A secondary option alongside veterans since 2013-14, Demetrius Jackson will enter his junior year as Notre Dame's lead guard. And there is a strong chance the opportunity results in the buildup of NBA draft buzz.
Jackson is a phenomenal athlete—he compensates for 6'1" size with a diesel 198-pound frame, tremendous quickness and explosive hops.
He's coming off a highly efficient season—one that highlighted eye-opening strengths and attributes pointing to future pro potential.
Though his production wasn't overwhelming last year playing next to Jerian Grant, a 2015 first-round pick, Jackson shot 50.8 percent, increased his assist rate and lowered his turnovers.
He's been preparing this summer for what should be a much bigger role in 2015-16 (small 18.5 percent usage last season, according to Sports-Reference.com).
"I'm really excited about the opportunity," Jackson told Bleacher Report. "I've been really focusing on my mid-range, taking better shots in the mid-range area, also my floater. And just being a better leader on the court."
Jackson recently spent time in July as a counselor at Stephen Curry's SC 30 Select Camp.
“It was a confidence-giver to him to be able to develop a relationship with Steph Curry, Doug Collins, who’s a good friend, and Fran Fraschilla,” said Irish coach Mike Brey via Scout.com's Tim Prister. “Doug Collins’ text to me after the first day was, ‘He’s a stud and he’s a winner.’”
From an NBA scouting perspective, Jackson's blend of athleticism, strength, speed and toughness is easy to buy into. He plays above the rim and after contact—an aggressive two-way sparkplug who is difficult to stay in front and just as challenging to shake on defense.
Jackson's shooting touch is probably the strongest skill in his set right now. He connected on 42.9 percent of his threes after hitting 41.7 percent of them as a freshman. He even converted 53.2 percent of his two-point jumpers, according to Hoop-Math.com.
Jackson gets excellent elevation and balance, both off the catch and the dribble.
His ability to knock down shots away from the rim helps make up for some of his struggles finishing around it. Take a look at his impressive shot chart from 2014-15, via ShotAnalytics.com:
This year, scouts will be more focused on Jackson's floor game at the point.
He's a nifty ball-handler whose ability to change speed and direction makes him tough to contain in space. But now that Grant is gone, we'll get to see Jackson operate a lot more frequently with the game slowed down.
According to Hoop-Math.com, 56 percent of his assists last year came in the half court, compared to Grant's 77.7 percent.
"Being lead guard this year, I'll probably have to do a bit more off the dribble—being efficient with my dribbles," Jackson said.
Jackson noted that "breaking a man down in a one-on-one situation" is something coaches have asked him to work on.
Given his handle, shiftiness and first step, there really isn't anything that suggests Jackson can't succeed as a primary playmaker. It's managing an offense with sound reads and decision-making that could really propel him up NBA draft boards.
With a good-looking big man in Zach Auguste and shooters such as Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem on the wings, Jackson should also have weapons to play off. He's the engine of a lineup that could really do some damage in the ACC.
Regardless, among Jackson's bouncy athleticism, grown-man body, shot-making and passing—not to mention the gradual progress he's made since day one—his profile and resume are already quite attractive.
When watching Jackson, it's ultimately become hard not to think of Eric Bledsoe—another electric guard whose punch packs power, burst and springs.
But Jackson, who says his favorite point guard growing up was Allen Iverson, doesn't compare his game or style of play to anyone's. "I just want to be my own player, be my own person, learn from the people who came before me but try to make it my own," he said.
Jackson also hasn't payed any attention to the growing chatter surrounding his NBA prospects.
"I just want to focus on our season, get back to work with our team, work hard and everything else will take care of itself," he said.
Still, playing in the NBA has been a dream of Jackson's for years. "Definitely, ever since I picked up the sport," said Jackson. "It's always been a goal of mine to play basketball at the highest level and compete. I definitely want to reach that goal."
And chances are he can reach it following the upcoming season. Without too many big names having returned and a shortage of star power offered by incoming freshmen, Jackson should have a real shot at finding next year's lottery.
He'll certainly enter the year as a must-watch player on NBA scouting lists. Given his upward-trending development and the upside left for him to hit, Jackson's stock is one you'll want to buy in 2016.
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.