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Judging Justin Jackson’s Jumper

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The junior swingman has obviously improved his jump shooting percentage this year, but visually, what has changed?

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It’s become popular in the last few days to write about Justin Jackson and his improved three-point shot. It’s no secret to anybody who even remotely follows UNC basketball that Jackson’s percentage from beyond the arc has gone from under 30% in his sophomore year to about 40%, on higher volume no less, so far this year. Adrian Atkinson talked about the dynamic shooting duo that he has formed with Joel Berry here, and Will Schreefer of detailed his improvement in efficiency here (check out the shot charts in this one, they’re very informative). These articles are heavily stat-based, which is useful, don’t get me wrong, but they do ignore the visual part of the story: What has Jackson done to his shot? As Atkinson wrote in this article, this kind of improvement from a primary rotation player in a transition that is not Freshman -> Sophomore is almost unprecedented in Roy Williams’ tenure at UNC. Further complicating things, Jackson never had a broken jump shot, like, for example, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the fixing of which would explain this kind of jump. On the contrary, Jackson was expected to be a great shooter coming into UNC, and that did not materialize until this year. What changed between then and now? Let’s find out.

So this is Justin Jackson taking a three-pointer in the 2014 McDonald’s All-American Game, in which he shared MVP honors with Jahlil Okafor:

Jordi Pla

The angle isn’t the best, but pretty much everything looks good here. Jackson’s feet are angled just a bit, he releases at the top of his jump and lands a bit forward from where he starts, and his release is perfect, never letting the ball stop on its way up. It’s easy to see why Jackson’s shooting stroke was one of his biggest selling points coming out of high school, as his form looks picturesque based on this clip. Also, note the arc on the ball, which is definitely substantial here. Another thing to note is Jackson’s readiness to shoot. In a catch-and-shoot situation, he has his hands and feet set to shoot before the ball gets to him, and it allows a fluid motion.

During Jackson’s freshman and sophomore years, while he was extremely effective around the rim and in the midrange, he struggled to shoot the ball with the accuracy that many had hoped for. Here’s an example of his jump shot from ACC play in 2016:

Condensed NCAA Basketball Games

This is another catch-and-shoot opportunity, but it’s totally different, as Jackson isn’t set to shoot at all when the ball arrives. He has to take a couple of steps to adjust, and he has to hurry so that the defense can’t arrive on time. This makes his shooting stroke look much more rushed, especially below the waste. Compare the distance that his feet cover in this shot to the distance covered in the previous one, as well as the height of the respective jumps. The release of the ball is still good, but because of the change in footwork, Jackson isn’t able to ease into the shot like he would want. With this in mind, I believe that the reason for Jackson’s shooting regression might be that he didn’t realize how much his size advantage would carry over to the college game. He’s not just tall and long for a high school player at his position, at about 6’8’’, he’s taller than most of the guys guarding him in college as well. Based on this clip, he seems to be overcorrecting his shot, putting more into it than he needed to. The arc on this shot, by the way, is also fine. Jackson’s shot has sometimes been criticized, including by himself, as being too flat sometimes, but I think those criticisms aren’t really deserved. Throughout his college career, he’s released the ball with various trajectories, but it looks to me like his feet are much more to blame for his previous inaccuracy than his hands.

Jackson’s trip to the NBA Combine has been well-documented. That which stuck out most was an interview with the Golden State Warriors where Jackson was apparently criticized harshly about “his aggressiveness, ability to draw contact in the lane, and three point shooting.” Coming back, he was determined to improve all of these, and, as has been repeatedly said during UNC broadcasts, dedicated his entire summer to improving his jump shot’s consistency. The results have been obvious:

GoHeels TV

And we see here that those mechanical issues have been corrected. When Jackson calls for the ball, his body is already in line with the basket and his feet are in position, so as soon as he catches it, he is able to rise and shoot. His “sweep,” or forward motion, is back to the more minimal edition we saw in his high school stroke, and while he’s still elevating more than he did in the McD’s game, that’s hardly a bad thing if he’s able to control it, and it’s certainly down from what we saw in his sophomore year. His upper-body and arm motion are as perfect as ever, though I do wish he’d hold his release a little longer. He doesn’t usually snakebite like this, but if it works here, who am I to argue?

The biggest takeaway from this is that Justin Jackson knows how to practice. Mindless repetition will get you nowhere. Instead of just shooting until the ball went in, Jackson addressed the specific problems that affected his shot in his sophomore year, and it paid dividends. It’s just one more indication of the intelligence of the Carolina Basketball Program.

All clips used with permission of the owners, under the Standard Youtube license.