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Frank Jackson may be ready to help the New Orleans Pelicans during his rookie campaign... if needed

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Forgetting his draft position for a moment, Jackson compares tantalizingly well to previous higher profile 19-year-old NBA guards.

2017 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Frank Jackson was born on May 4, 1998, so he won’t turn 20 years of age until well after the 2017-18 NBA regular season has come and gone.

Did you know this fact alone puts him in some rarefied company?

Since the one-and-done rule was implemented prior to the 2006 NBA Draft, 64 players have been selected who could still be classified as teenagers the following February. These youngest of the young entering the professional ranks have comprised less than nine percent of all those chosen in the last 12 drafts combined!

More incredibly though, only eight of these specific 19-year-olds were picked by teams in second rounds, and just five before this latest draft: Ivica Zubac (32nd in 2016 Draft), Diamond Stone (40th in 2016 Draft), Damien Inglis (31st in 2014 Draft), Davis Bertans (42nd in 2011 Draft) and Ryan Richards (49th in 2010 Draft). Two fresh faces, a G-Leaguer and two draft-and-stash gambles by the Spurs. Although Zubac and Bertans show future promise, it’s a group that has yet to be a guaranteed indicator of success.

However, before adhering to this ridiculously small sample size and making any ill-conceived predictions about the 31st pick of the 2017 draft by the New Orleans Pelicans, realize that none of these aforementioned players were guards, posted highly efficient freshman shooting numbers at a blue chip program and displayed top tier athleticism at an NBA combine.

Jackson finished first overall in the shuttle run (2.7 seconds), second overall in the max vertical leap (42), third overall in the standing vertical leap (35.5) and fifth overall in the three-quarter court sprint (3.14 seconds).

Jackson’s athleticism sure seems to profile more closely with a high lottery pick so a comparison is needed to see if the rest of his package also dispels some of the negativity associated with his draft position.

For a moment, ignore his meager average of 10.9 points per game for Mike Krzyzewski and look deeper into his 25 minutes of nightly action: He shot the ball extremely well, posting a 59.8 TS% thanks to a 54.3 2PT% and a 39.2 3P%. Care to guess where these numbers place Jackson among the 16 other freshmen guards from our sample of 64 players who were eligible for age-19 seasons in the NBA?

(The accompanying athletic ranks in parentheses are each player’s place among the rest of their draft class.)

TS% 2PT% 3PT% max vertical standing vertical shuttle run 3/4 sprint
Kyrie Irving 69.7% 56.9% 46.2% N/A N/A N/A N/A
Devin Booker 60.0% 52.7% 41.1% 34.5" (25) 27.5" (33) 2.75 sec (1) 3.28 sec (23)
Frank Jackson 59.8% 54.3% 39.2% 42.0" (2) 34.5" (4) 2.70 sec (1) 3.14 (5)
Xavier Henry 59.1% 49.2% 41.8% 36.5" (8) 28.5" (18) N/A 3.18 sec (7)
Jamal Murray 59.0% 50.2% 40.8% 39.5" (DraftExpress) 33.5" (DraftExpress) N/A N/A
Bradley Beal 57.5% 54.1% 33.9% 39.0" (10) 33.0" (9) N/A 3.28 sec (16)
Tyus Jones 57.5% 44.0% 37.9% 32.5" (36) 26.5" (37) 2.95 sec (10) 3.32 sec (31)
D'Angelo Russell 57.3% 47.9% 41.1% 39.0" (Chad Ford) 30.5" (Chad Ford) N/A N/A
Rashad Vaughn 54.7% 48.1% 38.3% 34.0" (30) 28.0" (30) 3.10 sec (21) 3.21 sec (12)
Zach LaVine 54.5% 49.4% 37.5% 41.5" (3) 33.5" (4) 2.80 sec (2) 3.19 sec (8)
James Young 53.6% 47.0% 34.9% 35.5" (24) 28.0" (42) N/A N/A
Jrue Holiday 53.2% 52.8% 30.7% 34.0" (23) 28.5" (25) N/A 3.21 sec (17)
Archie Goodwin 50.9% 47.8% 26.6% 36.0" (28) 30.0" (23) 3.41 sec (50) 3.27 sec (19)
Marquis Teague 49.1% 43.8% 32.5% 40.5" (2) 32.5" (13) N/A 3.19 sec (4)
Tony Wroten 48.8% 48.3% 16.1% 35.5" (27) 30.0" (30) N/A 3.24 sec (12)
Dante Exum N/A N/A N/A 34.5" (36) 31.5" (14) 2.88 sec (6) 3.19 sec (8)
Emmanuel Mudiay N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

Kyrie Irving clearly showed superstar potential during his short stay at Duke, but right below him is a bevy of similar true shooting percentages, consisting of Devin Booker, Jackson, Xavier Henry, Bradley Beal, Jamal Murray, Tyus Jones and D’Angelo Russell. Did you notice, though, how well Jackson’s incredible agility and leaping ability practically outpaces the rest of this group??? At first glance, it seems he’s the second coming of Zach LaVine... but with a better jumper!

This analogy isn’t as far-fetched as you might think. According to Luke Storey of P3, Jackson could be the most freakish athlete from the 2017 NBA Draft.

North Carolina State v Duke Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

"Usually when we assess athletes coming through the doors, it's a case of 'OK, these things you're good at, these things you're OK at, mechanically you need to work on this, some of your power numbers here are not great,'" Storey said. "With Frank, it was a case of, 'OK, you are a specimen. You are good at this, exceptional at this, very good at this, exceptional at this.' So let's keep him exceptional at everything."

Before jumping to conclusions and believing Dell Demps ended up with the biggest steal of the draft — which doesn’t seem as crazy as it did before an examination of these research results, realize Jackson isn’t in position to become an important rotation player this October. The following chart shows the shooting statistics of the same group above, their minutes played and team records from each of their professional rookie seasons.

TS% 2PT% 3PT% Team Record Minutes Played
Kyrie Irving 56.6% 49.1% 39.9% CLE: 21-45 1558
Devin Booker 53.5% 46.4% 34.3% PHO: 23-59 2108
Jrue Holiday 52.6% 46.5% 39.0% PHI: 27-55 1767
Jamal Murray 51.8% 46.6% 33.4% DEN: 40-42 1764
Zach LaVine 51.5% 44.9% 34.1% MIN: 16-66 1902
Bradley Beal 51.5% 42.4% 38.6% WAS: 29-53 1745
Archie Goodwin 50.7% 54.2% 13.9% PHO: 48-34 533
D'Angelo Russell 50.7% 44.7% 35.1% LAL: 17-65 2259
Tony Wroten 46.1% 41.4% 25.0% MEM: 56-26 272
James Young 45.7% 52.8% 25.8% BOS: 40-42 332
Dante Exum 45.7% 40.8% 31.4% UTA: 38-44 1817
Xavier Henry 45.1% 44.1% 11.8% MEM: 46-36 527
Tyus Jones 45.0% 38.8% 30.2% MIN: 29-53 573
Emmanuel Mudiay 43.7% 37.9% 31.9% DEN: 33-49 2068
Marquis Teague 41.2% 43.3% 17.4% CHI: 45-37 392
Rashad Vaughn 39.8% 31.9% 29.3% MIL: 33-49 1001
Frank Jackson ??? ??? ??? NOP: ??? ???

Even if Jackson manages to show productivity right away, he’s not guaranteed to become a contributor next season. Did you notice the team records associated with each player above? High profile rookies tend to be drafted by bad teams, thus, garnering plenty of developmental minutes are not a problem.

The 2017-18 Pelicans are expected to be in the thick of a competitive playoff race, and depending on your level of optimism, expectations could be higher. Moreover, New Orleans has Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo, Ian Clark, Jordan Crawford and E’Twaun Moore all on the depth chart.

As it stands, Jackson’s quickest way to crack the rotation would involve a guard or two ahead of him on the pecking order faltering in some capacity — an injury, a significant slump, etc.

Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets got his break when Gary Harris partially tore his groin in preseason and Mudiay struggled to be a positive on the floor. That left only Will Barton and Jameer Nelson so Murray was forced into early action.

Marquis Teague was involved in a similar scenario during the 2012-13 campaign for the Chicago Bulls. Derrick Rose missed that entire season and Kirk Hinrich, 22 games. At times, Tom Thibodeau had to rely on Nate Robinson {gulp} and the next man up — Teague.

In combing through this last chart, you may have concerns about several of these players who wound up disappointing like Teague. Although he (29th), Tony Wroten (25th) and Archie Goodwin (29th) were all drafted in close proximity towards the end of the first round, I dislike their comparisons to Jackson because draft position should take a back seat to talent level and production. Go look at the efficiency figures and athletic profiles of this trio from the first chart; then look at Jackson’s. You fail to see enough commonalities too, right?!

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

As far as some of the other less inspiring names on the lists, knee injuries are to blame for grounding Henry’s once promising career. Dante Exum, Emmanuel Mudiay, Rashad Vaughn and Jones have thus far demonstrated a lack of efficiency and a dependable long range shot. Although they’re still young, I would feel better about their chances if they had shown a high degree of success somewhere and possessed game-changing athleticism — some exemplify neither! If they’re unable to improve upon their skill levels in the near future, expect them to sadly follow the paths of James Young, Wroten and Teague.

Of course, this same script applies to Jackson. He must avoid injury. He needs to maintain his level of proficiency from Duke. However, he separates himself from this pack of disappointments through the combination of his abilities and statistics.

Jackson was expected to be a sixth-man off the bench in his freshman season. He wound up supplanting Grayson Allen in the starting lineup, and over Duke’s final eight games — both primarily consisting of ACC Tournament and March Madness play, he averaged 14.8 points, 1.8 threes and 3.3 rebounds. He shot 51.1% from the field and 48.3% from behind the arc. Oh, and to eliminate any notions of a one-dimensional scorer, he averaged five free throw attempts per game.

Within the time frame of several months, Jackson’s improvement was staggering.

For much of the season, Duke has struggled to find a point guard to initiate the offense, and Jackson is becoming increasingly comfortable bringing the ball up. The rookie had one of his worst games of the season against the Seminoles in January, when he missed all five of his shots from the field and looked overmatched by Florida State’s physicality.

The Seminoles came right back at the Blue Devils with their aggressive man-to-man defense, but this time Jackson showed he was up to the task. No matter who Florida State tried to stick on him—and its 12-man rotation ensured Jackson saw no shortage of fresh bodies—he was able to blow past his defender with ease.

“He’s improved a lot. He’s getting a lot more comfortable out there. He’s becoming really poised with the ball and he’s really handling the pressure well,” Allen said. “That’s huge for us and we obviously have belief in him because we’ve seen him do this multiple times. He had a lot of experience at the beginning of the year, which I think really helped him.”

If you’re puzzled as to why Jackson didn’t get selected in the first round, understand some of the reasoning: Jackson’s stature (6’-3.5” in shoes), wingspan (6’-7.5”), dismal steal plus block numbers, enough playmaking evidence and a stress reaction injury. These are several of the more detrimental negatives in his total package.

In addition, the 2017 NBA Draft didn’t boast Anthony Davis-elite players but a ton of good talent, some that were bound to fall outside of the lottery. Remember, Jackson had a first round promise from an organization, and based on what I read and heard, the Thunder and Spurs were reportedly two teams that may have had an interest in him before the Pelicans traded up and made him the 31st selection.

Look, I know Wroten, Teague and Goodwin compare most closely above to Jackson based on draft position, but all three of them failed to display the necessary perimeter shooting, nor did they possess the extreme explosiveness of Jackson to boot. Talent reigns supreme in the NBA, but realize his was partially hidden on a loaded Duke team featuring Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, Luke Kennard and Allen.

When I think of Frank Jackson, I am not reminded of a second round pick because his draft position does not coincide with his performance nor his athletic ability. As far as his negatives, I don’t think they’re going to prove too cumbersome in the small ball era — say his reach, which is less than an inch smaller from similarly gifted players like Jordan Clarkson or Zach LaVine.

As with any rookie, the initial ride could be really bumpy for Frank Jackson... if asked to do much outside of garbage time. For instance, I have little doubt his defense and playmaking are going to seriously lag at the outset, and my hope is he’ll have the opportunity to gain experience and the necessary reps in the G-League.

In my humble opinion, however, Jackson possesses enough skill, size and general understanding of the game — three things Cheick Diallo sorely lacked through much of his first year — to be able to provide stretches of minutes, even amid a New Orleans Pelicans playoff run, if Alvin Gentry deems necessary. And, if you failed to catch the not-so-hidden theme of this article, I’m a big fan of his future.

Thanks to Basketball Reference and NBA Stats for use of their statistics.