NBA Draft: Atlanta Hawks should select Jaren Jackson Jr. at pick 3

The Atlanta Hawks have the third overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, and they should select former Michigan State big man Jaren Jackson Jr.

The 2018 NBA Draft is quickly approaching, and the Atlanta Hawks are facing a crucial decision on June 21.  The Hawks have the third overall pick and are in full rebuild mode.  They need another piece to build around in hopes of returning to contention in the short term. 

GM Travis Schlenk is entering his second draft leading the Hawks.  The team drafted John Collins in the first round last season, and he looks like a steal at pick 19.  They also had two second-round picks that the team is currently trying to develop.

The Hawks leadership is expecting to draft an exceptional talent at pick three.  DeAndre Ayton likely heads off the board to Phoenix at number one overall according to Safest Betting Websites.  The Kings likely follow up by selecting Luka Doncic.  If Sacramento passes on Doncic, the Hawks should draft him immediately.  Doncic is the best player in this draft and has a fantastic mix of safety and superstar potential.

Assuming both of those players are gone, Atlanta should be deciding between Jaren Jackson Jr, Marvin Bagley III, and Mohamed Bamba.  The Hawks should select Jackson Jr.  He is a unique talent that fits perfectly in the modern NBA.  Here is a more in-depth look at why Jackson Jr. is the perfect fit for Atlanta at pick three.

JJJ’s Strengths

Defense

Jaren Jackson Jr. blocked 3.0 shots per game last season in just 21.8 minutes a night.  He is not just a shot blocker, though.  Jackson Jr. is arguably the best rim protector in this draft class.

He can also switch out and defend on the perimeter for a big man.  Jackson Jr. is an athlete with fantastic defensive instincts. 

His father Jaren Jackson Sr. was an NBA player for 12 seasons, so the bloodlines are another positive.

Jackson Jr. measured during the combine at 6’11.25 and 236 pounds.  He had a 7’5.25 wingspan and a 9’2 standing reach as well.  JJJ is tall and long with defensive instincts and rim protection ability to anchor and leader of the Hawks defense for the next decade-plus.

Stretch five

Jackson Jr. can space the floor with his shooting chops.  He hit 38 of 96 3-point attempts last season.  That is 39.6 connect percentage from the shorter college line.  Jackson Jr. still shot over 51 percent from the field and sank 79.7 percent of his free throws.

Some experts will knock his stroke, but the release is quick, and Jackson Jr. has been an efficiency 3-point shooter throughout his basketball career.  His ability to knock down threes opens the floor and fits perfectly in the modern game.

JJJ’s Weaknesses

Foul trouble

Part of the reason Jaren Jackson Jr. only played 21.8 minutes a game in his lone season at Michigan State was persistent foul trouble.  He fouled out of five contests last season and had at least four fouls in over half his games played.  That problem is likely to carry over to the NBA early in his career.

Jackson Jr. needs to find the happy medium between blocking every shot and keeping his fouls to a level where he can continue playing.  Fewer blocks per minute likely improves his overall production.

Scoring ability

Perhaps the biggest drawback of selecting JJJ high is he lacks elite scoring upside.  He only averaged 10.9 points per game in college.  Jackson Jr. likely maxes out somewhere in the 15-18 points per night range meaning he is a number two or number three scorer on an NBA playoff team. Jackson Jr. helps the team in numerous ways, but asking him to be a leading scorer is not wise. 

Rebounding

Jackson Jr. is also not a superb rebounder.  He averaged just 5.8 rebounds per game with the Spartans.  Jackson Jr. is not afraid to switch out to the perimeter, and JJJ is not a rebound magnet like many big men.  He should have no problem average seven or eight per game but is likely never a double-digit rebounder in the NBA.

Fit with current Hawks roster

The Atlanta Hawks ranked 21st in defensive rating last season, and one of their better defenders in Dewayne Dedmon has a player option for next season.  Jackson Jr. could immediately improve their defense.  Foul trouble may limit him, but the still 18-year-old Jackson Jr. will protect the rim in year one.

The Hawks emphasized 3-pointers last season taking the seventh most in the NBA, but they were middle of the pack in connect percentage.  Jackson Jr. adds another big man who should be able to shoot league average or better from three. 

Digging deeper, Atlanta blocked the eighth fewest shots in the league last season.  The former Michigan State big man will definitely improve the Hawks in that category.

Giving Dennis Schroder another big man that can shoot threes is important.  Schroder is a well-below average 3-point shooter and he requires floor spacers to operate at his best.  Jackson Jr. will open the lane more for Schroder to utilize his speed and quickness to attack the rim.

The pairing of 2017 first round pick John Collins and Jackson Jr. also looks exciting.  Collins too can space the floor (34.0 percent from three as a rookie), but he is scorer and rebounder.  He produces best in Jackson Junior’s two worst categories.  The pairing reminds me a bit of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in Memphis.  Collins being the buckets and boards man and Jackson Jr. playing the rim protector and versatile big.  Both players have improvements to make before reaching the level of Gasol and Randolph, but you get the point.

Jaren Jackson Jr. instantly makes the Atlanta Hawks better and fits well with the pieces of their rebuild already in place.

Final thoughts

Jaren Jackson Jr. should be the pick for the Atlanta Hawks at number three overall.  The Hawks need a defensive anchor in the middle and Jackson Jr. is capable of filling that void.  He is also one of the youngest and safest players in this draft class. 

His scoring ability may keep him off the All-Star or All-NBA team, but Jackson Jr. is a projectable starter for a decade-plus in the league.  He can space the floor and protect the rim.  Those are two crucial skills for the modern center.  Expect to hear plenty from Jaren Jackson Jr. in the NBA, and he should be the Hawks pick at three.

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