If you’ve been following NBA mock drafts since the college season began, you’ll notice Michigan State power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. has been rising steadily. NBADraft.net actually has Jackson going second in its latest mock.
There’s no questioning Jackson’s physical talent. The 6-foot-11 freshman runs the floor like a gazelle and has explosive leaping ability, ranking fifth in the country with 3.2 blocked shots per game. He also has an NBA pedigree. His father played 13 seasons in the NBA as a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, averaging 5.5 points a game mostly in a reserve role, which included a championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 1999.
Jackson has excellent shooting touch for a big man, hitting just under 40 percent of his 3-point tries, but he’s not a major factor in the Michigan State offense, averaging only 6.8 shots per game. His scoring average of 11.3 points ranks only fifth on a Spartans team currently ranked fourth in the country. Foul trouble has been an issue for Jackson, but he’s also been content to watch center Nick Ward, swingman Miles Bridges and guards Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston carry the offense.
What does this mean for Jackson’s pro future? Well, judging by the mock drafts, not much. NBA coaches will find a way to get a player as talented as Jackson more shots, and he should be able to take advantage of his quickness to drive past slower defenders at the pro level.
Jackson reminds some scouts of Kevin Garnett with his physical tools, but he doesn’t have the competitive fire (bordering on rage) that drove Garnett to become one of the all-time greats at the power forward position. A more realistic comp might be Serge Ibaka of the Toronto Raptors, who possesses Jackson’s blend of shot-blocking talent and long-range shooting touch.
How would Jackson fit with the Bulls? Well, unless the Bulls get lucky in the lottery, he figures to be long gone before they make their pick. Bulls big man Bobby Portis is another decent comp for Jackson given Portis' size at 6-foot-11 and his 3-point shooting ability, so drafting Jackson would mean some duplication of skill sets. But given the way the NBA game is trending, Jackson could play center at the pro level, especially given his ability as a rim protector. If Jackson slips to the Bulls, I’m sure they could find a way to utilize three talented bigs, including Lauri Markkanen.
The upcoming NCAA tournament offers a great chance to Bulls fans to get a close look at some of the top prospects in the country. And keep an eye on Michigan State because either Jackson or Bridges could wind up in Chicago, depending on how the lottery combinations land on May 15.