Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jaren Jackson
- Michigan State big man Jaren Jackson has a high floor and plenty of upside as an NBA prospect.
- But with so many other tantalizing gambles available, Jackson may not go top three.
- That’s why it makes sense to bet on Jackson slipping to No. 4 or later.
Jaren Jackson Jr. has somehow fallen behind the rest of the elite bigs at the top of this draft in terms of hype. Marvin Bagley’s athleticism and pedigree continue to shine, and Mo Bamba is a media darling with the very definition of exceptional measurables.
Jackson, however, may be the most reliable big man prospect available Thursday night. Deandre Ayton has defensive flaws, and Bamba’s offensive game was incomplete at Texas. But Triple-J’s defensive instincts are considered ready-made for NBA play, and his ability to stretch the floor suggests he won’t become a liability.
(I have questions on both of those fronts given the small ball-centric state of the league, but they are at least debatable.)
So where’s he going to wind up in Thursday’s draft? Let’s look at his prop:
JAREN JACKSON DRAFT POSITION O/U 3.5
Deandre Ayton is going No. 1 to the Suns. That’s pretty much a done deal barring a big trade. Bagley is the consensus No. 2 selection, based largely on the fact that he actually interviewed with, worked out for and released medical info to the Kings. If not him, then likely Luka Doncic to Sacramento.
So now we’re at the bubble with Jackson. The question is if the Hawks take him, since he’s reportedly high on their board if Doncic is gone:
There’s also the possibility that the Hawks trade back. GM Travis Schlenk has been aggressive in accumulating assets and peeling off salary and he still has Dennis Schröder and Kent Bazemore on his books.
Most of the conversation has held that the top five are Ayton, Doncic, Bagley, Bamba, and Jackson, in some order. So this is where it gets awfully tight.
We need to ask two questions:
- What are the odds that a team reaches for Jackson early?
- What are the odds that a team reaches for someone else early?
The odds that a team reaches for Jackson appear slim. The Suns are broadcasting pretty loudly that Ayton is the guy, and the market numbers for Ayton reflect that. So the Suns are unlikely to be reaching for Jackson. The Kings, again, seem to have Bagley or Doncic as the only viable options. Would the Hawks (or a trade partner) go for Jackson at No. 3?
The percentage odds on that, as a guesstimate, are pretty good.
However, the odds that one of those three teams reaches for someone else, thereby bumping Jackson down a pick, are even higher. Bamba had the highest measurables of anyone in the system. Trae Young is slipping fast but is also the most recognizable name — and most fun player — available in the draft. Even Duke’s Wendell Carter, a player whose profile is similar to Jackson’s, has gained traction in recent weeks.
Jackson is the youngest of any projected first-round pick at 18 years old. That’s a major plus for him, since front offices want players for as long as they can get them to mold them as early as possible. But the measurables for Bamba, the explosiveness of Young and the possibility of some team going wild for Michael Porter Jr. are all reasons to buy in to Jackson hitting the over 3.5 at -230. Getting plus money on the under is tempting, but at +170, the expected value if the draft were simulated over and over again still doesn’t work out.
Jackson’s re-jumpability is unparalleled in this draft, and his overall profile is tremendous. Tom Izzo players more often than not make an impact in the NBA, especially when drafted high. But too many scenarios indicate Jackson is a paradox as the youngest player in the draft and also the safest pick in a draft that may come to be defined for the more tantalizing gambles at the very top.
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