“Most definitely,” Jaren Jackson Jr. said to the media today about wanting to be the #1 pick in the NBA draft. “That’s everyone’s goal. We all want to be the number one pick.”
Today was Jackson’s first official pre-draft visit, starting his tour with the Phoenix Suns who hold the #1 overall pick. Jackson is the most versatile player at the top of the draft, able to make threes consistently while defending big men as well as guards at the other end.
“He’s one of the more underrated players in this draft, in my opinion, if you can be underrated as a top 5 pick,” said Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough of JJJ. “I think not enough people are talking about taking him higher than 4 or 5, which I think is a real possibility.”
Jackson is the last of four consecutive visits from players vying for the #1 pick, including Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III and Mohamed Bamba.
“He deserves to be up there with just about anybody,” McDonough said.
“You couldn’t go wrong with any of these four guys we’ve brought in.”
What about Luka?
And that’s not to mention Top-2 Luka Doncic yet.
“We want to spend a lot more time on Luka,” McDonough said, but he said it’s tough to schedule a visit overseas with him due to his team’s playoff schedule.
Doncic’s team, Real Madrid, are about to start the Spanish League finals, which could extend past draft night and include a game on draft night itself.
On a side note, McDonough mentioned that if they took Luka in the draft, they’d want him to come to Vegas to be around the team and such, but might not expect him to play in the games after playing close to 100 games in the last 18 months.
Suns dropping down?
“There’s not a bad player in the group. All these guys did well. They’re all still in the mix.”
Would the Suns trade down to a lower pick to take one of these guys, while also picking up another asset? Last year, the Celtics let the Sixers jump from #3 to #1 to take Fultz, while adding a convoluted protected pick that will likely translate into Sacramento’s top pick in 2019.
“It’s something we’ll look at for sure,” he said. “There’s a range, 4-5-6, that we’d potentially be comfortable dropping down to, but beyond that, no. At the end of the day it might depend on how aggressive the teams are.”
He said he expects those kinds of talks to take place over the next week-and-a-half. The Suns would not consider just any first round pick offer because they already have lots of those. It would have to be great for the Suns to even consider it.
“Maybe somebody blows us away. We’ll see.”
McDonough tried to calm things down after that, though.
“I think we would be comfortable picking a little lower [than #1 overall], but I don’t want people to overreact to that comment. I think that’s unlikely.”
Back to Jaren Jackson
Jackson, the son of a long time NBA player who won a ring with the Spurs in 1999, can do just about everything on the court.
At 6’11” he can protect the rim, defend in space, dribble, shoot and pass.
But he’s not a lock at #1 or even any higher than 5-6 overall. Why? Because he IS so versatile that maybe coaches, including his Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, don’t know how to maximize him. Or maybe it’s because he’s so adaptable he doesn’t take over as the main guy.
Jackson made more than 40% of his threes as a freshman AND led the NCAA in blocks per game (more than 3 per game), but only posted about 10 points and 6 rebounds a night last year and he got in a lot of foul trouble.
But Jackson sees himself as the best of all of them.
“I think my versatility,” he said of how he separates himself from the pack. “What I I can do to space the floor on offense as well as being a rim protector on defense. A lot of things I take pride in, being defense-first and being able to space the floor. I can be a threat even if I don’t get the ball, making space for my teammates.”
“Everybody has a lot to offer, all these guys.”
Fit with any team
Jackson would not reveal his next stop on the draft pick tour, but you can bet he will find a way to see all the top 5 teams over these last 11 days leading up to the draft.
Unlike Ayton, Bagley and Bamba though, JJJ is not pining to be a Phoenix Sun per se as much as he’s pining for being the highest pick he can be, and then just going to work for that new team.
“As far as fit,” he said. “I feel like I could fit in a lot of different places. I’m not as worried about that.”
Where does he fit best?
“It depends on what team,” he said. “That can vary. I try to do a lot of different things to help win a game. Whether its scoring, rebounding, different teams need different things.”
Who does his play style emulate the most?
“You look at the game, you look at where it’s going now, you got a lot of tall guys who shoot. Like, Anthony Davis. I want to be like him. I idolize a lot of things in his game. Porzingis, somebody like that. Kevin Garnett, for people who know the game back then (nods at me), and Tim Duncan. People that use angles, get to the rim. I like talking to them.”
Jackson watched the playoffs this year and fully ascribes to the switch-everything trend.
“I’m trying to be as progressive as possible.”
He even talked about his ball-handling, within reason of course.
“Being able to put the ball on the floor, make plays. You don’t have to come down the floor and shimmy Chris Paul. You have to be secure with it, don’t lose it, make sure you give it to the right people. Just don’t turn it over.”
He talks about being a big man trying to defend quick guards.
“Using my length on guards,” he said. “Not letting them get to my outside shoulder, cut off, force it down baseline, keep it away from the middle. Stuff like that is really important, make sure you don’t gamble. Try to just contain it. If you’re not going to block it, just wall up and make it tough for them. It’s like ALL switching in the playoffs.”
Fit with Phoenix
“They have a lot of moving parts,” Jackson said. “They have a lot of versatile guys, with Quese [Marquese Chriss] and Josh [Jackson]. You can play them in a lot of different positions.”
“Me being out there gives them a lot of room to operate, just cuz I’m a threat from the outside. When D-Book penetrates, he can kick it out to me. And if they stay with me, he has a lot more room. The court gets a lot bigger.”
He and McDonough both talked about backing up Tyson Chandler as well as playing next to Chandler as the floor-stretching four.
But can he anchor a defense, being the vocal leader on the back line to make sure everyone knows what’s going on and who’s helping where?
“Jaren’s got a big personality,” McDonough said. “I think he will be vocal (as a defensive leader).”
McDonough mentioned his intelligence, and his history growing up as part of a basketball family. His dad played a long time in the NBA and his mom has a high ranking position in the WNBA players association.
Big picture: It’s not all about him
Jackson was impressive in the interview. My takeaway is that he “gets it”. While Mo Bamba wants to get it, and is determined to get it one day, it appears that Jackson gets it right now.
He wants to be anything any team needs.
“I feel like, because of my play style,” he said. “I can adapt to different types of play. It’s not a perfect world, you’re not going to get everything you need. So you gotta learn how to adapt.
“It’s not about YOU, really.”