Justin Jackson - Sophomore, PG, 6-8, 200 lbs
2014-15 Stats: 114.0 ORtg, 52.0 eFG%, 30.4 3P%, 71.0 FT%, 66.3 MIN%
What Happened Last Season
Justin Jackson arrived in Chapel Hill with a throwback reputation: a player who could score easily and efficiently, without the use of otherworldly athleticism or a heavy reliance on the three-point shot. Through the first two-thirds of the season, that reputation appeared to be both accurate and, perhaps, a bit overstated. While Jackson showed flashes of potential, particularly in his first three games (ORtgs of 122, 151, and 148), for the most part he struggled to find consistency, done in primarily by what seemed to be a lack of assertiveness and very poor/limited three-point shooting (3P%: 20.3; 2.1 3PA/gm). The turning point for Jackson came immediately after his lowest point as a collegian; a 17-minute, 2-point performance (ORtg: 50) in Carolina's overtime loss at Duke. Over the last 12 games of the season, Jackson would score in single-figures only once (the ACCT Championship game; the 4th game in 4 days) and produce ORtgs of 115 or greater in 9 of those 12 games. And, almost out of nowhere, Jackson went from being a complete non-threat from beyond the arc, to an assassin. For the final month, Jackson shot 44.7% from three-point range, while increasing the volume of shots he took by more than a shot per game (3.2 3PA/gm). This, along with a finally healthy Marcus Paige, provided UNC the balance it needed to play its best basketball of the season, and show why it was so highly rated to begin the year.
By most accounts, Jackson had a successful rookie year based on overall performance, it just happened to occur during a season where several other freshman (most notably, the ones at Duke) had remarkable showings, thus overshadowing the promise that he displayed. That should change in a big way this season, especially with the recent news that Marcus Paige will likely miss the first 5-7 games. With Paige out, Jackson will have the opportunity to assert himself as the team's leading weapon on offense. For UNC to be most successful this season, Jackson needs to be an aggressive scorer with the mid-range game and driving to the basket, while taking advantage of open opportunities beyond the arc when they are presented. Ideally, this will lead to him improving his ORtg to something greater than 120 and his possession percentage to 21-24%. And while it may get overlooked, improvement on the defensive glass will also help UNC reach its ultimate potential. Jackson had a defensive rebounding rate of 8.9% last season, which is low for one of Roy's wings in general, and particularly so for one who stands 6'8". The 2015 UNC team was exceptional on the offensive glass last season, but only average when it came to defensive boards; Jackson improving his DR% to the low-teens will go a long way towards improving the rate at which the Heels gather opponent misses, thus allowing them to capitalize on the excellent first-shot defense they showed that they were capable of last season.