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Monday, October 21, 2013
Biancardi’s Breakdown: Justin Jackson

By Paul Biancardi

Small forward Justin Jackson (Tomball, Texas/Homeschool Christian Youth Association), who has excellent size at 6-foot-7, is one of the nation’s best-scoring perimeter players. He is a major part of North Carolina’s No. 2-ranked recruiting class. He was one of the most consistent performers all spring and summer in terms of offensive output and efficiency.

Let’s break down his game and see why he's the nation’s No. 8 prospect:

Special in the mid-range
Justin Jackson
Forward Justin Jackson, who is ranked No. 8 in the Class of 2014, is North Carolina's top-ranked commit.
At this stage of his career, Jackson has an uncommonly advanced mid-range game for his size. Usually, it’s the smaller guards who develop the floater and deep pull-ups in the lane. He wants to get closer to the basket, and he gets to the mid-range area via the drive or by posting up. It's a tough area to excel in because most young players want to shoot a 3-pointer or get all the way to the rim. When it comes to scoring points inside the arc, especially in the top half of the paint, he is the best in the country. When he does get to an open spot on the floor, his elevation and extension on his shot -- along with his body control -- gets the ball in the basket.

Scorer's mentality
Jackson is always thinking about scoring and is ready to do so when the situation calls for it. He can score from most spots on the floor. He knows how to move off the ball to get open, a concept the best scorers grasp. He can create his own shot or finish a play when they run a set for him. In transition, Jackson does not hesitate to get to the rim when he sees an opening.

Jackson's ability to drive the ball is set up by his jumper. Like most good scorers, he gets a good portion of his points from the free-throw line with a smooth and clean stroke. A capable 3-point shooter when his feet are set, Jackson needs to add the ability to hit moving 3-pointers off his teammates' penetration to his repertoire. He understands when to take the 3 and when to get closer to the basket, which is why his field-goal percentage is higher than most. Jackson has the skill, basketball IQ and size to be a go-to scorer for coach Roy Williams at UNC.

Defense and Rebounding
Jackson's offense is clearly ahead of his defensive output and commitment at this point, but that doesn’t mean he can’t defend. What I noticed most is with solid lateral foot speed and wing span, Jackson does a good job of contesting jumpers, but he needs to guard the ball with more commitment. If he does that, he could be a good defender. Getting into -- and staying in -- his stance is the first step for him to be a better defender.

Jackson is an active rebounder on both ends of the floor. Offensively, he works his way to the opposite side of the shooter and anticipates the miss well, reaching and tipping the ball with his length before grabbing it. On the defensive glass, he will rebound and run with it or throw it to the point guard on the outlet and fill a lane. At times, he will grab a rebound and let an opponent knock it out of his hands, but as he develops his strength and grip, he should keep more rebounds.

Needs strength
The things Jackson does not do well at this point are directly related to his lack of physical strength. This mostly shows itself with his lack of lower-body strength, which is where a player gets his leverage on drives and finishes, as well as where he gets the power to stay in a defensive stance. When his body gets stronger, his entire game will be enhanced, from range on his jumper to finishing and rebounding in traffic to fighting through screens and slowing the drive of his opponents. Gaining muscle is like losing weight -- it is not a quick fix. It will happen when the UNC strength and conditioning coach gets to consistently spend time with Jackson and eating habits change. Until then, he can use his skill and size, but when he arrives in Chapel Hill, his body will have to develop.