson wasn’t able to get off to a better start to the 2018-19 season, and for many it was becoming more and more difficult to see him having a long-term role with the team.
The last 16 games have been a completely different story for Jackson. Since November 1st, Jackson has shot 52.4 percent from the field and 47.5 percent from behind the arc. This turnaround has raised his overall shooting percentage to 45.9 percent on the season, but more importantly he’s now shooting over 36 percent from three-point range.
Jackson isn’t the high-volume shooter that he was in college, and between that and his limited role it can be difficult to see his impact. This has never been more evident than after the Kings’ 111-110 victory over the Pacers on December 1st, which head coach Dave Joerger felt was Jackson’s best performance of the season:
Dave Joerger said tonight was Justin Jackson’s best game of the season. 8 pts, 3 rebs, 2 asts in a win
— Jason Jones (@mr_jasonjones) December 2, 2018
Some might view that as an indictment of Jackson’s game, but a lot of what Jackson does well can be tough to see in a box score.
While his shooting numbers have been a disappointment, Jackson has always been good at avoiding mistakes. During his rookie season, Jackson averaged just 1.3 turnovers per-100 possessions. This was the fifth best mark for any rookie to play at least 50 games last season, with none of the players ahead of him able to match his 2.4 assists per-100 possessions. Jackson has continued to avoid turnovers during his sophomore season as well. Jackson’s assist-to-turnover ratio of 5.29 is the second-best mark in the NBA among players that have played 15 games.
While it may seem like his low-volume role could be artificially deflating those numbers, the team has been better at taking care of the ball when he’s on the floor this season. Sacramento averages 14.7 turnovers per-100 possessions with Jackson off the court this season, and that number drops to 12.3 when he’s been on the court. It may not sound like much, but that’s currently the difference between the 17th best rank and 2nd best rank in the NBA.
Beyond the lack of turnovers, Jackson has always been good about fitting into the offense. It would be better to see him be a little bit more aggressive going forward, but there is value in having role players that don’t kill the team’s ball movement.
Simply avoiding mistakes isn’t going to be enough to carve out a long-term role in the NBA, but it’s a good baseline for Jackson to continue building on, and when combined with his offensive improvements this season it becomes much easier to envision Jackson as a valuable contributor.