On Thursday night, Justin Jackson was drafted to the Sacramento Kings with the No. 15 pick in the NBA Draft. This made Jackson the 48th Tar Heel in NBA history to be drafted in the first round, and the 17th Tar Heel in the Roy Williams Era.
Sacramento had a very busy night, and arguably one of the better nights of all of the teams in the NBA. In what seemed like an all Blue Blood affair, the Kings also drafted Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, Duke’s Harry Giles, and Kansas’ Frank Mason III. Sacramento has been in rebuild mode, especially after trading their star player Demarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans, and it seems as though they are just about done putting the finishing touches on their rebuild. So then what does this mean for Jackson? Chances are it means not only did the Kings win the draft, Justin is one of the draft’s winners as well.
Before I proceed, I have to give a disclaimer: a lot of disturbingly positive things are about to be said about players that went to certain institutions in order to make a point. I do apologize, just know that I am not enjoying it anymore than some of you may enjoy reading it. If you choose to do so, please proceed to the next paragraph.
Kings general manager Vlade Divac had a clear mission in mind ever since he sent Boogie Cousins to the Pelicans. With the incoming draft class in mind, Cousins was traded in order to be able to build depth on their roster by developing fresh young talent all while not going way above the salary cap. He wanted the franchise to have a new personality, which is very understandable with a team that hasn’t made the NBA playoffs since 2006, a franchise player that was known to have conflicts with the wrong people on the court and in the front-offices, and many blown lottery picks.
When you look at where the rebuild begins, it starts with De’Aaron Fox. Fox was one of the best point guards available in the draft, and has a lot of tools to be a good if not great NBA player. He plays hard on defense, he plays fast and relentless on offense, he’s a good size for a point guard, and is insanely athletic. They most certainly picked up a player that will be a big catalyst in turning the franchise around.
Harry Giles, as many reading this know, didn't live up to any of the hype through little fault of his own. When he finally got to play for Duke, he had a very lackluster year to say the least for a player that was recruited as the No. 1 player in the nation. Still, it’s going to be a long summer before the NBA picks back up in November. The Kings had to have seen that Giles still has an upside under all of his injuries and if it is enough, he may become a solid contributor to this young team.
Frank Mason III will be the 3rd point guard on the Kings roster, along with Fox and UNC’s own Ty Lawson. Given that he was drafted in the second round, there really isn’t any telling whether or not Mason will see time on the court for the Kings or if they will send him down to the G-League. Still, if you need a backup to your backup Mason is definitely not a bad choice. One would also imagine however that this draft decision was made keeping in mind that Ty Lawson is turning 30 this year, so Mason may see more court time than he would have otherwise in order to develop into a solid backup to Fox.
Finally, there is Justin Jackson. Jackson is another player that’s filling a big need for the Kings and will receive immediate minutes. Small Forward Rudy Gay, who had a season-ending Achilles' tendon injury last year, opted out of his contract last week and is now an unrestricted free agent. This means that the Kings needed Jackson to come in and, unless something changes between now and November, become the starting small forward.
UNC fans don’t need to be told what the Kings are getting from Jackson, but just in case there are some Kings fans reading this I can give you a good idea. Jackson has developed into one of the better shooters that came out of this year’s draft. He averaged 18.3 points a game, and shot 37% from three-point range. He’s had flashes of being a strong defender, and finished out his career as such in order to help UNC win their 6th NCAA title. He is a very unselfish player who gets other players involved, and doesn’t take a lot of bad shots when given the opportunity. He has definitely developed into an NBA-caliber player, and the Kings definitely picked up a solid piece for their roster.
In any rebuild, there’s a lot of patience and wishful thinking that transpires. If you’re lucky, that patience and wishful thinking may eventually translate into something like what the Golden State Warriors have been doing the past few years. That is not to say that I think the Kings will get to that level, but they have definitely given themselves a foundation for the future that should be pretty solid. With Fox’s athletic prowess, Jackson’s shooting ability, and Giles’s presence in the paint, they definitely have a chance to build something that will get them to the playoffs for the first time in a little over a decade.
To be realistic: they will go through some growing pains. They are young, they will have a lot of bad nights, there will be injuries, and it just may take some time for everything to click. If I were Justin Jackson, however, I would thank God (as I know he would) for blessing him with a chance to be part of something potentially special on the west coast. UNC fans, get your NBA League Pass and Red Bull ready, there will be a lot of late nights watching this guy play.