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Can UNC’s Justin Jackson be a first team All-American in 2017?

Justin Jackson is close to putting it all together in 2016-2017.

Justin Jackson choots the gator
Justin Jackson attempts the 3-point jumper

Part 2 in our Tar Heel “Summer Checklist” series brings us to rising junior Justin Jackson.

A 6’8” wing from Tomball, TX, Jackson returned to UNC after briefly flirting with the NBA this spring. Jackson is blessed with ideal size for his position, a “patented floater” (still waiting to see that trademark application, ESPN commentators), and an exceptional basketball IQ.

While NBA scouts remain intrigued by Jackson’s tools (wingspan, upside, feel for the game, things of that nature...), he still needs to improve in a few key areas to solidify himself as a first round pick. If he makes those strides, it could mean big things for the 2016-2017 Tar Heels, and even bigger things for Jackson’s bank account.

Knock down shots

This one is pretty simple: In order for Carolina to contend for the 2017 National Championship, Jackson’s jump shots need to primarily wind up inside of the basketball ring (©Ted Cruz). Despite solid form on his release, Jackson shot just 29% on 3-pointers, and 67% from the line in 2015-2016.

He’s shown promise as a 3-point shooter throughout his career, but has been prone to prolonged cold stretches. This past season, Jackson made just one 3-pointer during all of January, or exactly one more than Wanda Williams made during the same stretch. That kind of slump was okay when Brice Johnson was dropping 39 & 23, but will be tougher to overcome this season.

While Carolina fans admire Jackson’s dedication to his all-around game, the hope is that he embraces the Joel Berry “get better at shooting 3-point basketball jumpers” plan this summer. If Jackson can get himself north of 35% from beyond the arc, the Heels instantly become a very difficult team to guard. We’ve seen flashes of a pure, confident jump shot; now we just need that flash to become a steady source of light.

Pack on the pounds

Though he’s unquestionably gained strength since arriving on campus, Jackson remains woefully thin. Carrying a generous 200 pounds on his 6’8” frame, Jackson isn’t a guy that strikes fear into the opponent when he steps off the bus. More tactically speaking, that frame also inhibits his ability to finish through contact and hold his position in the post. If Jackson is thrust into duty as a stretch-4 this season, some added pounds will go a long way.

So, outside of living in the weight room, how should Jackson best tack on another 10 L-B’s? Well, as we’ll discuss on a future edition of the Tar Heel Summer Checklist, our good friend Kennedy also needs to pack on a few pounds (spoiler alert!); so, maybe a few late night Cook-Out trips are in order this summer. (Yes, I’ll take a Cook-Out Tray with a Big Double Burger, with an ACC Championship and a Final Four as my sides, please.)

Become “The Guy”

Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson’s graduation leaves quite a few shot attempts up for grabs. While Joel Berry and Isaiah Hicks will certainly need to increase their usage, it’s Jackson who truly has the opportunity to take charge this season. Fortunately, there is some hisorical, statistically significant precedent that tells us that he may be ready for the challenge.

In the three games immediately preceding Marcus Paige’s return last season, Jackson put up the following numbers: 22.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 4.3 APG, 66% FG, 43% 3FG. Will he sniff those numbers this season? Tough to say. But if the past is any indication of the future, Jackson is poised to become a First-Team All-American in 2017. You heard it here first.