Still 18 years old, Jackson falls under the project umbrella, but immeasurable upside has had scouts looking past the present toward the future since his first day at Michigan State. As a defensive ace with shooting range, he checks the major boxes teams now look for when developing young bigs.
Size: 6'11 ¼"
Weight: 236 pounds
Wingspan: 7'5 ¼"
Standing reach: 9'2"
Pro-player comparison: Serge Ibaka
Despite his tremendous size and physical tools, 24.4 percent of Jackson's offense came out of spot-ups, where he shot an impressive 41.2 percent on non-dribble jumpers. He made 38 threes at a 39.6 percent clip, and he backed it up by shooting 79.7 percent from the free-throw line. Jackson also worked in the post, where he was highly efficient, making 22-of-30 shots and generating 1.226 points per possession, good for the 98th percentile. As the season went on, he started to expand his off-the-dribble capabilities by attacking closeouts and making plays on the move.
Jackson is not an advanced shot-creator, even in the post, where his moves are basic and predictable. He struggles in traffic or when tightly guarded. Jackson only converted 54.2 percent around the basket, a low number for a big with such jarring size, length and strength. Though his outside shooting percentages were solid, he has an unorthodox pushing motion that raises questions about his three-point range translating. His face-up game is limited. He registered a high 17.4 turnover percentage. And there were games where he just wasn't productive or effective offensively.
Jackson tapped into his length and nose for the ball to swat 5.5 shots per 40 minutes, and that was while he was often defending from the power forward spot. He's instinctive and disruptive in rim protection with the tools to anchor a defense. Jackson also showed the agility to sit down and slide around the perimeter, a huge plus in today's NBA that values bigs who can switch. He still has plenty of untapped offensive potential, but Jackson's defensive potential is elite.
Young and unpolished, Jackson doesn't project as a high-usage or full-time player as a rookie. He'll play between 20 to 25 minutes per game, flash his defensive versatility and playmaking, throw down big finishes and average a jump-shot make per game. But Jackson fouled 5.9 times per 40 minutes as a freshman, and he isn't sharp enough offensively to efficiently score next year in the half court.
Projected role: high-end role player
Jackson was drafted as high as he was for what he'll look like by 2021 and beyond. His theoretical ceiling is limitless, given his age, tools and potential to improve in so many areas. But he's too far behind skill-wise to confidently predict future All-Star appearances. The safer projection envisions Jackson as an Ibaka-like high-end role player who'll earn his money on defense and average between 13 to 18 points per game during his career.