Peachtree Hoops’ NBA Draft scouting report series rolls on with a dive on Isaiah Jackson, a promising prospect out of Kentucky.
Isaiah Jackson checks a lot of the boxes the modern NBA looks for in its college prospects. He’s a fluid and long forward with a good motor. He’s young — he doesn’t turn 20 until next January — and is a product of the biggest blue blood program imaginable, the University of Kentucky. And he has a lot of projectable skills and a frame that can add strength without losing shiftiness or leaping ability.
In his freshman one-and-done season, he posted a line of 14.6 points per 36 minutes on 58.7 TS% (true shooting percentage), with 11.4 rebounds per 36 and a stellar 4.5 blocks per 36 to boot. But at 6’10” and 206-pounds, he may be a bit too wiry and positionless offensively — as well as have too many immediately raw areas — for a team to wait too long for eventual development. The truth lies, as it usually does, in the middle for Jackson.
The first thing you notice when you put on tape of Isaiah Jackson is his unending hustle at all times. He gives full effort for every minute he’s on the floor, even when he isn’t receiving touches on the offensive end. Jackson’s runs the full 94 feet and finishes at the rim well with excellent bounce and explosiveness.
He has a refined enough face up game, however, to contribute to his team when plays are run for him. He can use a couple of dribbles to free himself to pull up from mid-range or dart to the rim with a few power dribbles. And finishing in the restricted area is of no concern to the Wildcat, clearly.
He’s has enough of a handle to free himself for looks from inside the arc. Jackson has a smooth high shot form, which allow him to hit mid-range shots at a decent clip. While shooting 70% from free throw line is merely passable, the smoothness in his motion suggests that could climb in time.
Jackson fights tirelessly on the offensive glass, with a quick second jump to beat opponents for the loose board and put back bucket. He’s equally good a defensive rebounder as well, never failing to put his body on someone when the shot goes up. As a result, he gets a lot of free throws opportunities from his activity near the basket — a very good .657 FT rate or foul shots per field goal.
It thus isn’t surprising to witness him blocking strings of shots, as his 4.5 blocks per 36 minutes rate suggests, but he’s particularly proficient among his peers in that area. His quick hands and awareness of situations aid in his hand to deflect and frustrate his matchups, especially near the rim.
Most intriguing toward his prospect going forward is that he has a good amount of switch-ability on any defensive set. He can step out on perimeter players off screen actions and hold is own against even the craftiest and speedy point guard, like on Sharife Cooper below.
Even if Isaiah Jackson does not broaden his offensive arsenal much at the next level, he should be an above average to great defender at the next level barring any unforeseen issue. With elite lateral agility and ability to contest any shot or pass in his area, he can slot into any defensive scheme, and his hard work on the end will curry favor with any coaching staff.
Weaknesses and areas for improvement
The Hawks had a lot of success hunting mismatches with John Collins and Danilo Gallinari in the mid post this past season, but Jackson doesn’t offer that same ability. He can’t operate with his back to the basket from any range, and is always looking to get into the high post where he can face up and take players off the dribble.
At present moment, he will get pushed around in the paint due to lack of strength. He certainly has the frame to put muscle on and throw his weight around in the near future, but for now he offers up a lot of attempts like the wild one shown below.
Jackson is sometimes very awkward with the ball in his hands. Put plainly, he is just not a playmaker for others, with just 18 assists in 519 minutes of college ball. This, compared to his 38 turnovers in that time frame, doesn’t paint a pretty picture.
Jackson hasn’t shown the ability to step out and hit threes. He attempted just two all season, hitting neither, and needs to at least unlock a trail catch-and-shoot three as a mobile big man. Otherwise, this will render him mostly just clean up guy near the rim off shots or a lob threat on offense.
Despite his blocking prowess, he might not be able to play a true center at the next level. He has a tendency to chase blocks and leave his feet on pump fakes, and his frailty means he can be backed down in the post with ease.
Possible fit with the Atlanta Hawks
Isaiah Jackson doesn’t project as a star, but rather a hardworking role player who immediately makes your defense better. If he can continue to be a force on the glass and add a long range shot, he can be a great glue guy off the bench immediately, with room to grow into even more.
For Atlanta, they could use long term depth just about anywhere, although they do have two quality shot blockers locked in for at least the next two years contractually. In my estimation taking Jackson at 20th overall would represent bad value for a guy who I think slots in at the end of the first round or early in the second round. But the activity he brings to lineups who need defensive game changers in the near future could quickly prove me wrong.