As NBA scouts and executives hunt for speed and playmaking in the 2016 draft, one of the top assets on the radar is Notre Dame point guard Demetrius Jackson.
This upcoming season is a prime opportunity for the 6’1″ junior to showcase his full arsenal. Jackson enjoyed a productive 2014-15 campaign supplementing New York Knicks first-round pick Jerian Grant, but this year he’ll be the featured star in South Bend.
While Kentucky’s Jamal Murray and Providence’s Kris Dunn are currently ranked ahead of Jackson on most mock drafts and big boards, he has the blend of skills and athleticism to crack the lottery and challenge them for the “top guard” mantle this spring.
Jackson’s value and appeal start with his elite athleticism and agility. Few players can match or even come near his explosiveness, as he can accelerate past opponents, bounce above the crowd on a dime and slide swiftly on defense. He’s tough to catch or steer in transition, and he’s also elusive in half-court scenarios thanks to shifty hesitation moves and a lethal first step:
J.Z. Mazlish of Upside & Motor talked about how Jackson is not a one-trick pony athletically:
Jackson does a great job leveraging his speed and power to get to the rim in straight lines or with one or two hard moves. When attacking closeouts or coming downhill in pick-and-roll situations, he gets to the rim quickly and effectively…Once he’s at the rim, Jackson does a solid job considering his size…He does a great job initiating contact and jumping into defenders to create angles for himself…
Jackson’s combination of springiness, strength and body control enable him to create a variety of scoring chances for himself and teammates.
Although he doesn’t have command of advanced ball-handling moves, Jackson launches simple, efficient attacks to turn the corners, get into the lane or create step-back jumpers:
Demetrius Jackson has pretty good change of speeds off a hesitation move.
— Rafael Uehara (@rafael_uehara) March 29, 2015
During his breakout sophomore season, he shot 51 percent from the field, including 53 percent on two-point jumpers and 43 percent from beyond the arc (per Hoop-math.com).
Jackson’s ability to score with touch from any angle dramatically boosts his outlook as an undersized point guard. Not only does he stop on a dime for elevated jumpers, but he maintains poise and focus on floaters and layups in traffic.
There will be sequences in the NBA where Jackson’s short stature and modest wingspan (6’4.75″) won’t be enough to score over rangy opponents. But for the most part, he’ll score, draw contact or drive-and-dish to comrades.
Scouts will closely monitor his quarterbacking skills this year. Jackson averaged a tidy 3.5 assists compared to 1.7 turnovers per 40 minutes last year, but NBA decision-makers will want to see more production now that he’s the full-time point guard. He must prove he can consistently make the right reads and manipulate opponents.
Mike Schmitz of Draft Express notes that Jackson is a solid pick-and-roll creator who should generate a fair amount of offense via screens in the NBA:
His pick-and-roll passes led to 1.4 points per possession (in 2014-15). Size does limit him a bit but he’s capable of hitting the roll man or finding shooters.
If Jackson proves to be a productive all-around distributor who keeps Notre Dame’s offense in the upper echelon of the NCAA, he should be in the “best guard” conversation with Murray and Dunn.
On the defensive side, Jackson is not a perfect player, but certainly a promising one. His relative lack of length will be challenging at times against bigger guards in the NBA, and at this stage, he needs to work on his team defense and weak side positioning.
There’s plenty to get excited about on that end, as the 200-pound speedster owns outstanding perimeter defensive skills. Jackson can slide laterally with almost anyone and recover in a blink if an attacker gets a step on him. He also showed focus and toughness when navigating around screens last year, utilizing his strength and agility.
Here’s a glimpse of his on-ball stoppage when he thwarted Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison during their Elite Eight matchup:
Jackson’s mix of strength and foot speed is part of the reason why he’s drawn widespread comparisons to the Phoenix Suns’ two-way stud Eric Bledsoe.
Another plus that should attract NBA executives is his budding leadership. In addition to his growing role at Notre Dame, Jackson shined brightly during Stephen Curry’s SC30 Basketball Camp and took home the camp’s Leadership Award.
ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla was at the camp and noted Jackson’s strong presence, per Curt Rallo of UND.com:
I think, not only watching Jerian play the point-guard position but also being around Steph Curry, Demetrius should have the absolutely perfect mindset for coming into his junior year, keeping Notre Dame at a high level and potentially collecting individual honors along with it…Demetrius is a gifted player. Now the key is, can he put that young team on his back and be the leader Jerian was? Everything I saw at the Steph Curry Camp makes me think he’ll embrace that role effortlessly.
Jackson has a chance to push or even overtake the other top guards in the 2016 class because he owns a combination of gifts they don’t have.
Murray’s offensive polish and scoring repertoire are impressive for his age, and he’s in the top 10 conversation for good reason. But Jackson is a significantly better athlete on both sides of floor, and he has dependable shooting range as well. Meanwhile, although Jackson isn’t the dazzling playmaker Dunn is, he’s a much better long-range scorer and at least as athletic, if not more. The only area where Jackson is notably inferior is height.
Lottery teams may end up choosing a young commodity like Murray or a distributor like Dunn, but you can see how Jackson is attractive in his own right.
If he thrives in his new, featured role as Notre Dame’s starting floor general, late-lottery clubs won’t be able to pass on him.