Throughout his coaching career, North Carolina head coach Roy Williams has been widely regarded as one of the best coaches in college hoops when it comes to developing great talent. Since his time as head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks, Williams has developed a huge crop of solid NBA players. Over the course of his 28 year career as a head coach, Williams has developed the following players: Paul Pierce, Kirk Hinrich, Drew Gooden, Ty Lawson, Danny Green, Raymond Felton, John Henson, Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and Brice Johnson.
The one thing that those ten players have in common is that they’ve spent at least two seasons with North Carolina. That’s particularly impressive considering how prevalent one-and-done players are in modern college basketball. Especially in an elite conference like the ACC, it’s really rare to see a team that can build their success off developing players rather than bringing in a huge crop of McDonald’s All-Americans.
That mindset has allowed North Carolina to be one of the most successful teams in college basketball. Since Williams took over in 2003, the Tar Heels have won seven ACC regular season championships, have made four Final Four appearances and won two National Championships in 2005 and 2008.
Just last season, North Carolina were within fingertips reach of winning another national title. In that title against Villanova, the Tar Heels trailed Villanova for the majority of the game until Marcus Paige hit an unbelievable perimeter jumper to tie the game 74-74 with 5 seconds left in regulation.
In any normal situation, North Carolina and Villanova seemed destined to go into overtime. However, this wasn’t a “normal” NCAA title game, as Villanova’s Kris Jenkins did his best Christian Laettner impersonation by hitting a buzzer-beating 3 to push his team to win the NCAA title.
Following that heartbreaking defeat to Vilanova, the Tar Heels lost two of their two of their most important players to graduation: Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson. Their departures ultimately mean that other Tar Heel players have to step up and implement themselves as the new leaders of the team. One of the best candidates to take that position is junior forward Justin Jackson.
Over his first two seasons at North Carolina, Jackson established himself as one of the biggest workhorses in college basketball. Whenever he’s on the court, Jackson stands as a player that’s willing to do anything he possibly can to help the Tar Heels. That’s especially evident on the offensive end, as Jackson actually stands as one of the more versatile forwards in college basketball.
A lot of Jackson’s offensive versatility is due to how incredibly active he is on the offensive end. Whenever North Carolina in half-court sets, Jackson is consistently seen working around screens. Jackson works in a way that actually tires a lot of ACC forwards, as his constant movements ultimately creates a lot of offensive opportunities.
One of those offensive opportunities allows Jackson to work off-ball to get open looks from around the rim. Although those opportunities definitely don’t create the most exciting plays, as Jackson regularly finishes with a soft dunk or simple layup, it’s still an extremely efficient way to get some points on the board. Those simple drives to the rim allowed Jackson to be incredibly efficient, as he shot 73% from around the rim as a sophomore.
Although he’s mainly an off-ball threat, Jackson is an effective on-ball cutter. Helped by a solid first-step, Jackson does a great job of consistently working his way towards the paint. Inside the paint, Jackson either works towards the right side of the rim or puts up a solid running floater.
While Jackson is incredibly solid when it comes to the paint, his work as a facilitator might be his best offensive skill. With North Carolina, Jackson has established himself as a solid “point forward” that can easily take on a role as the team’s main facilitator. Jackson does a great job of facilitating whether he’s cutting or working around the perimeter, as he uses his 6’8 frame to oversee the court and make the necessary pass. An example of Jackson’s facilitating is seen in the clip below, as he makes a terrific dish to Brice Johnson.
The one offensive skill that he’ll need to make improvements on is as a shooter. During his sophomore season, Jackson only shot 29% from beyond the arc and 66% from around the free-throw line. That inconsistency is kinda shocking as there’s nothing wrong with Jackson’s shooting stroke. Jackson has a pretty solid looking jumper as his release is smooth and quick and he finishes with a high release point.
Defensively, Jackson does a nice job as he combines his solid 6’8 frame with incredible work ethic. Jackson is a very hard worker on the defensive end, as he fights around screens and tries to stick with on-ball cutters. An example of that work against cutters is seen in the play below, as Jackson makes an easy block against the Kansas State cutter.
As Justin Jackson heads into his junior season, he looks like another Williams-coached player that could land to the NBA. However, Jackson is going to have to exhibit himself as the leader of a North Carolina squad that is looking to get back into the Final Four. Although he’s done a great job of establishing himself as a workhorse, Jackson will need to exhibit more if he wants to be the leader of a Final Four-bound team.
The biggest part of Jackson game that needs improvement is as a perimeter shooter. Although there’s not anything wrong with his shooting stroke, Jackson needs to find a way to be more consistent from beyond the arc. Jackson doesn’t need to turn into the next Buddy Hield, but progressing from a 29% to 35% shooter could do a lot to improve his stock as an NBA prospect and as the potential leader of the Tar Heels.
If those improvements occur and Jackson continues to develop as a versatile player, then there’s a chance that he might be that next great Roy Williams-led prospect.