He hasn’t drawn the NBA Draft hype of some of college basketball’s other superstar big men, but Jaren Jackson could be the best two-way player of the bunch.
Jaren Jackson didn’t exactly fly under the radar ahead of the season. He was a five-star player in the class of 2017 and a McDonald’s All-American.
He flew up 247Sports‘ rankings late in the process, settling in at No. 8 overall. He was the No. 5 power forward in a stacked group of big men.
Tom Izzo is also a big fan of his stud freshman. In October, he said he could be the best freshman he’s ever had.
Izzo has coached guys like Jason Richardson and Zach Randolph who shined in their first years. Jackson could be better than them all. Via FanRag Sports:
“He’s potentially the best guy out of that group,” Izzo said after practice Tuesday. “He’s different than some of the other guys because of his versatility. He can pass. He can handle. He can shoot. He can play multiple positions. He’s a great kid and he comes from an unbelievable family. He’s got all the requisites.”
Jackson’s baseline numbers don’t fly off the screen. However, that is in part due to Michigan State’s depth and star power at other positions.
He is averaging 23 minutes per game, with 11.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, and an incredibly impressive 3.6 blocks. Toss in his shooting ability, and The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks thinks he’s “more complete” than guys like Arizona’s Deandre Ayton and Duke’s Marvin Bagley III.
Jaren Jackson Jr. has a chance to be the best big man in the 2018 NBA draft. He’s certainly the best two-way player of the bunch right now, better defensively than Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III and better offensively than Mohamed Bamba. Jackson fits the new prototype for NBA centers: He knocks down 3s, protects the rim, and defends the 3-point line. Despite being the youngest player likely to enter the draft, he’s also one of the safest picks. He won’t have to change his game to be an elite player at the next level. The only thing holding him back is being underutilized in the Michigan State offense. He has the highest floor of all the freshman bigs and more upside than his stats suggest.
Jackson is projected as a high lottery pick. However, he is not generally bandied about in the same range as guys like Ayton and Bagley, who may be battling it out to be the top overall pick.
If Jackson’s skills translate, as Tjarks argues they likely will, he’s the quintessential modern big. He is a big-time rim protector, with size to play the five in the NBA.
He also hits over 43-percent of his threes, something he brought over from his prep days, indicating it is not a hot streak. The deep ball is a legitimate part of his arsenal, and makes him a dynamic stretch player.
Izzo hasn’t used him a ton yet. He is only fourth on the team in minutes, and fifth in average scoring.
If MSU starts to tighten its rotations as we approach the NCAA Tournament, Jackson could have the opportunity for a March Madness star-turn. Plenty of players have used that stage to increase their Draft profiles, and he could be a shining example of that.