After two shaky seasons to start his collegiate career, and rumors of a possible transfer midway through his sophomore campaign, Joe Jackson
is looking to live up to his considerable high school accolades as a junior.
Standing 6'0 ½ with a solid 6'3 wingspan and top tier quickness and explosiveness, Joe Jackson
is an outstanding athlete in many aspects, but is still held back by his very thin frame and lack of strength. While the 20-year-old could still get stronger and even add some mass to his body, he's likely always going to be on the frail side by NBA standards, something he'll need to overcome with his other attributes.
Jackson struggled badly as a freshman, and was unable to effectively run the offense for Team USA in the U-19 World Championships in 2011, though he did manage to take some subtle strides forward his sophomore season. While his strengths and weaknesses on the floor remain the same, he saw his free throw rate, assist rate, and scoring efficiency all tick slightly upwards last year as he better adjusted to the NCAA game. Most significant was the fact that he was able to bring his meteoric turnover rate from an impossible 5.7 turnovers per-40 minutes as a freshman to a much more manageable 3.5 per-40 as a sophomore.
On the offensive end, Jackson is a score-first point guard most comfortable pushing the ball in transition, a style he's played for most of his life. He shows solid instincts and passing ability in these situations, and is even more capable using his creativity and leaping ability to finish around the basket on a well-spaced court. He has no problem weaving through defenders when he's on the move by using his excellent speed and ball-handling abilities either.
In half-court situations, however, things are much murkier, where he doesn't show the steady game-management you'd expect from a high-level point guard. While Jackson is certainly capable of wowing onlookers using his blazing first step to get to the basket out of isolations and pick-and-rolls, or using his ball-handling to get separation for a pull-up mid-range jumper, he's just as likely to turn over the ball over-penetrating, over-dribble the ball, or badly miss an outside shot.
Jackson clearly has a great deal of talent, but he's struggled to find a way to consistently balance all of these things in a half court setting. Further, his outside shot is plagued by inconsistent mechanics and just as inconsistent results that show up both in pull-up and catch-and-shoot situations. His ability to break down the defense and finish around the basket, while much more clearly a strength at this level, is also a concern projecting forward given his physical stature. He already shows some problems finishing in traffic in the lane in college, something that could become even more problematic against bigger, more athletic pros.
Looking towards his junior season, Jackson can do many things to help his game, with cleaning up his perimeter shot and becoming a more consistent threat spotting up and off-the-dribble would certainly go a long way. Becoming a steadier floor general, ideally by putting his speed and versatility to use with a more featured pick-and-roll game would also help, but that's not necessarily up to him to decide. He already sees a staggering 30.8% of his possessions in transition according to Synergy Sports Technology, so it's probably not feasible for him to play a much faster style of play, and finally improving his half-court decision making is critical.
On the bright side, one area he has managed to excel at the collegiate level is on the defensive end of the floor, where he's done a much better job utilizing his strengths and adapting to his shortcomings. Jackson really came into his own last season in this regard, playing very aggressively in perimeter defense by using his speed and length to blanket his opposition on the ball. He shows a good fundamental stance, excellent lateral quickness, and a willingness to move his feet and contest shots well, to the point where being shot over was barely ever an issue. This may change against taller competition in the pros, and his slight struggles getting over screen-and-rolls could become more of an issue as well, but he clearly has the tools to be a very good overall defender at the point guard spot, especially in the quickness-oriented NBA that has evolved in the past few years.
Looking forward, Jackson has a lot of work to do his last one or two years on campus, but has many things going for him projecting ahead. His exceptional quickness and athletic abilities both fit many NBA teams better stylistically than the collegiate game, and it's true on both sides of the floor. He also made some strides with his game as a sophomore, and has a talent level that far surpasses his college resume to date, which leaves plenty of room to take his game upward. For Jackson, becoming more consistent and comfortable in all aspects of his half-court offense needs to be his focus, and it will likely determine whether he can find a long-term niche in the NBA.