2017 NBA Draft: Josh Jackson, Lonzo Ball Fighting to Become No. 2 Pick

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJune 16, 2017

2017 NBA Draft: Josh Jackson, Lonzo Ball Fighting to Become No. 2 Pick

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    The intrigue of the 2017 NBA draft could start at the No. 2 pick with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Boston Celtics have made things even more interesting with the attention they're giving Josh Jackson at No. 1, according to ESPN.com's Chad Ford. But assuming the C's end up taking Markelle Fultz—the presumed top selection—the real race begins one pick later. 

    Jackson and Lonzo Ball have been near the top of draft boards all season and both will bring different strengths to whichever franchise takes them. Fit could play a role in teams' decisions, but each general manager's goal is to find the best player available, which means assessing Ball and Jackson in a vacuum. 

    This is what the Lakers—who'll have had two predraft meetings with both Ball and Jackson before June 22—are doing. 

    So who's the better long-term prospect?

Traditional vs. Unorthodox Upside

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    The Lakers, as well as the Philadelphia 76ers or any team exploring a trade up, are deciding who's more likely to be a star and how big of a star they can be. 

    Athleticism and a well-rounded skill set fuel Jackson's upside. Ball's potential is mostly tied to his brain.

    It's more rare to find a star whose value is driven by intangibles such as basketball IQ and decision-making as opposed to explosiveness and versatility. 

    Betting on Ball means projecting him to beat the odds history has set. When is the last time a pass-first, below-average scorer for the position became a star point guard? The Jason Kidds, John Stocktons and Rajon Rondos are rare breeds.

    Kendall Marshall (9.9 in 2012) and Michael Carter-Williams (13.5 in 2013) are the only point guards taken in the lottery since 2009 to average fewer than Ball's 16.6 points per 40 minutes during their final year in college.

    Can he reach stardom by taking what's practically an uncharted path?

    Meanwhile, Jackson's path toward stardom appears more traditional. He's flashed similar tools, bounce, scoring ability and playmaking to many of today's and yesterday's top wings. 

    Does that make it easier to buy into his chances of reaching star status, since we've seen so many others succeed taking a similar route? 

Jackson's Development and Upside

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    Productive and efficient, Jackson averaged 21.2 points per 40 minutes and shot 51.3 percent from the floor.

    His athleticism is well-documented and resulted in a number of highlight plays at both ends of the floor. 

    But it's the flashes of scoring and playmaking that make him an option at No. 2. They didn't happen every game, but sporadically throughout the season we saw next-level step-backs, crossovers and passes that reflect advanced offensive moves and execution.

    He scored 23 points against Miles Bridges and Michigan State in the NCAA tournament off turnaround jumpers, pull-backs, post ups and an angry drive into a dunk.

    But the 3.9 assists per 40 minutes set him apart from the other wings. Jackson shows impressive vision on the move and the ability to set up teammates off penetration.

    If he winds up tying together all the versatility by tightening his ball skills and improving his shot-making, there won't be a more complete player from this draft. In terms of capabilities, Jackson's are endless.

    But capable doesn't mean proficient. Evaluators must decide on the likelihood of his making the necessary adjustments and maxing out his potential based on how far away he seems at 20 years old.

Concerns About Jackson's Skills

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    Drafting Jackson over Ball would mean expecting the former to become a go-to option. But the advanced numbers suggest he's still far from being ready to consistently generate offense against a set NBA defense. 

    Jackson shot just 28 percent off isolations and pick-and-rolls and 20 percent off the dribble in the mid-range, per Synergy (via DraftExpress' Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz). 

    His handle looks much better in space than it does in traffic or when he's pressured. Many of his pull-ups looked rushed or like heaves after he struggled to gain good ball control when rising to fire.

    At this stage, he isn't a sharp one-on-one player and seems unlikely to consistently threaten the defense as a spot-up shooter off the ball. 

    He's also older than a number of sophomores in the draft, which suggests he might not have as much time or room to improve as other freshmen.

Ball's Immediate Impact Versus Jackson's

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    Ball is set to make a bigger impact right out of the gate. 

    At this stage, Jackson isn't a sharp enough one-on-one player and seems unlikely to consistently threaten the defense as a spot-up shooter off the ball. Early on, he'll rely on transition, slashes and cuts, but he isn't ready to be a focal point of an offense.

    While Jackson projects as a fourth option as a rookie, Ball will immediately help change his lineup's identity based on his projected role and style. He'll be in charge of some team's offense in year No. 1 as a pro. 

    Ball's future coach will likely play to his new point guard's strengths as a fast-paced, grab-and-go initiator. 
    And with 6'6" size and an unteachable feel for the game, he should continue to succeed as a passer and initiator in 2017-18.

Questions About Ball's Upside

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    There are no doubts about Ball's passing, but without explosive jets or high-level scoring ability, questions about his ceiling are reasonable.

    He only takes what opponents give him offensively, which leads to efficiency but could also cap his scoring upside. The fact he converted just 12 shots all year that weren't layups, dunks or threes says he's not making defenses pay with pull-ups and floaters. 

    Though he loves the step-back jumper from deep, shot-creating isn't Ball's strength. Without a mid-range game, he also lacks a blow-by first step and an explosive last one in the lane.

    Ball isn't the type to take the last shot or bring his team back from a deficit with points in bunches. He couldn't pass UCLA back into the game it lost to Kentucky in the NCAA tournament. 

    Can Ball become one of the league's premier guards without takeover scoring ability?

Shooting

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    Shooting represents a life jacket for young players. If all else fails, a reliable jumper could keep them afloat.

    At this point, Ball's shooting looks more convincing than Jackson's. Ball hit more than twice as many threes (80 to 34) and shot a higher percentage (41.2 percent to 37.8 percent) on 104 more attempts. 

    There are concerns with both players' mechanics, but Ball's volume numbers, success and overall confidence when releasing suggests he's the more reliable shooter.

    Jackson's red-flag low 56.6 percent clip from the free-throw line is likely the more accurate indicator of his shooting development than his three-point numbers.  

    Compared to Ball's, it's also more important for Jackson's shooting to turn the corner. If he can't be consistent with the jumper, it becomes tough to imagine his evolution into a high-level scorer, which he'll need to be to justify being taken No. 2.

    Ball's value revolves mostly around distributing and running an offense. Even when he's not making shots he can still impact games with his passing and leadership. 

    Will Jackson be able to do the same? 

Defense

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    Jackson's defensive upside is higher than Ball's and remains one of the Kansas star's big selling points, particularly to the Lakers.

    Ball will make plays as an off-ball thief and shot-blocker. And there is value in that playmaking. But will he help deny dribble penetration against quicker NBA point guards?

    De'Aaron Fox scored 59 points in two games against Ball and UCLA, and though Ball wasn't solely to blame, he didn't help stop Kentucky's primary ball-handler.

    Ball's skinny frame was easy to screen in college, and there were plays where his lack of lateral quickness was exposed in space. How will the Lakers, who were already the worst defensive team in the league, feel about a backcourt with D'Angelo Russell and Ball? 

    Russell, after all, ranked just 11th on his own roster in Defensive Box Plus/Minus this past season, per Basketball Reference, and although active at times on that end, he failed to remain in strong defensive position (or stance) on a play-to-play basis. 

    Meanwhile, Jackson has flashed enough athleticism and quickness to defend forwards, wings and guards. He comes off as the type of competitor coaches can eventually assign to opposing teams' top perimeter scorers. 

    Jackson still lacks discipline, but after he undergoes a few years of NBA coaching and maturation, there is an easy case to be made for him as the more impactful defender.

Safe Picks

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    There doesn't appear to be much risk attached to either Ball or Jackson. 

    Ball's vision and passing seem guaranteed to translate. Even if he doesn't reach Kidd, Stockton or prime Rondo levels, he's still going to hold down a starting job for his ability to read the defense and create quality shots for teammates. 

    Ricky Rubio with a three-ball seems like a worst-case scenario for Ball. 

    Jackson's floor appears just as high. He'll generate offense by attacking, both off drives and via off-ball activity. And he should pad his athletic scoring plays with just enough shot-making off runners and jumpers to average between 12 and 15 points. 

    His playmaking is above-average for a wing, and he'll compete defensively.

    No team that takes Ball or Jackson will come out a loser from the draft. But one will leave a winner.

Who Ya Got?

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    Jackson comes off as a lock to start for years just by his tapping into his springs, motor and passing.

    If the Lakers are split on the two, Jackson's ability to fill direct needs—both defensively and by providing more athleticism—could give him the edge. 

    But there are more reasons to feel confident about Jackson's floor than the likelihood he reaches his ceiling, given the questions concerning his shooting form and half-court creation skills.

    Ball may not be the next Kidd, but there is a better chance of his being able to change the direction of a franchise.

    Without knowing for sure how either player will develop over the next few years, it makes more sense to gamble on the one whose impact could move the needle more for the team. 

    Even if both prospects hit, chances are, Ball should wind up elevating his organization higher than Jackson.