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Sunday, March 5, 2017

Keegan

Tom Keegan: Josh Jackson gets that the point is winning

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) and Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) get airborne to celebrate the Jayhawks' 90-85 win, Saturday, March 4, 2017 at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) and Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) get airborne to celebrate the Jayhawks' 90-85 win, Saturday, March 4, 2017 at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

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It’s worth wondering if NBA scouts watching the college basketball game played at an NBA pace Saturday in Gallagher-Iba Arena left the building believing the same thing I did: Picking anybody but Kansas freshman Josh Jackson with the first selection is simply too risky a proposition to undertake because it could make whichever team passed on him look really, really bad in time.

Here’s why: He showed so many point guard skills, some of which are only attainable for a player his size. At 6-foot-8, Jackson can see over the defense, which blended with his peripheral vision, makes him see potential buckets for others that most don’t see. He's not unlike a great pool player who sees shots that non-hustlers don’t know exist.

Type-cast Jackson as a small forward and it’s reasonable to think that Washington’s Markelle Fultz, an injured, 6-foot-4 shooting guard with a major-conference best 23.2 scoring average and UCLA’s super-slick 6-6 point guard Lonzo Ball (national-best 7.8 assists average) will go ahead of Jackson. All three are freshmen.

But what if Jackson develops into a point guard, the way the Milwaukee Bucks’ 6-11 All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo did? It’s never wise to bet against Jackson’s ability to improve.

Even at Kansas, which schedules as aggressively as anybody, the slate becomes tougher once Big 12 play arrives. Not surprisingly, Jackson, intensely bent on self-improvement, has improved against tougher competition.

Check out his November/December/January/February statistics in four categories: Scoring, rebounding, 3-point percentage, free-throw percentage.

Scoring: 14.1, 15.3, 17.3, 17.8.

Rebounding: 5.7, 6.7, 7.6, 8.2.

3-point percentage: .294, .222, .385, .478.

Free-throw percentage: .541, .545, .553, .582.

Other than a 3-point dip from November to December, Jackson improved every month in every category.

He’s playing more aggressively, yet most of the time under control and definitely more in control of a temper that led to early-season technical fouls.

In the NBA, defenders are required to switch constantly, which makes defensive versatility a valued trait. Not many players can say they guarded a 7-footer for most of the game and on the final defensive play stayed in front of a sub-6-foot point guard the way Jackson did in the victory at Baylor.

Frank Mason III’s late-game domination has been so consistent for Kansas it has overshadowed the consistently clutch performances of Jackson late in close games, which in the case of Kansas means pretty much every game.

Kansas coach Bill Self called Jackson’s 3-pointer from the left corner with 1:53 left on a feed from Mason, who had drawn multiple defenders by driving into the lane, “probably the biggest shot of the game.” It put Kansas up by six points.

Jackson beat Oklahoma State’s full-court pressure with a three-quarter-court, on-the-money in-bound pass to Lagerald Vick, who took it to the hoop for the final points of KU’s 90-85 victory Saturday.

“He’s a good passer,” Self said of Jackson. “He’s probably our best passer on the team. He’s got great vision.”

It takes vision to project Jackson as a point guard, a possibility that ranks among many compelling aspects of an NBA career that will start next season.

One of the coolest things about Jackson’s approach to his career at Kansas is that he never looks like a player whose focus strays from the task at hand, which always is winning that day’s game. He seems content to let NBA talent judges project his talents and he’ll take care of helping Kansas extend its season. That also happens to be the best way to impress NBA scouts, even if too few players have the maturity to realize that.

With Jackson as the lone freshman in the seven-man rotation, Kansas brings a lot of experience into the postseason. The starting lineup features seniors Mason and Landen Lucas and juniors Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk. And nothing suggests Jackson will resemble a freshman in the NCAA tournament.

Comments

Suzi Marshall 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Jackson seems to be unique amongst the OAD era players in that he seems fully committed to the task at hand and winning. In that aspect, he resembles MJ's drive to win anything and everything, anytime, anyplace. MJ, like Jackson, was gifted with immense talent but always played like he was trying to make the last spot on the team. Most recently, Wiggins and Oubre both checked out early in their final college games in the NCAA-T. The horrible replay of Oubre being out-hussled by WSU and Wiggins lack of intensity vs Stanford leaves me incredibly flat when it comes to OADs.

MJ would never ever check out early on anything. Jackson seems to be gifted with that unique attitude. Heck, I'm even kinda proud of Jackson standing up for his team-mate at the Landing. His actions, like the his earlier Ts, shows he needs to think about how he reacts to unfavorable things....in that case he could have hurt his foot or hand.

Humpy Helsel 9 months, 2 weeks ago

The guy wrecks havoc all over the court. If you are his opponent, he is a menace. An X Factor.

Mike Kendall 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Did you see that moment in the game where he almost did the splits while trying to steal the ball? Kind of scary moment, there. Potential groin injury but glad he was okay. He is such a gifted and talented athlete. He has a lot killer instinct in him. With Mason and Graham in the backcourt, makes for an awesome three-headed monster for opponents. I didn't even mention the smart and steady Landen Lucas. I like our chances for April Gladness!

Brett McCabe 9 months, 2 weeks ago

So, is it possible that we'll see a February to March bump, too? All signs point to YES.

Armen Kurdian 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Let's not forget the March to April bump.

Martin Rhodes 9 months, 2 weeks ago

I couldn't agree with Keegan and Suzi Marshall more! I think that I have enjoyed watching this kid play more than any player for decades. I love his athleticism, intensity, physicality, motor, attitude, skill-set, public personality, and how he seems to love playing with his teammates and for KU. This guy is a guided missile!

Jim Stauffer 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Jackson is my favorite OAD since its beginning here.

Chad Smith 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Its interesting to say, i think the only other oad freshmen who was even as close to being team oriented would have been ben mclemore. He liked to play defense as well. A common trait for the winning mentality it would seem.

JACKSON is easily our most well rounded oad we've ever had. Just needs to keep making feee throws. Thats his only weakness.

Karen Mansfield-Stewart 9 months, 2 weeks ago

I think an argument could be made that Embiid and Wiggins had more raw ability and potential during their days at KU, but no one else I can think of has made a more significant contribution to their team than Jackson. He has a warrior mentality that the others did not and his playing style compliments his teammates perfectly.

Danny Hernandez 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Before anyone knocks Wigs and Embiid, remember that it was a very young team they were playing on with Embiid getting injured late allowing ISU to beat us in KC and Stanford playing zone pretty much taking Wigs out of the game. Josh is playing with more upperclassmen so I feel that makes a huge difference.

Tracey Graham 9 months, 2 weeks ago

I've really enjoyed watching Josh improve as an all-around player as this season has progressed. He obviously came to KU with a ton of skills, but it seems like he has become much more confident in areas like his three-point shooting. He turns the ball over a bit too much at times, but I have a feeling he's working on correcting that (as well as on his FT shooting). I really love how he plays so aggaggressively, relentlessly attacks the basket, etc. And he appears to be a great teammate, much more focused on the result than on whether he puts up a big individual stat line. If he can stay healthy, he has a very bright future in the NBA (after first hopefully hoping KU win the nat'l title, of course ;) ).

There are probably 5 or 6 players who have a legit argument for being the overall #1 pick. It's very deep draft class/ Jackson is definitely among these 5 or 6 players. It will all depend on what team gets the #1 pick and what type of player they think will be the best fit for their team. For example, would the 76ers, who already have their future frontline of Embiid, Simmons and Saric in place (if Joel & Ben can stay healthy, which is a big if) take josh when their primary need is a frontline PG? Would the Lakers, who have Brandon Ingram, take Jackson over Ball (and his loudmouth dad who claims Ball is already better than Steph Curry)? Etc. etc. To me, it's more important that these kids land on the right team for their skills than them getting drafted #1. The money difference between going #1 and (for example) #5 isn't that significant. I'm sure Josh would love to go #1, but somehow I don't think that is his main priority.

As for Antetokounmpo, he isn't Milwaukee's PG. That is Matthew Dellavedova and/or Malcolm Brogdon. The "Greek Freak" is quickly becoming a big star, and he leads the team in assists, but that still doesn't make him a PG. Matthew Dellavedova & Malcolm Brogdon are the PGs for the Bucks. There's a difference between being a playmaker and being the actual PG. Giannis is the former.

Harlan Hobbs 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Second your comments, Martin. Mr. Keegan and Suzi have laid out the case very well. I also noticed that indeed Josh was handling the point just a little at OSU. This undoubtedly bodes well for the future and may eventually draw some comparisons to Magic Johnson.

Danny makes an excellent point also that Josh is playing with a much more experienced team than Andrew and Kelly did. That cannot be ignored. Nevertheless, I consider Josh to be the best OAD that we have had.

Edward Daub 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Magic Jackson does have a nice Ring to it! And both are from the State of Michigan!

Jonathan Allison 9 months, 2 weeks ago

With Frank Mason potentially dominating all of the NPOY hardware, it would be too fitting for Jackson to be the future Final Four Most Outstanding Player.

Freddie Garza 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Josh Jackson is one of those guys who I see at the next level will have the ability to either score or get to the free throw line almost at will. But he's gotta get those free throws straightened out. If he does...boy oh boy!

Edward Daub 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Good point Freddie! Free throw shooting is essentially shooting an uncontested 15 foot shot. To borrow a Yogi Berra quote, it is 90% half mental! Josh will improve as time goes on. I do hope he improves to 70+% this post season!

Dirk Medema 9 months, 2 weeks ago

Interesting to see the contrast in players. Not Josh with any of the OAD but with Conner who leaves KU to play what Dad thinks is his best position only to waste a year and a half finding out that Coach was right after all. Josh on the other hand embraces playing out of position for the good of the team and (IMO) improves his game and potential by showing his tremendous versatility.

His greatest potential both this year and those to come might be not in playing Point guard but point forward. Is there any other team that has a 4 that can stick with Josh initiating the O? That was part of the success of the Bulls. They still had Kerr, Paxson and others at the point but Pippen commonly initiated the O as the SF.

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