With NBA Draft preparation underway, I chatted with Bleacher Report and Fan Rag Sports writer Andrew Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) to discuss Frank Jackson, Luke Kennard, the Utah Jazz interest in them, and more.
Q: What are your thoughts on Frank Jackson as an NBA prospect and his ceiling? He’s flashed the elite skill and athleticism but do you think he’s ready to make the jump to the next level as a point guard?
A: I’m every bit as high on Frank Jackson as an NBA prospect as I was before his lone season at Duke. He went there as ESPN’s 10th-ranked recruit, and I didn’t see anything during his freshman campaign that made me think he was overrated. Some point to the low volume of points and assists as evidence that he didn’t live up to the hype, but I think that sort of analysis avoids the context. The Blue Devils already had two returning guards who’d established themselves as primary scorers and ball-handlers in Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen. Jayson Tatum needed his touches too. If anything, Jackson’s willingness to embrace a smaller role is a good sign, since he’ll almost certainly have to do that in the NBA. I think he has the potential to be a starting combo guard and third or fourth option. But the more realistic projection might be a heater off the bench.
Is he ready to go now? I’ll be political and say probably. Another year at Duke likely wouldn’t hurt, but I think he has a shot to go in the first round, and that’s hard to pass up. Plus, an extra year within his NBA team’s system and the opportunity to practice against pros will only accelerate his development. And speaking of development, play making is probably the first priority. His assist rate at Duke left a little to be desired, but that’s something that can be learned. And in today’s NBA, play making exclusivity is on the outs. If he’s one of two or three creators on the floor at once, he should be fine.
Q: If he stays in this year’s draft, where in the draft do you think he’ll end up after a month of workouts? Is he better off playing another year at Duke to solidify his stock?
A: Jackson’s an impressive athlete, and if he can show that in workouts and the combine (some just don’t have athleticism that translates to such specific tests), I think he can work his way into the middle of the first round. I think the conservative estimate would probably be late first, though. Could he find a more stable projection after another year in college? Maybe. A huge sophomore season, especially as a creator and passer, might be more enticing to lottery teams. But the chance of injury or a drop in stock looms too. If I was in his camp, I’d advise taking the jump.
Q: You have said that you wouldn’t mind if Utah uses its first round pick on Jackson to bring him back home. How would he fit on Utah’s team? What other teams do you think would be a good spot for Jackson?
A: Utah seems like a great fit for Jackson for a few reasons. First, the obvious personal connection he has there could help in future free agency negotiations. Second, Utah’s coaching staff is very focused on player development. Third, and probably most importantly, the Jazz often play position-less basketball. That mitigates the perceived lack of play making from Jackson. In lineups with Gordon Hayward, Joe Ingles or Utah’s other play making wings, Jackson can worry less about creating for others and more about attacking closeouts or shooting off the catch.
Other teams in the mid- to late-first round that could be good fits include the Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder or San Antonio Spurs. All three teams have ball-dominant stars who could use a secondary play maker to relieve some pressure. The Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic are also interesting as spots where Jackson would probably be able to play right away.
Q: Give me your NBA comparison for Jackson and why?
A: A ceiling comparison for Jackson for me would be a more athletic Chauncey Billups. He has similar size and is more of a shoot-first guard, though not in a way that isn’t team friendly. Obviously, reaching this ceiling would still take a lot of development as a leader and play maker, but some of the intangible stuff may be in there somewhere.
Q: You’re also a big Luke Kennard fan and think the Jazz should pick him up. I think he would be a great fit in OKC to help a team that’s so reliant on Russell Westbrook to score. What’s your projection of him as a pro and how he would help Utah?
A: Luke Kennard just strikes me as such a smart scorer. His distribution of two-point attempts (283), three-point attempts (201) and free-throw attempts (187) is almost ideal. Much like Jackson, I think he has a lot of potential as a secondary play maker/pick-and-roll option. Though I see him as the more methodical, patient attacker. I think he’d fit in Utah for a lot of the same reasons I noted for Jackson. OKC makes sense too. He’d probably be more of a spot-up option there, though. There’s almost no indication Russell Westbrook will be willing to give up any of his role to a teammate.
Q: Finally, you’ve been following the Utah Jazz for a long time. What are your thoughts on how former Dukie and disciple of Coach K, Quin Snyder has developed this team? Rodney Hood has been inconsistent in his young career (inability to stay healthy has contributed to that) but overall has proven that he was a steal in the 2014 draft. What do you think his ceiling is?
A: Quin Snyder was a home run hire by Dennis Lindsey and the Jazz. I’ve been critical of his rotations at times this season, but there’s no ignoring the success he had in the face of adversity. According to Man Games Lost, the Jazz lost more wins due to injury than any team in the NBA in 2016-17. And yet, they still finished in fifth place in the brutal Western Conference with 51 wins. A lot of the credit for that has to go to Snyder. First, he realized early in his time in Utah that he could build a team around Rudy Gobert’s defense. Picking the right identity for a team is no small task, especially when it means adapting. Snyder was advertised as an offense-first guy. A pick-and-roll savant. To be willing to mold his vision to the players on the roster took humility and smarts. Second, Snyder came to Utah with a strong reputation for being able to develop young players. With the exception of maybe two or three guys, every Utah player has gotten better over the last three years. Gordon Hayward went from fringe first option to All-Star. Rudy Gobert went from bumbling giant to arguably the best center in the NBA. Dante Exum went from historically bad (in a statistical sense) to being on track toward two-way relevance.
As for Rodney Hood, he’s one of the few guys you could point to as someone who hasn’t clearly gotten better under Snyder. But it’s way too early to give up on him. Injuries contributed to the inconsistency this season, but that can’t be an excuse for some of the minor steps back he took this season. Last year, his in-between game and patience in the pick-and-roll made it look like the Jazz had another point forward on the way. But dips in both free-throw and assist rate this season have tempered those expectations a bit. I still see his peak as a guy who can average around 16-17 points and shoot 40 percent from three (just getting to that percentage would be huge). But he has to figure out how to impact the game in other ways when his shot isn’t falling.
Thanks to Andrew for taking the time to speak with us. Make sure to give him a follow on Twitter at @AndrewDBailey.