- David Thorpe, ESPN Staff Writer
See if you can connect these dots: Kentucky, Oklahoma, Texas, Illinois, Syracuse, Wake Forest, Kansas, Connecticut, Memphis, UCLA, Florida, Georgia Tech and Marquette. Know what these schools all have in common? Each school sent at least one player to this year's NBA All-Star Game, and are either known as basketball powers or were powerful when they featured these players.
Only Joe Johnson from Arkansas came from a non-hoops power that did not have a tremendous season. In fact, scanning the top of John Hollinger's PER rankings at season's end, only Kevin Martin (Western Carolina), Steve Nash (Santa Clara), and Paul Millsap (Louisiana Tech) came from colleges with little hoops tradition or astounding success when they were in school (though Nash's team was very good for his last two years).
In other words, rare is the prominent NBA player who came from a small school or a big school that did not achieve great success while he was playing there. What does this mean for Reggie Jackson, who's hoping to be the third player from Boston College in the past 15 years to enter the NBA and carve out a career? Let's explore.
At first glance, Jackson appears to have the requisite tools to be a first-round pick who will stick around for years, unlike Troy Bell, the last BC guard to be drafted in Round 1 (16th overall to the Boston Celtics, traded to the Memphis Grizzlies) who played in only six games in his NBA career. Jackson is a spindly 6-foot-3 point guard who makes athletic plays above the rim and on the floor, and made 42 percent of his 3s this year, as he led his team in scoring and assists.
That 3-point shooting percentage is particularly important because Jackson was a sub-30 percent shooter from distance his first two seasons. It's always good to see a player improve like that during his career, but I'd rather trust players who have always been at 36 percent or better throughout their careers than someone who has had just one good season as a deep shooter. That's especially true when the player in question had his best year shooting when he was the best offensive player on his team, but does not project to be a team's go-to threat in the NBA. Having the green light to shoot at any point helps build confidence, and not having it can hurt it. Can he make 35 percent or more of his shots from deep when he gets just a few shots a game from there? He couldn't in college.
If Jackson shows solid-to-great range in workouts, he'll help himself a great deal in assuring teams that this season was no fluke. If not, they'll have trouble buying him as a reliable deep ball shooter, which will hurt his draft stock. I like how he looks shooting the ball, reminding me of a slightly taller version of Tony Delk (who played over a decade in the NBA). I think, over time, he'll develop a good shot from 3.
Jackson is in the class of point guards who are better creating their own shot than shots for others. That's not an issue on its own (see Tony Parker, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, etc.). What is an issue is the question of how good he will be at getting to the rim. Jackson has the reputation of being an elite athlete, though I only saw glimpses of that on tape. He has some good quickness and speed, and he can be crafty with the ball, but at no time did I think he was a major threat to be a dribble-attack beast in the NBA in the half court. I liked him better in this role as a pace-pusher in the full court.
So if he can't make a living in the paint in the NBA (though I'll leave open the possibility that he can; he does have the length and quickness, he just needs to use them more), it becomes even more important that he proves to be a capable shooter.
Ironically, in a small way, Boston College's best scorer has a better upside as a defender in the NBA. On offense, quickness is the ultimate weapon, as it allows for the ability to get by people or draw a foul call, thanks to the more stringent way NBA games are called now when a player's progress is impeded by a defender.
But on defense, that weapon is length (not height). I don't focus on wingspan as much as sleeve length, and Jackson appears to have the kind of arms that will require a tailor for all his shirts and suits going forward. Length makes a difference as an on-ball defender, allowing for more space to be provided the ball handler while still being able to influence a dribble, pass or shot. This gives the defender more "reward" plays with less "risk," which is always a good formula. Long arms will help Jackson deny his man better, as well as make plays as a helper. He has not shown any great ability to be a chaos creator while at BC, though that could easily be due to strategic decisions made by the staff, or because Jackson needed to save some energy for his offense. But until he commits to being a difference-maker on defense, he's just a "potential" guy on that side of the court.
It's important to note that many players end up playing much more athletically as pros than they did in college. This is important for Jackson, who looks like he can do more above the rim than he has thus far. If this proves to be the case, and Jackson continues to be a solid to very good shooter from 3, then anyone getting him after the lottery will be very happy. He'll be in a team's point guard rotation, with a chance to be a starter, especially if he realizes his defensive potential.
However, if he ends up being more gravity-bound like, say, Toney Douglas, and does not shoot the ball as well as Douglas or defend like him, Jackson will be a candidate for Europe in a few years no matter when he gets drafted. That's why few people see him as a lottery pick in this draft. But Jackson represents what this draft is all about -- only a few guys have star potential, but there are over a dozen guys who can be starters in this league, which means it has the potential to be a solid draft overall. How guys like Jackson develop will ultimately tell the tale for the class of 2011.
One thing is for certain, however, and that is that Jackson won't have any kind of college pedigree to see him through. In many ways, he's on his own. Just ask Troy Bell.