In the five weeks between now and the 2017 NBA Draft, a lot can, and most likely will, change — particularly in the realm of opinions on the potential impact of the most sought-after incoming rookies.
For the moment, it seems the likeliest scenario for one-year Kansas star Josh Jackson is heading to Philadelphia as the No. 3 pick and teaming up with a young core built around one-time Jayhawks center Joel Embiid.
Most around The Association assume Washington’s Markelle Fultz will go No. 1 to Boston (or to some team that trades an all-star in exchange for that slot) and the Lakers will take UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 pick. That leaves the 76ers, a team lacking in the productive guard department, with the choice between Jackson and what’s left of what is considered a great crop of point guards.
In a lottery reaction episode of The Vertical Podcast with Chris Mannix, Jonathan Givony of Draft Express was asked which player makes sense for Philadelphia if it’s not a lead guard.
“I think they really have to look at Josh Jackson,” Givony said, “and they have to bring him into their gym and figure out, ‘How far away is this guy from being a good shooter?’”
As those who followed KU’s 2016-17 season closely will recall, Jackson greatly improved his 3-point accuracy over the final few months of his brief time with the Jayhawks. The versatile 6-foot-8 forward from Detroit showed his biggest weakness wasn’t a completely lost cause by hitting 38.5% of his 3-pointers in January, 47.8% in February and 40% in March.
“If you can get him some good looks and you can continue to develop his stroke,” Givony said of why Jackson made sense for the Sixers, after referencing his late-season surge. “In the NBA not everybody comes in as a finished product.”
We have no way of knowing whether Philadelphia coach Brett Brown and his staff would take this route, but Givony wondered whether Jackson could be persuaded into changing up his shooting mechanics with the endgame of adding an effective NBA-range 3-point shot to his arsenal.
“People say great things about his work ethic. And he really does everything else,” Givony added. “He’s a phenomenal defender. He’s a great passer. He’s outstanding in transition. He can play a lot of different positions. You can play him off the ball — you can play him on the ball a little bit even. There’s a lot there with Josh Jackson. They need to look at him.”
Teams taking gambles in the NBA Draft is a June tradition, but selecting Jackson with the third overall pick wouldn’t qualify as a risk for the Sixers. The only unpredictability accompanying the 20-year-old prospect is his often-scrutinized jumper. No, it’s not a pure, fluid stroke — Jackson brings the ball down low and shows it a bit as he rises up on 3-pointers. But which is more likely: Jackson stinks from long range for his entire career or he works at it until it becomes a trusted part of his game?
Jackson is too competitive to take a complacent approach to owning a below-average 3-point shot, especially now that so many NBA teams value that real estate behind the arc more than ever. He’s not entering the league with a trustworthy 3-pointer, but I’d bet on him adapting into at least a serviceable long-distance threat sooner than later. Same goes for his 56.6% free-throw shooting as a college freshman.
Philadelphia would still have the ability via free agency or the trade market to go after the floor-balancing shooter it needs. No player available at No. 3 other than Jackson is entering the NBA with as complete a skill set. And a nucleus of Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Jackson with some to-be-determined guards (by the way: the Sixers get the Lakers’ pick next year, which is bound to be in the lottery) projects as one of the league’s up-and-coming teams, able to contend in the Eastern Conference for years to come.
The Ping Pong balls have spoken, and a trio of the NBA’s classic franchises will decide between them which incoming rookies will occupy the top three picks in the 2017 draft.
Thanks to The Association’s annual lottery on Tuesday, one-and-done Kansas star Josh Jackson, a projected top-three pick, has a much better feel for what his future holds. And the versatile 6-foot-8 forward very well could end up the fresh young face in one of the league’s marquee markets.
Odds are Jackson won’t go first overall — that spot long has been associated with Washington point guard Markelle Fultz. But, most likely, Jackson won’t drop any farther than fifth, either. Two to four seem the safest bets for where Jackson lands. But since we’re here we might as well dive into some NBA lottery reaction and look at why each of the top five teams would be interested in kicking the shoes on Jackson to see if they want to add him to their roster.
No. 1 - Boston
This would be a fantastic spot for the rookie from KU to begin his professional career. But, at this point in time, it seems as if Boston is more likely to take Fultz or trade the pick for an established all-star.
But one never knows what Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is thinking. If, by June 22, Ainge were to shock everyone and decide upon taking Jackson, it likely would mean he’s too enamored with the team’s current backcourt rotation of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier to break it up with Fultz or Lonzo Ball. However, the current contracts for Thomas, Bradley and Smart expire in the summer of 2018, so it would make sense for Boston to take a young potential star guard on a rookie deal and move on from one of the more established members of the backcourt.
Don’t bet on seeing Jackson in Celtics green.
No. 2 - L.A. Lakers
Jackson has the personality and game to shine in L.A. However, this spot screams Big Baller Brand. If the Lakers are as crazy about UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball as his father, LaVar, is about the idea of his son joining one of the NBA’s storied franchises, then Jackson has no shot at wearing that classic purple and gold uniform.
Unless, that is, Lakers legend and current president of basketball operations Magic Johnson — long familiar with Jackson’s game due to his ties with his alma mater, Michigan State, and that program’s recruitment of the Detroit native — sees more overall potential in Jackson. L.A. does, after all, already have a couple of young point guards in Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell. Then again, it wouldn’t be too difficult to part ways with one of them and hand the keys over to Ball, the local prodigy.
No. 3 - Philadelphia
This is where things really get interesting for Jackson. Many consider him the third-best prospect in a talented draft class. But the Sixers have a glut of young frontcourt players and no longterm answer in the backcourt. Philadelphia already plans on using 6-10 forward Ben Simmons as its primary ball-handler on offense. Would the organization comprise an even less traditional lineup and give Jackson guard minutes, too? If the Sixers took that route they could put a monstrously long lineup on the floor that few teams could match.
If the 76ers want to address needs instead of taking the best available player on the board, though, they could opt for one of the coveted Kentucky guards, De’Aaron Fox or Malik Monk, instead.
For those who follow KU, it would be intriguing to see Joel Embiid, another No. 3 pick from Kansas, team up with Jackson as part of a young core on course to blossom over the next several years and potentially turn into a force in the Eastern Conference.
No. 4 - Phoenix
If Jackson slipped out of the top three, the Suns would be thrilled to have him. Their two best players at this point are guards Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe. Adding a two-way wing such as Jackson, who also happens to be an adept passer and fierce finisher in the open floor, would make Phoenix a team to watch out West in the future.
The Suns had the second-best odds of landing a top-three pick before the lottery balls bounced out of their favor. One would think ownership and coaches would do backflips across the Sonoran Desert if Jackson fell into their laps.
Unless they think Duke’s Jayson Tatum is a better answer. [Scoffs inwardly.]
No. 5 - Sacramento
Look up and down the Kings’ roster and you’ll find a who’s who of “why him?” Sacramento will be thrilled with whomever it drafts fifth overall, because that young man instantly becomes the new centerpiece of the franchise. If the Kings know what’s good for them, they are gathering all their good-luck charms, opening doors for strangers, not cutting anyone off in traffic and praying to the basketball gods at all hours from now until draft night, in the hopes that four other franchises pass on Jackson.
If you’ve kept up with Josh Jackson’s NBA Draft stock over the course of his one-and-done season at Kansas, you know his name often appears following those of Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball on “best available prospect” lists and mock draft scenarios. Sometimes, Jackson even slips out of the top three in the eyes of some evaluators.
And, if you’re like me and wonder why Jackson isn’t more often at least in the conversation as a top-two pick, one new 2017 draft breakdown will leave you nodding your head instead of shaking it.
The Ringer’s NBA Draft Guide ranks the top 60 rookie prospects for the June draft, and only the king of the mocks, 6-foot-4 Washington point guard Fultz, is thought of more highly than Jackson, a versatile 6-8 wing from Kansas who doesn’t have a $495 signature shoe coming out or a father intent on annoying the basketball community at large.
According to analysis from The Rigner’s staff, Jackson could turn into a player as lethal as Tracy McGrady or as versatile as Andre Iguodala. His prospect profile includes a list of his positives and negatives, as well as a telling shot chart, highlighting Jackson’s ability to finish inside (62.5% around the rim) and his favorite area from which to fire behind the arc — the right half of the floor (46.9% on 32 attempts).
Those who watched Jackson play his 35 games in a KU uniform are familiar with the pros and cons he brings to the hardwood. Some of the plus-side attributes referenced at The Ringer include Jackson’s explosiveness, feel for the game, ability as a perimeter/team defender, play-making and rebounding.
The aspects that give evaluators pause? Jackson’s “average” 6-10 wingspan, shooting mechanics and tendency to dwell on negative plays, to name a few.
Obviously even the most elite future pros can be dissected to find their flaws. The majority of the league’s top-three picks, year after year, never come close to transcending to the level of LeBron James or Michael Jordan. Jackson’s overall ability on both ends of the floor, along with his instinctive passing and willingness to defend make him a coveted player and a rare rookie who can compete and contribute immediately. It will be interesting to see if his stock fluctuates at all in the weeks ahead, as various teams invite him in for individual workouts, following Tuesday’s draft lottery.
Why no combine?
Jackson, who passed on attending the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, explained that part of his pre-draft strategy recently in an interview with Rebecca Grant.
“Normally, like the top 10 picks don’t go to that,” Jackson said. “There’s no benefit from it. You can only lose. They already know how good you are, and then if you go there and do bad it’s like, ‘Oh, maybe he’s not that good.’ So it just hurts your draft stock.”
During his Q&A with Grant, Jackson also detailed how his upbringing made him a tough player on the court. The 20-year-old millionaire-to-be said he used to battle his mother, Apples Jones, one-on-one.
“It would get so bad that sometimes I would cry that she would block my shot, take the ball from me,” Jackson said of his games as a youth against the former UTEP player, adding he didn’t defeat his mom at basketball until he was about 14 years old.
When Jackson hears his name called early at the 2017 draft, on June 22, you can bet Jones will have tears in her eyes as she watches what her son has accomplished, with her help.
Josh Jackson won’t know until late June exactly where he will go to begin his NBA career. But the one-and-done Kansas star should have a much better idea of his potential destinations within the week, following the 2017 draft lottery.
Only a handful of organizations will have a shot at adding Jackson, projected as a top-three pick (top-five at worst), to their roster. And while an incoming rookie would be glad to earn a hefty paycheck from any franchise, you know Jackson has to be covertly hoping the Ping Pong balls bounce certain ways during Tuesday’s lottery.
Fourteen teams have varying odds at winning the potentially franchise-altering game of chance. And Jackson’s career arc could take a significantly different path, depending on which teams are lucky enough to secure one of the top three slots.
Here’s a look at which NBA franchises Jackson should hope to see at the top of the draft board — listed from least-appealing to best-case scenario, accompanied by that team’s chances of securing a top-three pick.
The Kings are the trainwrecking-est franchise the league has to offer. They haven’t posted a winning record since the 2005-06 season and moved their only all-league-level talent, DeMarcus Cousins, before this year’s in-season trade deadline. Playing in Sacramento means enduring a losing culture with a franchise whose front office has a track record of shooting itself in the foot.
There is good news for Jackson on this front, though. Through a previous deal, Philadelphia has the ability to swap picks with the Kings. So if Sacramento leapfrogs a number of teams, including the Sixers, into the top-three, Philadelphia could claim that choice as its own. The bad news? It’s not impossible for Philly and the Kings to both land in the top three.
The Magic can’t match the prolonged futility of the Kings, but they appear to have got their hands on Sacramento’s blueprint. The team has hovered in the realm of mediocre to awful since head coach Stan Van Gundy left in 2012. While Orlando has a number of young players on its roster, none of them scream “all-star in the making.”
Jackson could end up as the face of the franchise if the Magic drafted him. But it also would be a very long time before his face showed up during NBA Playoffs broadcasts.
Though the Hornets (the artists previously known as the Bobcats) have made the postseason two times in the last four years they’ve mostly operated as a middling team.
Maybe Jackson emerges as the star wing the franchise has lacked and he spearheads a turnaround with guard Kemba Walker. But that scenario seems more iffy than a certainty.
There aren’t many doomsday scenarios for a prospect as talented as Jackson, so we’re already venturing into “this ain’t so bad” territory with the possibility of him ending up as a key player for his hometown team, the Pistons. Truthfully, the trickiest part of this potential alliance is Detroit would have to part ways with or give up on at least one of its wings for Jackson to fully thrive. Small forwards Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris and Stanley Johnson are under contract for next season.
Suiting up for the Pistons as their primary wing would qualify as more appealing if the team’s highest-paid players — center Andre Drummond and point guard Reggie Jackson — began meeting the organization’s expectations.
The Suns have failed to win 25 games each of the past two years, but the future at least seems promising with 20-year-old shooting guard Devin Booker, a productive point guard in Eric Bledsoe and 19-year-old frontcourt lottery picks from 2016, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. Add 20-year-old Jackson to the mix and you’ve got a youthful core with, at the very least, the kind of longterm upside to enliven a franchise that has missed the playoffs every spring since 2010.
Going to the Timberwolves would be near the top of Jackson’s ideal draft-day possibilities if we were just talking about him joining forces with Karl-Anthony Towns and head coach Tom Thibodeau. But Minnesota already has a perimeter forward from Kansas whom Jackson long has drawn comparisons to, Andrew Wiggins.
We know that Jackson and Wiggins have different strengths to their games, but if you put them together in the same lineup a Jackson-Wiggins combo might get a bit too redundant. If one were a 3-point marksman it would be perfect. But neither are, and Minnesota would be better off with the ability to space the floor and maximize the potential of superstar-to-be Towns.
L.A. LAKERS (46.9%)
In name, the Lakers are a glamorous NBA franchise. In reality, they lost at least 67% of their games each of the past four seasons. Picture Jackson wearing the purple and gold and it doesn’t take long to envision him becoming an instant fan favorite with his stylistic passing and vicious attacks of the rim. But are any of the Lakers’ recent lottery choices going to turn into all-stars at any point?
It could be years before the Lakers are back in the playoffs, let alone among the Western Conference’e elite.
NEW YORK (18.3%)
Why would Jackson want to play with the Knicks more than the Lakers? Glad you asked. Although a dysfunctional vibe has surrounded New York for years now, Jackson could turn out to be a vital part of a reboot. The team’s president, Phil Jackson, publicly floated the idea of trading away Carmelo Anthony this offseason. Plug Josh Jackson in his place and you have a vigorous one-two punch, with budding superstar Kristaps Porzingis and Jackson to build around for years to come.
The die-hard Knicks crowd at Madison Square Garden would fawn over Jackson because of his defense and versatility, and he would become an instant hit with New York media. This is sneakily a great outcome if everything were to line up correctly.
NEW ORLEANS (4%)
For the most part, the Pelicans’ roster is really unappealing. But when you look inside and see two of the league’s most dominant big men, the idea of Jackson in The Big Easy becomes highly intriguing. Anthony Davis and Cousins can only do so much for the team on their own. They need a capable wingman who can both set them up on offense and help them out defensively. Sounds like a job for Jackson.
Of note: The Pelicans better hope they sneak into the top three, because if they don’t they relinquish their pick to Sacramento, as agreed upon in the Cousins trade.
Sure, the Sixers have reeked for the past four years, but that was all part of the process. Jackson would be another young piece to add to a roster constructed to take off in the Eastern Conference within the next couple of years. Assuming former KU standout Joel Embiid and 2016 No. 1 pick Ben Simmons can stay relatively healthy, Jackson joins them and Dario Saric to form a strong nucleus, all 23 or younger.
If the Ping Pong balls bounce Philly’s way, the Sixers could even end up with two high lottery picks, because Philadelphia gets the Lakers’ spot if it falls outside of the top three. Now you’re adding yet another coveted talent to the mix and the 76ers suddenly look destined for a profound transformation.
Although the Nuggets have missed the playoffs each of the past four seasons, the organization has — without bottoming out — accumulated enough talent to be a player away from becoming a postseason regular. Denver is set up well for the future, because 22-year-old center Nikola Jokic is on pace to become an All-NBA big as soon as next season. The Nuggets will have salary cap flexibility this summer, too, which makes them a player in free agency, as well as a suitor in potential major trades.
If the team gets lucky enough to draft Jackson, Denver could accelerate its climb in the West.
Dirk Nowitzki will turn 39 this offseason, and the Mavericks are close to entering a new era as a franchise. Landing a player with Jackson’s potential would expedite a smooth transition. Although Dallas’ two most productive players not named Dirk — Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews — dabble in small forward, they, like Jackson, are versatile, so playing all three of them at once wouldn’t be impossible. In fact, Jackson’s play-making ability might actually make things easier for those two, Nowitzki and (restricted free agent) Nerlens Noel in the half-court and open floor.
The best part about playing for Dallas, though, would be Jackson knowing owner Mark Cuban is willing to spend the money necessary to chase after championships.
The odds are not in favor of the Heat jumping to the top of the lottery, because the team went 30-11 in the second half of the season and barely missed the playoffs. But any elite prospect would love to see Miami luck its way to a slot in the top three. The Heat has only missed the postseason five times since Pat Riley, now president, first joined the organization as a head coach in 1995. Because of his success and the franchise’s three NBA championships — fueled, of course, by the presence of historical talents Dwyane Wade and LeBron James — as well as Miami’s location, the Heat are always in the mix for top free agents, too.
Miami will be a projected playoff team next year regardless of how the lottery plays out. If the Heat added Jackson, its prospects could improve for years to come, and he would plug in nicely to a lineup with center Hassan Whiteside and point guard Goran Dragic.
The Celtics secured the No. 1 seed in the East this year and are one victory away from a spot in the conference finals. But thanks to a visionary trade in 2013, they also have the ability to swap picks in the 2017 draft with Brooklyn, which happened to own the NBA’s worst record during the regular season. In other words: Boston is in position to contend immediately and for the foreseeable future. Should Jackson end up with the Celtics, he would join all-star guard Isaiah Thomas and premier big Al Horford as offensive facilitators, capable of setting up the 3-point shots coach Brad Stevens’ offense counts on, while also giving Boston increased defensive versatility, with Jackson’s ability to switch and guard multiple positions.
What’s more, the Celtics have cap room this summer to land a top free agent or trade for another all-star. Boston figures to be near the top of the East for years to come, and a competitor such as Jackson would thrive in such circumstances.
Still almost a month away from the May 16 NBA Draft Lottery and some real clarity about where one-and-done Kansas star Josh Jackson could land in the NBA, one factor in his stock is discernible: Jackson is the best small forward available.
For months, experts have raved about the 2017 draft class and its point guards, and Jackson’s name often comes up after Washington’s Markelle Fultz and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball in terms of most-coveted prospects. But even with the buzz increasing around Duke freshman small forward Jason Tatum’s stock, Jackson’s versatile game and defensive approach make him the primary target for a team looking to add a wing.
A 6-foot-8 20-year-old from Detroit who finally officially turned pro earlier this week, Jackson’s name takes the No. 1 position on a big board of small forwards, according to a feature David Aldridge wrote for NBA.com.
Jackson, who averaged 16.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists for Bill Self’s Jayhawks during his one season, ranked ahead of the aforementioned Tatum (easily his biggest non-point guard competition for a top spot in the draft), Florida State freshman Jonathan Issac and Indiana sophomore O.G. Anunoby.
In compiling the list, Aldridge, a veteran NBA reporter, ranked the college and foreign players based on who, in theory, would be best suited to step onto an NBA floor tonight and make the most significant impact. To do so, he used intel from general managers and coaches around The Association, as well as college coaches.
While discussing who Jackson might be comparable to, Aldridge’s conversations led him to the names of two NBA Finals MVPs: all-league San Antonio forward Kawhi Leonard and Golden State veteran Andre Iguodala.
“I freaking love him,” an executive of a team likely to have a high lottery pick told Aldridge. “This guy’s getting better as he goes, so I can’t see how he can’t be Iguodala — a guy who can defend and pass, and who’s becoming a better shooter. I know the Kansas people, and in terms of work and all that stuff … they were absolutely in love with him as a kid — not a little bit, a lot. He has (Andrew) Wiggins’ athleticism with character off the chain.”
Since Jackson decided to play at Kansas we’ve heard the Wiggins comparisons, but the Iguodala one is unique and intriguing. Casual fans may know the 6-foot-6 wing, now 33, as a phenomenal veteran role player for Golden State. But earlier in his career Iguodala gave his teams in Philadelphia and Denver those intangibles and so much more. Iguodala averaged 17.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 2009-10 — arguably his best stat-stuffing season — for the Sixers.
The fascinating aspect of Jackson’s potential is that the Iguodala comparison is only the baseline. Jackson could turn into an even more devastating version of Iguodala, and that’s likely why someone invoked the name of MVP candidate Leonard. No one saw the Spurs’ 6-7 small forward turning into one of the best players on the planet before the 2011 draft, but evaluators look at Jackson’s skill set and competitive nature and envision greatness.
Leonard didn’t enter the league as a player anyone feared as a 3-point shooter, yet he has turned himself into a threat. During his just-completed sixth regular season, the former San Diego State stud shot 38.1% from long range while setting career-highs in makes (147) and attempts (386).
In order to one day become an all-league type of talent Jackson will need to follow a similar path. He arrived at KU with questions about his jump shot, but steadily improved throughout the season to finish at 37.8% on 3-pointers, after making less than 30% in both November and December.
Aldridge reported some wonder how the NBA’s deeper 3-point arc will impact Jackson’s shot-making from deep, but one Pacific Division executive didn’t seem too worried about it.
“There’s a lot less of a concern now than there was in the early part of the season, maybe the middle of the season,” the executive said. “He shot 40 percent the last month, month and a half of the year (Jackson shot 48.1 percent, 25 of 52, behind the arc the last seven weeks of the season). He’s been the best player in his class. He has that kind of pedigree. If he can consistently shoot from NBA range, he does so many other things well he’s going to be a good NBA player.”
— See David Aldridge’s SF big board for the 2017 NBA Draft: Kansas’ Josh Jackson sure thing in small forward group full of surprises
Team’s chances of winning the lottery
Boston (from Brooklyn) - 25%
Phoenix - 19.9%
L.A. Lakers - 15.6%
Philadelphia - 11.9%
Orlando - 8.8%
Minnesota - 5.3%
New York - 5.3%
Sacramento - 2.8%
Dallas - 1.7%
New Orleans - 1.1%
Charlotte - 0.8%
Detroit - 0.7%
Denver - 0.6%
Miami - 0.5%
Kansas City, Mo. — A finite number of games remain in Josh Jackson’s college basketball career. And although his first 33 in a Kansas uniform have included a 31-point show, 11 double-doubles, 50 dunks and countless examples of the kind of floor vision one just doesn’t expect out of a 6-foot-8 freshman, we have not yet seen the best of Jackson.
That’s what the projected top-three pick in this June’s NBA Draft told reporters Wednesday, on the eve of the Jayhawks’ Sweet 16 showdown with Purdue.
Jackson conceded he has had his share of performances he would grade as “good games” in specific areas, “whether it be scoring or playing defense or passing the ball,” KU’s latest basketball prodigy said. “I don’t think I’ve had a game yet this season where I’ve put it all together in one game.”
That might initially come across as an absurd statement, but it’s an example of what Jackson expects from himself and what he knows top-seeded KU (30-4) needs from him in order to do something extraordinary during this NCAA Tournament.
Be honest. Do you really remember anything in particular about Jackson’s 31-point game at Texas Tech in February? That’s a big number and it’s basically forgettable at this juncture because the first-year (or: one-year) perimeter star has so much talent in so many aspects of the game. You know he’s capable of far more striking outings and so does he.
Jackson enters Thursday night’s game against the fourth-seeded Boilermakers (27-7) averaging 16.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists, with a 51.7% field-goal percentage and 38.6% accuracy from 3-point range (43.5% in Big 12 play). While Jackson’s free throws (56.7% on the season) have been one relative weakness, he has led KU in scoring nine times, in rebounds 11 times and in assists four times.
His defensive impact — as witnessed when Kansas lost to TCU at Sprint Center two weeks ago while Jackson served a one-game suspension — is just as key. Fourteen times this season the freshman has led KU in steals, a number one better than the occasions when he finished as the team leader in blocks (13).
When asked what makes him so effective as a basketball player, Jackson referenced his basketball I.Q., height and athleticism after first naming his greatest intangible, his competitive drive. Those qualities combined make it easy to visualize Jackson out-doing himself against Purdue, and improving upon his 23-point outing against Michigan State this past weekend, when he only grabbed three rebounds and shockingly passed out zero assists.
KU couldn’t have picked a better time to see Jackson’s confidence continue to grow, and it’s coinciding with the Jayhawks peaking as a team, according to him.
“I think we’re playing the best defense that we’ve played all year,” Jackson said, “and I feel like it’s getting better and better every game. I feel like it’ll be even better (versus Purdue).”
In the past four games with Jackson on the floor, Kansas held Oklahoma to 34.9% shooting, Oklahoma State to 42.3%, UC-Davis to 33.9% and Michigan State to 43.9%. The Jayhawks defended the 3-point arc admirably in those wins, too: OU shot 28.6%, OSU 33.3%, UCD 20% and MSU 34.8%.
A reporter asked Jackson Wednesday if Kansas is the best team in the Sweet 16. He didn’t hesitate to answer: “In my opinion, yes.”
“We have a lot of things that other teams don’t have. Well, for one, we have Frank Mason,” Jackson began, with a chuckle. “Two, we’ve got guys who know their role and are really good at doing their role and we’ve got an amazing coach. We’ve got a coach who really knows basketball, trusts his players and gives us a lot of freedom.”
Indeed, Bill Self has equipped Jackson to do it all for this Kansas team, and the trust the freshman has earned from his coach and teammates makes it possible for him to overshadow other moments in his dazzling season every time the ball is tipped.
More news and notes previewing Kansas vs. Purdue
- Star players illustrate contrasting styles in KU-Purdue, Sweet 16 showdown
- Tom Keegan: Passing key to Kansas running game
- Notebook: No extra motivation necessary for Jayhawks in Sweet 16
- Boilermakers bracing for KU-friendly environment at Sprint Center
- Kansas set to face Caleb ‘Biggie’ Swanigan — or Mr. Double-Double
- Former Gene Keady players wearing suits and ties on both benches of Purdue-Kansas game
- Most player of the year votes counted before Mason and Swanigan tip off
- Gameday Breakdown, Sweet 16: KU vs. Purdue
Throughout the Kansas basketball team’s second-round NCAA Tournament showdown with Michigan State, it seemed the game would not be decided until the final few possessions. Then, over the course of the last seven minutes, it went from a two-score game to a 90-70 Jayhawks victory.
How, exactly, does that happen?
“It didn’t seem like it,” Kansas senior center Landen Lucas said of the vibe on the court ahead of the final 20-point margin, “and the scoreboard didn’t show it, but as a team we felt pretty confident about what we were doing.”
Essentially, KU’s collective will to advance didn’t falter when the Spartans repeatedly challenged the Midwest’s top seed with runs of their own and answers to Kansas scores for the first 30 or so minutes in Tulsa, Okla.
The Jayhawks (30-4) not only remained steadfast in coach Bill Self’s plan, but also cranked up their intensity for the stretch run. MSU cut the KU lead, which already had poked into double-digit territory three times, to five with 7:16 to play. From there, Kansas outscored the Spartans 21-6, held its foe to 2-for-8 shooting and advanced on to the Sweet 16 by converting eight of its 10 final shots.
Several sequences keyed the win for the Jayhawks and they’re the exact types of plays they’ll have to replicate in bunches Thursday at Sprint Center, in Kansas City, Mo., to move past an even better Big Ten challenger — No. 4 seed Purdue (27-7) — on the path to the Final Four.
The Boilermakers’ personnel obviously differs from the makeup of the MSU roster, particularly when it comes to experience and the paint presence of Purdue’s double-double machine, Caleb Swanigan, and his 7-foot-3 wingspan. But the types of plays Kansas made in crunch time against Michigan State should not be forgotten, because many of them had more to do with effort than matchups.
Here are six concepts and standout moments from KU’s final eight minutes of Round 2 that the Jayhawks need to keep in mind moving forward.
- Opponents can get caught up paying too much attention to stars
Josh Jackson (23 points, 9-for-16 shooting) gave MSU headaches all game, so as the end approached, defenders zeroed in on Jackson even more.
On one possession, the star freshman made a cut from the left wing to the paint, then moved on out to the right wing, while Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham exchanged a hand off on the perimeter. With the Spartans worried about those three stars, backup Lagerald Vick made a hard backdoor cut for the paint and Graham sent a pass toward the hoop for a thunderous alley-oop before Vick’s defender had a shot at reacting and recovering.
- Trust your seniors
Just after MSU made it a five-point game, Mason and Lucas worked a variation of the pick-and-roll to perfection. The big man set a screen for his point guard just after Mason caught a pass on on the left side of the floor. When Lucas’ man took a step too far to help on Mason, Lucas bounded toward the paint and met a lob above the rim for an easy slam.
The two seniors will need to assert themselves on both ends of the floor when games get tight. Their ability to execute will ease tensions and increase KU’s chances of moving on.
- Get it and go
This is an idea these Jayhawks have thoroughly embraced and there’s no need to change it just because the lights are brighter, the competition is stiffer and the score may be close. Mason, Graham and Jackson love throwing the ball ahead for potential numbers every time Kansas takes the ball away or snags an opportunistic defensive board.
When backup big Dwight Coleby came away with a steal and got the ball to Jackson late in the second half, the freshman knew what to do. About four seconds after Coleby secured the turnover, Jackson had zoomed up the the floor in four dribbles for a fast-break layup.
- Embrace the moment
Kansas didn’t miss many shots down the stretch, but when Jackson released an unsuccessful 3-pointer with his team up 10, seldom-utilized backup Coleby secured the offensive rebound to extend the possession. A couple passes later, Graham buried a 3-pointer.
Role players tend to find their way into the spotlight during critical junctures in March. Whether it be Coleby, Vick, Carlton Bragg Jr. or even starter Svi Mykhailiuk, the Jayhawks need their less heralded players to step up when opportunities present themselves late in games. Often that’s the only way to advance.
- This is why you brought Jackson to KU
Accurately, Self will tell you any number of his perimeter players are capable of bursting out and fueling offensive runs that alter the outcomes of games. Mason might be the national player of the year for that very reason. But there is no denying the most talented, potentially dominating presence on the floor wears No. 11.
The NCAA Tournament stage hasn’t looked too big for Jackson — he just took over for stretches versus a MSU program filled with friends and a coach who heavily recruited him to become a Spartan. During the game’s final six minutes, Jackson made two free throws, scored a layup, grabbed a defensive rebound and threw down a vicious one-handed jam after driving in from the top of the key in a half-court set.
Jackson has the competitive drive of Mason but also operates with the advantages of existing in a 6-foot-8, NBA-ready frame. He can carry a team to a Final Four if he needs to.
- Defend like it’s only thing that matters
It will take prolonged defensive focus for the Jayhawks to extend their season from here on out. Lucas explained how they turned a five-point game into a massive gap by the final buzzer against Michigan State.
“We knew that the reason that it was so close was because we weren’t executing the keys that the coaches were talking about: stopping in transition, easy buckets here and there,” Lucas explained. “And as soon as we talked about that and tightened those things up, we knew that we were gonna extend the lead. And we did that, and next thing you know it was pretty out of hand.”
Tulsa, Okla. — Tom Izzo’s intense sideline demeanor and the success that accompanies it this time of year has become synonymous with the NCAA Tournament.
The 22-year Michigan State head coach has navigated the Spartans to seven Final Four appearances and a national championship, so anyone who follows college basketball recognizes him and MSU as a distinct brand.
Before Kansas (29-4) attempts to send Izzo’s Spartans (20-14) home earlier than the young bunch from the Big Ten planned, several of the Jayhawks gave their impressions of the hall of fame coach and his history of March Madness victories (47-18 all-time).
“He’s a great coach,” said KU freshman Josh Jackson, who was heavily recruited by Izzo before he opted to play for Bill Self at Kansas. “He’s always gonna coach his guys to be tough. That’s why I think he’s always got a tough team year in and year out — and this year he does. And I feel like he really knows what he’s doing. He’s had a lot of guys come through his program, and I feel like just off of his coaching ability, any team that you give him he’s gonna find success and, you know, make the best of what he’s got.”
Jackson said he felt starstruck when he first met Izzo, as a young high school standout in the state of Michigan, around the age of 14. The legendary coach attended one of Jackson’s games.
“I’d been watching him for my whole life, basically,” Jackson shared.
A Portland, Ore., native, Kansas senior center Landen Lucas didn’t necessarily grow up in awe of Izzo. But the old school big man certainly enjoyed the tough style displayed by MSU’s many successful teams through the years. The idea of bruising in the paint versus the Spartans on Sunday night at BOK Center has Lucas fired up.
“It’s cool,” Lucas said. “I feel like it’s a school I would’ve enjoyed playing at, because of the way they play and their style. Their known for that kind of stuff — getting extra possessions.
“It’ll be fun for me to play against them. It usually is,” added Lucas, who also went up against Sparty in 2014 and 2015. “And I’m looking forward to it.”
A Cleveland prep who grew up in Big Ten country, KU forward Carlton Bragg Jr., too, is fully aware of Izzo’s impressive résumé.
“He has a great program, great legacy behind him,” said Bragg, a KU sophomore who at one point was offered a scholarship to MSU. “He develops his players really good, just like Coach Self, as well.”
MSU big men are associated with toughness in the paint, and Bragg expects nothing different this March, even if, like Self, Izzo hasn’t had his traditional lineup. Freshman Miles Bridges plays much the same role as his friend Jackson does at KU, in a four-guard starting lineup.
“They’re pretty aggressive,” Bragg said, adding the Jayhawks expect the Spartans to give KU their best shot. “Nick Ward (6-foot-8 freshman forward), he’s playing great basketball right now, coming off a big game versus Miami. He’s gonna be a challenge down low, and we’ve got to just keep him off the glass.”
The name Izzo, Kansas freshman Mitch Lightfoot added, conjures up images of grit and offensive rebounding.
“Doing all the little things, working their butt off,” Lightfood responded when asked to characterize Izzo’s Spartans. “You think of Draymond Green, stuff like that, players like that. Really athletic players. You know, Miles (Bridges) is super-athletic. But overall, really hard-working teams.”
Tulsa, Okla. — After missing his first Kansas basketball start of the season due to a suspension at the Big 12 tournament a week ago, star freshman Josh Jackson, whose off-the-court issues have led to outsiders scrutinizing both the guard and the program, Jackson told reporters Thursday he’s ready to put any distractions behind him.
According to his teammates who have been around the 6-foot-8 guard throughout KU’s eight-day break from actual games, Jackson shouldn’t have any problem bouncing back after disappointing himself, the Jayhawks and members of the fan base with his actions.
Jackson hasn’t played in nearly two weeks, but at practices since he served his one-game suspension, senior Landen Lucas said the freshman has proven to be assertive and vocal.
“Trying to be even more of a leader than he already was, and I think that was important for all of us to see, because we knew he felt bad after that last game and we were all disappointed by it,” Lucas said. “But he came out with a whole other level to him, and I’m just excited to see him carry it over into the games.”
The Detroit native and projected top-three pick in this year’s NBA Draft, Jackson will get a chance to prove Lucas right in the NCAA Tournament, beginning Friday evening against UC-Davis (23-12).
Starting junior wing Svi Mykhailiuk expects a great response from Jackson in his postseason debut, and said Jackson will pick up right where he left off, prior to his suspension.
“Definitely, because he’s a great competitor,” Mykhailiuk said. “He’s a winner, and he always wants to play, he always wants to win. I think he’s gonna be really hungry in the game, and he’s gonna show his best.”
KU head coach Bill Self repeatedly has supported Jackson publicly, and did so again on the eve of KU’s tourney run, saying he had no concern about Jackson’s approach to the game moving forward.
“I think Josh is focused. I do,” Self said. “He's a tough-minded individual. I think he's focused. And certainly his role or playing time or whatnot, whatever will only be dictated by what happens between the lines. It won't be dictated by anything else. And I think he's ready to go.”
KU’s senior leader and point guard, Frank Mason III said Jackson has handled lingering off-the-court issues and various allegations well.
“Josh is a great kid. We all love him. We all know he has great experience and things like that,” Mason said. “So we just tell him to focus on the things that he can take care of and that's exactly what he does. And we're just proud of how far he came so far throughout his year, and we're just focused on today and we're not really worried about anything off the court.”
Obviously, Kansas missed Jackson’s athleticism, defense, passing, scoring and rebounding in its Big 12 tournament loss to TCU. Lucas emphasized the importance of the freshman’s presence as the Jayhawks begin what they hope will be a lengthy journey through March Madness.
“We were confident in our team in the game that he missed that we should’ve won, but he just adds so much to this team,” Lucas said, “especially with the four-guard lineup that we like to go with so much. His presence is definitely important to us. He brings a lot of energy during runs and spurts that we really need. He’s a top three, five pick in the NBA, so it’s always nice to have somebody like that on your team.”
In 2014, one-and-done Kansas star Andrew Wiggins became the No. 1 pick in the draft after leading the Jayhawks in scoring. Yet, as this year’s KU team prepares to begin its postseason run, one gets the sense Kansas expects even more out of its latest NBA-bound freshman wing, Josh Jackson.
Three years ago, coach Bill Self needed Wiggins to score, draw fouls (he got to the free-throw line 227 times during his one year of college basketball), help the Jayhawks on the glass and use his athleticism and wingspan to defend all over the floor.
Self requires all of that and then some from the 6-foot-8 Jackson, who is a far more polished driver and passer for KU than Wiggins was before turning pro.
Wiggins definitely did a better job of staying out of trouble off the court during his brief stay in Lawrence. Jackson will serve a one-game suspension for KU’s Big 12 tournament opener on Thursday after backing into a parked car last month and failing to leave proper contact information. This display of poor judgment came in the same month Jackson was charged with criminally damaging a car in a separate incident.
Self has to be perturbed by Jackson’s actions, which led the coach to keep him out of the lineup for a postseason game. Fortunately for Self and the No. 1-ranked Jayhawks (28-3), Jackson has looked far more shrewd on the court and even has overcome a tendency earlier this season to draw a technical foul here or there.
Speaking with media members on Monday, prior to news of Jackson’s suspension, Self cited his star freshman’s mental approach to basketball as a reason the explosive wing from Detroit has been able to set himself apart from past one-and-done prospects who passed through KU.
“In crucial situations, he’s got a calmness about him,” Self said of the 20-year-old Jackson. “I think that his intangible makeup is as good as any that I’ve ever been around, especially at that age.”
Wiggins was definitely the better athlete — which is saying something when you’re being compared to Jackson — but Self might trust Jackson as a player more than any freshman he has ever coached.
Jackson and Wiggins arrived at Kansas in very different situations. Jackson gets to play in a four-guard lineup with all-league veterans Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham. The most experienced guard Wiggins played alongside was Naadir Tharpe. Still, it’s difficult to envision Jackson’s college season — and career — ending with a 4-point outing in a loss, which turned out to be the case for Wiggins.
Jackson seems too competitive — and maybe it’s easier to be that way when you’re rolling with a national player of the year candidate like Mason — to not find multiple ways to impact the game every time he steps on the floor.
The freshman from Detroit has overcome the pressure of arriving at Kansas with the expectations of a rabid fan base hovering over him, too. Self said earlier this season playing under some duress might have led to some early struggles, such as 3-point shooting. A 37.7-percent 3-point shooter on the season, Jackson has knocked down 12 of 25 (48 percent) from deep since the end of January.
“But, you look at it, he’s been pretty consistently good in defense, rebounding, extra possessions, energy, making plays for others, passing,” Self said. “And you know he’s been a consistent scorer.”
Those skills and Jackson’s personality make him look like a far more dangerous player, capable of improving KU’s postseason chances, than Wiggins was three years before him.
The Canadian sensation came through with scoring outputs of 30, 22 and 19 points in the 2014 postseason prior to KU’s loss to Stanford in the first weekend. Jackson is so versatile he could put up big points like Wiggins or not and still give the Jayhawks a chance to win by doing the other things he’s shown all season.
Jackson might not end up being the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, but he seems to have the kind of mental makeup and array of skills to do more for Kansas this postseason than Wiggins could in 2014.
Below is a look at the regular-season statistical output from both Wiggins and Jackson, prior to the start of the Big 12 tournament.
|Andrew Wiggins' stats
entering 2014 postseason
|Josh Jackson's stats
entering 2017 postseason