Note: This piece is a two-part series where we take a look at current Michigan State forward and future NBA Draft prospect Jaren Jackson. In today’s piece, we take a look at Jackson’s work on the defensive end. Later this week, we’re going to examine Jackson’s performance on the offensive end.
Towards the start of the current NCAA season, there were five players that some draft experts looked at as the can’t miss prospects for the 2018 NBA Draft. That group included the following players: Duke forward Marvin Bagley, Real Madrid wing Luka Doncic, Texas center Mohammed Bamba, Arizona big DeAndre Ayton and Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr.
The name that regularly followed that quintet was Michigan State forward Jaren Jackson Jr. Obviously, NBA mock drafts in early November should be taken with a grain of salt due to the different things that can happen during that given season form injuries, poor performance or getting suspended due to the actions of shady family members and/or NCAA teams. However, the act of playing second fiddle to those five prospects could’ve been enough motivation to push Jackson to prove those doubters wrong when the season began.
Now that we’re more than four months into the NCAA season, it appears like that motivation might’ve done the work for Jackson. With an elite Michigan State team that’s 26-3 and currently ranked #1 in the latest USA Today’s Coaches Poll, he has probably been their most important player. In only 22 minutes per game, Jackson is putting up 11.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 3.2 blocks on 53% from the field and 44% from beyond the arc on 2.8 perimeter attempts per game.
Jackson’s production would probably be even more impressive he didn’t get into foul trouble as he’s averaging 3.2 fouls per game. Over the course of the season, he’s fouled out four times which included a game against Ohio State where Michigan State ended up losing. In response to that issue, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said the following to the Detroit News:
“The poor kid,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after the Purdue game. “I mean, he’s not even averaging 15 minutes a game in the last five because of foul trouble and I’m struggling with some of that too. You know, I think that to me, there were some touchy ones.”
Although that particular issue is something that Jackson will need to fix as he progresses through his career, it shouldn’t be a factor to make you look away from how great of a player he actually is. In an NBA Draft that features two of the most athletically gifted players (Bamba, Ayton) and a European prospect that might be better than Kristaps (Doncic), Jackson probably stands as the best two-way player in this year’s Draft Class.
From a defensive perspective, Jackson is the type of front-court player that NBA teams just dream about. Standing at 6’11 with a 7-foot wingspan, Jackson is a dangerous player due to his ability to defend at both the perimeter and the paint. From the perimeter, his length and lateral quickness allows him to stick to driving guards like a snug glove. A great example of that is seen in the clip below as he’s able to run with 6’1 Indiana Hoosiers guard Josh Newkirk through the whole driving process before he’s forced to pass it off to a teammate.
Jackson’s quick feet also come in handy when he has to work inside the paint as a help defender. Headlined by a great basketball IQ that allows him to quickly recognize someone going to the paint whether they’re a guard, forward or center. After that recognition, Jackson is able to use his quick feet to either get in front of that player or just use his 7-foot wingspan to swat the ball away. Those tools have pushed him to average 5.8 blocks per 40 minutes which places him behind Minnesota big Reggie Lynch as the 2nd best shot-blocker in college basketball.
A fantastic example of Jackson’s work as a help defender is seen in the below clip from a mid-February game against Minnesota. In the opening moments of the clip, watch Jackson’s head as he examines the driving guard. Although he’s still guarding his assignment, its clear that he’s focused on that driver. As the Gophers guard moves closer to the paint, Jackson permanently directs his attention to that man as he starts to chase him down. With quick feet and long wingspan, he was quickly able to stop the Gopher as he finished with a big block.
Jackson’s work on that end of the floor has helped push Michigan State to be one of the finest defensive teams in college basketball. According to KenPom, opponents maintain a 42% effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) which sits as the lowest average in the NCAA. In addition to that, teams are shooting 38% on two point shots, which also stands as the lowest average in college basketball. Although Michigan State’s rotation is filled with former McDonald’s All-Americans and potential lottery picks (Miles Bridges), Jackson’s versatility on this end of the floor is a huge factor behind that success.
Without even looking at his work on the offensive end, Jaren Jackson has evolved into being one of the hottest draft prospects is due to how fantastic he is on defense. In the modern-day NBA where teams look for versatile defenders, he stands as that type of big that executives across the Association just clamor for. As we near the start of March Madness, make sure to keep an eye on how Jaren Jackson plays on the defensive end. Because before you know it, he could be locking up your favorite NBA player.