Erik Spoelstra put his coaching brilliance to display from January on, leading the Heat to a 30-11 record after starting out the 2016-17 campaign with only 11 wins through the first 41 games. The Heat looked to be among the conference’s best during the second half of the campaign, but saw their playoff aspirations come to a halt on the last day of the regular season. Miami (41-41) is projected to select 14th overall in the 2017 NBA Draft.
With Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, and potentially both Dion Waiters and Wayne Ellington back in the fold for next year, the Heat are set at guard and are looking for a prospect that can come in and play either the 3 or the 4 in Spo’s system.
Listed at 6-foot-8 and 210 pounds, Justin Jackson provides great size for a small forward or a stretch-4. The Texas native has the ability to beat defenders on his way to the paint, but has also developed the ability to step back beyond the perimeter and knock down a three to keep defenses honest. His versatility gives opponents headaches when trying to stop the athletic forward from scoring.
Jackson averaged 18.3 PPG on 44% shooting — including 37% beyond the arc — and 4.7 rebounds during the course of the 2016-2017 season for the North Carolina Tarheels. Jackson’s impressive season earned him ACC Player of the Year and All-American honors.
Big game experience
Playing for a blue-blood program in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Justin Jackson has high-level big game experience on his résumé.
Jackson showed up time and time again during this terrific junior campaign on the way to a conference and National Championship for North Carolina. Against De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, and the Kentucky Wildcats, Justin Jackson put up a career high 34 points on 59% shooting, grabbed 5 rebounds, and dished out 3 assists in the big time non-conference game. Although the Tarheels lost by three, Jackson showed that he can score in bunches at an elite level.
*stats courtesy of ESPN
In three games against arch-rival Duke, the UNC forward averaged 26 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.7 assists.
During the NCAA Tournament, Jackson showed up. In six tournament games, the junior wing averaged 19.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG, and 3.7 APG, as North Carolina knocked off the likes of 4th-seeded Butler, 2nd-seeded Kentucky, 3rd-seeded Oregon, and 1-seed Gonzaga to win the championship. In the Final Four, Jackson averages were 19 points, 3 rebounds, and 2.5 assists.
Jackson has lots of experiences on big stages and high-pressure situations, making him a very interesting prospect in the upcoming draft.
Has the ability to play both the 3 and the stretch-4. Jackson provides the size needed to play out on the wing, as well as battle down low. His frame gives him the ability to guard smaller wings out on the perimeter, but also hold his own against bigger posts in the paint. Although he has a thin build, the UNC product has the needed frame to put on weight and build muscle to be able to defend the LeBron’s, Kawhi’s, and the Jimmy Butler’s of the world. Though, Giannis Antetokounmpo has showed that a slim build can be overcome to become a quality NBA player.
The versatility carries over to both ends of the court. His thin frame allows him to get by screens and keep up with quicker and smaller guards. As Jackson continues to improve his jumper and his defense, he has the ability to become a legitimate stretch forward, a position that Spo absolutely loves.
Improvement in his game
Displayed improvement both in his overall game and in scoring from his freshman to his junior season. Jackson went from a decent role player to the driving force of the Tarheels’ basketball team during his third year in Chapel Hill.
Per ESPN’s stats, the 6-foot-8 wing saw a 7.6 scoring difference from his first year in Carolina Blue to his last.
Jackson entered the North Carolina program with high expectations, rated as the 9th overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite. As a freshman, Jackson played significant minutes for Roy Williams, but was not asked to take on the scoring load. He attempted just under 9 shots per game, but did average almost 11 points in addition to 3.7 rebounds and 0.5 blocks during his first season on the collegiate level. His sophomore season saw an increase in shot attempts, rebounds, assists, steals, and points, but his field goal percentage (0.466%), three point percentage (.292%), and free-throw percentage (0.667%) all decreased.
The third-year forward saw his role increase this past season. He responded in a big way. Coming off a loss in the National Championship the previous season, Roy Williams wanted Justin Jackson to lead the Tarheels back to the big game for a shot at redemption. All Jackson did was average 18.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.8 assists while shooting 44% from the field over the course of his last season in college. His huge year earned him national honors and has him heading towards a potential lottery selection.
RealGM notes that Jackson’s jumper has improved over the course of his career at Carolina:
Jackson is the rare prospect who has improved his stock by staying in college longer. A subpar shooter over his first two years at North Carolina, the wing has developed into a sharpshooter as a junior, nailing 37.7% of his 239 three-point shots (average of almost nine attempts per 40 minutes) and acting not only as a spot-up weak-side threat but even coming off pindown screens.
He is not the most athletic wing, and is not the best at isolation, but his improvement in his shot is clear. DraftExpress’ data shows that Jackson’s off-screen 3pt% saw a 10% increase from his sophomore to his junior season.
This season Jackson has taken his off screen scoring to a new level, however, as he's comfortable sprinting into catch and shoot threes turning right or left, and does a great job of relocating for quick handoff pull ups after giving up the ball. Jackson's ability to read his defender, shoot it with range, and curl or straight line drive to floaters make him a really tough cover operating off the ball in quick-hitting actions.
DraftExpress does a great job of showcasing Jackson’s development in this area:
The development in his jump shot and the continuous improvements in his game should have NBA GMs and scouts drooling over what Justin Jackson’s ceiling can be.
Justin Jackson possesses the ability to score at high levels, but his frame may be what is holding him back from being a potential top 5 selection. His thin build can limit him on both sides of the court. On offense, Jackson will need to show that he can score and get to the basket against bigger defenders. On defense, he needs to be able to prevent stronger and thicker opponents from bullying him in the paint. He built some muscle during his junior season, but to reach his ceiling, Jackson needs to continue to fill his frame out once he gets in an NBA weight program.
Explosiveness and athleticism
The star wing proved over his career that he knows how to put the ball in the basket. However, the UNC product never displayed elite explosiveness in the college game. With Jackson going to face the best athletes in the world on the next level, he needs to develop the needed athleticism to get to the basket. His jumper has improved, but he needs to gain some explosiveness once he is in the Association.
Justin Jackson is currently ranked as the 13th best prospect in the draft, as of April 23rd, so he is a player that Riley, Spo, and the scouts should be studying and looking at hard. He’s improved his jumper during his three years at North Carolina and possesses the necessary skills and traits to become an effective forward at the next level. His big game experience, the versatility he can provide, and the improvement he displayed over the course of his collegiate career makes the 2016-2017 ACC Player of the Year an intriguing prospect for the Miami Heat.