Forget unicorns as the hip thing in the NBA. A Chimera with the heart of a Nemean Lion is currently trotting about collegiate hardwoods, looming in the shadows, waiting to behead your favorite player by way of a vicious block.
His name is Jaren Jackson. He plays for the Michigan State Spartans. The number two is patched on his uniform. He should be number one in our hearts.
As for his NBA Draft prospects, despite starting the season outside every mock draft's lottery, Jackson has begun to sneak into plenty of experts' top-10. Honestly, that isn't close enough to the No. 1 overall selection. In fact, Jaren Jackson Jr. (JJJ) should go no worse than third in the 2018 NBA Draft.
Semantics out of the way first: On the season, the 6-foot-11 freshman is going bonkers with his counting-stats, going for 11.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.3 blocks in only 22.5 minutes per contest. In his latest game, in only 22 minutes against Minnesota, Jackson scored 27 points by connecting on 10 of his 14 attempts from the field and nailing five of the eight threes he took.
Without being Elon Musk, even I can recognize those numbers are more efficient than SpaceX's Falcon Heavy.
The numbers look good. They do not tell the entire story. If counting-stats had that ability, Trae Young's home-road splits would make him even more polarizing, and some high-volume shooter from Nantucket would be considered a future Naismith Hall of Fame talent just because of a gaudy point total.
It is that Jackson is built for today's NBA. The size, athleticism, ability to spread the floor by hitting threes, all of it is there.
If a Dwight Howard is quickly becoming an extinct type of NBA big, with others such as Lauri Markkanen proving the importance of large humanoids who can shoot, Jackson is maybe not as brute in force as Howard or as deadly a shooter as Lauri, but he's somewhere around being in the middle of all of that, but above it at the same time.
He's Jimmy Eat World without all the emo.
As importantly, he can actually defend. Not just other bigs, either. He can make up for ground lost when his teammates falter.
That is Duke Blue Devils sensation Marvin Bagley being blocked by Jackson. He's currently projected to go ahead of JJJ in the upcoming NBA Draft.
What's impressive about the block isn't just that it is on Bagley. It is that he had the wherewithal, after helping deter another shot attempt, as well as the spring in his feet, to get in position to get to Bagley's ill-fated attempt. Normal big men don't make it back there in time.
This is a common theme with good shot-blockers. They possess impeccable timing and a natural instinct.
Jackson's tendency to block shots isn't something he's only doing by playing inferior competition while being one of the biggest players on the court. He's often utilizing his athleticism to chase players from behind.
Watch as Jackson is defending at the free throw line as the Maryland player begins to drive. The ground he makes up to deter the attempt, given how little time he had to react, is certifiably insane. On top of that, notice the IQ he has to keep the ball within only his play, starting a transition opportunity for MSU.
Those are just some of the neat qualities he has at blocking shots. It is most certainly his offense, however, that has people all hot and bothered.
Not a three-point shooting specialist like Trae Young, as Jackson does need some time to setup, he's not just a standstill guy from beyond the arc.
The above video appears to be him just getting set on an assisted three, but if you watch his footwork, he's actually taking a step back to make sure he's in proper position. The fact that it went in is a bonus. How graceful he was in making the transition into the attempt is the stuff of legend.
When you couple what you've witnessed above, with what you're about to see, we should collectively get so giddy that we might need to change our undergarments.
On the surface, again, it doesn't seem all that special. He's a giant man attacking the rim. Jackson is also a right-handed cat who immediately pivoted to face the basket when getting the ball, goes left, and finished strong at the rim.
That is not a normal ability for a 6-foot-11, 18-year-old to have. Oh yeah. For those people who connect youth to potential (which you shouldn't, as an aside), he's only 18. 18 years, 4 months, 4 weeks, and a handful of days old!
Here is Jackson going at the rim again, but leaving us with a different reason to get more pumped than Red Gerard at the Olympics.
Jackson is being defended by an undersized Terrapins player that can't match his height or his underrated strength. Knowing that, he patiently waits for the ball to swing to his side of the floor. The moment it does, he bumps the defender to the opposite side of the basket, leaving a clean path to the rim for a lead pass from the guard. The fact the defender attempts to recover, as well as the help side defender meeting him at the bucket, but him still being able to score, is just icing on the cake.
There is so much to like about Jaren Jackson's game. His shooting, an advanced footwork set, a solid frame, good instincts on defense, and so on.
Truth be told, he's nowhere near his floor as a player, maybe slightly raw in areas where young big men tend to be -- and, oddly enough, his ceiling might be higher than everyone else's in the 2018 NBA Draft except for Luka Don?i?.
Unless something unforeseen happens, Jackson should be a top-three pick. If not, people are doing this wrong.
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