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Philadelphia a likely destination for KU’s Josh Jackson

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) elevates for a dunk against West Virginia during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017 at WVU Coliseum.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) elevates for a dunk against West Virginia during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017 at WVU Coliseum. by Nick Krug

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.

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Why each NBA team with a top-5 pick would want to draft Josh Jackson

Minnesota Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins, left, and Josh Jackson of Kansas respond to questions during an interview before the NBA basketball draft lottery Tuesday, May 16, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Minnesota Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins, left, and Josh Jackson of Kansas respond to questions during an interview before the NBA basketball draft lottery Tuesday, May 16, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

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.

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Ranking the 14 NBA teams Josh Jackson should (and shouldn’t) be rooting for on lottery night

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) signals the ball going the Jayhawks' way after a UC Davis turnover during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) signals the ball going the Jayhawks' way after a UC Davis turnover during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

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.

SACRAMENTO (9.9%)

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.

ORLANDO (29.1%)

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.

CHARLOTTE (2.9%)

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.

DETROIT (2.5%)

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.

PHOENIX (55.8%)

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.

MINNESOTA (18.3%)

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.

PHILADELPHIA (37.8%)

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.

DENVER (2.2%)

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.

DALLAS (6.1%)

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.

MIAMI (1.8%)

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.

BOSTON (64.3%)

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.

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