Final Scouting Report: Justin Jackson

After a thorough evaluation over the last three years, Rob Harrington authors the final version of his in-depth scouting report on incoming Tar Heel freshman Justin Jackson ...

    Justin Jackson
    6-8/203
    Wing Forward
    Houston (Texas) HYCA
    Class of 2014

    Narrative

    For several consecutive recruiting cycles, UNC had struggled to sign its top targets. The Tar Heels prioritized star prospects early and pursued them with full vigor but fell short on signing day. Jackson's commitment thus marked a breakthrough. Roy Williams identified Jackson very early in the process and outdueled Arizona and others to gain his pledge during the 2012-13 season.

    Because he emerged so early on the national scene, scouts had ample opportunity to pick apart Jackson's game. He didn't always plays well during the 2012 summer and appeared he may slide in the rankings, but he bounced back with a strong junior season. He followed that up with a magnificent 2013 summer, culminated with a banner senior year and appearances in multiple postseason all-star games.

    Jackson finished his prep career ranked No. 10 in the Class of 2014 and should challenge for an immediate starting position in 2014-15.

    Assets

    Jackson's game illustrates the potency of simplicity. He's economical, relatively sizzle-free and tends to play in a straight line. Those qualities may not scream superstar, but within the parameters of his own style and talent, he has become a magnificent all-around contributor.

    Jackson proved to be among the most efficient players on Nike's EYBL circuit. He averaged 17 points per game for a loaded team, shooting 58 percent from the floor. He also knocked in 41 percent on threes and hit a respectable 76 percent from the foul line.

    He does his best work in no-man's land, the area of the court 6-13 feet from the basket. Increasingly fewer players operate comfortably within that space, especially from the baseline, but Jackson actually has tailored his game to maximize his touches in those areas.

    Utilizing a lightning-quick release, Jackson darts forward either off the dribble or off the catch and lofts in short jump shots. He can halt his momentum even moving at full speed to remain in control for very accurate results. He intelligently passes up open shots in order to work for better ones, and his preferred arsenal tends to catch defenses by surprise.

    He sets up screens well and thrives when surrounded by more dominant handlers, yet he also boasts a sure dribble himself and possesses sufficient quickness to occasionally create his own shot. That said, he doesn't belong to the elite mid-range creation category inhabited by former Tar Heels such as Joseph Forte. Jackson isn't as quick or slick, but he's also very tall for a player who excels shooting from that range and few wing forwards maneuver well enough in traffic to defend him effectively.

    Jackson previously relied more heavily on long-distance jumpers, but now he takes them more judiciously and rarely forces a bad one, not unlike former UNC wing Reggie Bullock. That's one reason his percentages skyrocketed in 2013 and why he should transition well into UNC's halfcourt offense.

    When he's unable to get shots while moving toward the rim, he loves to employ high post ups against smaller wings. He typically sets up at 8-10 feet, and from there he patiently dribbles his way down another foot or two and launches accurate turnaround jumpers.

    Meanwhile, he's a solid passer both in halfcourt and running the break, and he's an outstanding third ballhandler. At 6-8, that particular quality becomes even more valuable because he's tall enough to pass over most pressure-applying wings.

    His defense gets overlooked due to his offensive proficiency, but I believe Jackson eventually will become a solid — though not spectacular — performer on this end of the court as well. He uses his long arms and a wide stance to contain dribble penetration, and his lateral quickness and instincts are at least above average. He also makes timely blocks from behind as a helper.

    I don't foresee him becoming UNC's top perimeter defender in part because I think he'll carry a substantial offensive load, but he's more balanced than some other high-scoring wings Roy Williams has recruited to Chapel Hill.

    Jackson's intangibles also warrant mention. His game lends itself to high efficiency, but so does his attitude. He holds the talent to pursue his own opportunities at the expense of his teammates, but he simply isn't hard-wired to compete that way. He shares the ball enthusiastically and participates in the game's minutia more than most star players.

    Deficits

    Clearly, Jackson must continue to get stronger. He's naturally narrow through his shoulders, so it's unlikely he'll ever become a power wing. For that reason some opponents can overwhelm him physically, a problem that becomes aggravated when officials call looser games.

    He struggled most noticeably at McDonald's All-American practices when matched against blue-chip opponents his size. He doesn't yet possess the ability to defend in the post and thus, despite his height and reach, likely will have to be a full-time wing for the foreseeable future. He also can be too quiet on the glass, an area the coaching staff will implore him to improve.

    As mentioned, he's also not an elite athlete. Although more than capable physically in most respects, Jackson doesn't dominate as much as he picks his spots. He's more of a consistent, steady-as-he-goes performer rather than a dynamic, bullying force.

    College Projection

    I believe Jackson could become UNC's best freshman since Barnes and Kendall Marshall. He'll lack strength initially but should thrive despite that, given his all-around talent and intelligence.

    Given Carolina's wing situation for the 2014-15 campaign, and obviously contingent upon UNC's other stud incoming wing, Theo Pinson, Jackson should have a strong chance to start as a freshman. Even given the typical adjustment period, I think he'll enjoy an outstanding rookie campaign and then could truly blow up as a sophomore.

    Despite his pedigree and ability, I don't envision him becoming a one-and-done player. If he does spend at least two years in Chapel Hill, he could emerge as national-level performer prior to what should be a lucrative career in the NBA.

Rob provides basketball recruiting coverage for InsideCarolina.com, including reporting from events throughout the country. Rob is a recruiting analyst for Scout.com and is the editor of the national basketball recruiting website PrepStars.com and the print magazine Recruiter's Handbook. Rob is a member of the Naismith committee honoring the nation's best high school player and is on the selection committee for the McDonald's All-American Game.


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