May 11, 2016
Rising junior Justin Jackson (44) goes up for a rebound in the game against Duke on Wednesday Feb. 17.
The 2016 NBA Combine began Wednesday in Chicago, and Justin Jackson, a rising junior forward on the North Carolina men’s basketball team, Is one of 70-plus participants showcasing their talents in front of professional coaches and scouts.
On April 22, Jackson, along with rising senior Kennedy Meeks, declared for the NBA draft.
Meeks has already withdrawn from the process, but barring any unforeseen circumstances, Jackson will wait until after the combine to make his decision.
Tar Heel fans are hopeful that Jackson will follow Meeks’ lead and potentially help lead a second-straight Final Four run.
But should he?
The fact he got an invite to the combine shows NBA scouts are interested in what he can do at the next level. At 6-foot-8, Jackson has good size for the small forward position and can shoot the ball over smaller defenders from mid-range — whether it be from a jumper or his patented floaters.
Jackson can also be an effective distributor of the ball, especially on the fastbreak.
When UNC got its transition offense going in 2015-16, often times it was Jackson leading the way, sprinting by an opposing player and feeding either Brice Johnson or Isaiah Hicks for a rim-rattling dunk.
What might be the Tomball, Texas, native’s biggest strength is his ability to move without the ball in his hands.
During his sophomore season, Jackson was as effective off of the ball as he was with it.
The baseline acted as his base of operations — where he would crash to the basket and offer an easy target for players when they caught the ball in the high-post.
The strategy worked particularly well against teams who ran zone defenses — like Syracuse, who Jackson averaged 14 points per game against in three contests during the 2015-16 season.
While there are several things Jackson has going in his favor ahead of the combine, there are still some red flags NBA teams will have to look at.
Jackson is certainly tall for his position, but he lacks the frame that the best professional small forwards have. He is listed at just 200 pounds, and would likely struggle driving against bigger defenders and playing through contact at the next level.
Another issue is his consistency from 3-point range. For the better part of his sophomore campaign, Jackson shot under 25 percent from behind the line.
He managed to bump those numbers up considerably during the final two months of the season, but finished the year with a lackluster average of 29.2 percent.
Jackson is ranked by DraftExpress.com as the No. 67 overall prospect in the draft, while NBAdraft.net lists him as the No. 45 prospect. The combine, however, should give Jackson the best idea of where he could land come June 23.
From now until May 25, the deadline for underclassmen to withdraw their names from the draft process, Jackson will have to take a lot into account — including the fate of former Tar Heel J.P. Tokoto, who declared for the 2015 — before he makes his decision.
Tokoto was selected in the second round of the draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, but was cut by the team in October. He didn’t play a single minute with an NBA team during his rookie season.
When it finally comes time for Jackson to choose, don’t be surprised if he opts to move on to the next level.