Height - 6’10
Weight - 206 lbs
Wingspan - 7’2
Isaiah Jackson is an interesting mid first round prospect who has a defined fit in the NBA. In the last few years, we have seen rim-running centers who play good defense and score efficiently become very useful for contending teams. Clint Capela is arguably the best example of this sort of big.
Capela does not look like a typical center; Clint is pretty skinny but he is athletic as all hell. He has the speed to guard on the perimeter while having the verticality needed to protect the rim. Capela’s versatility meant that the Hawks had a decent defense in the playoffs without necessarily having the roster that most elite defenses have.
We have seen other teams follow the same mould. Nic Claxton has emerged as a legitimate contributor for the Brooklyn Nets for the simple fact that he can play in a few different pick and roll coverages without completely getting roasted. His mobility provided something that DeAndre Jordan was unable to do.
Jackson’s lateral quickness and length will help shore up the Thunder’s defense and allow Coach Daigneault to get more creative with the team’s defense. There are no specific accommodations for Jackson and therefore Coach Mark can run a switch coverage without too much thought.
I actually think that Isaiah Jackson would be strong at containing the guard and his assignment in a hedge coverage. Jackson has the wingspan to wall off the painted area and the speed to quickly recover onto his assignment. With guidance on his positioning from the coaching staff, Jackson could be very good at blowing up pick and roll.
Jackson is not perfect by any means; he lacks discipline on the defensive end of the floor and his lack of size could mean that he gets bullied around by bigger centers. These concerns are not uncommon for this Draft class, it seems likely that the likes of Mobley, Sengun and Jackson will struggle to guard Joel Embiid or Nikola Jokic.
The other thing worth considering is that Jackson played last season at Kentucky. Coach Calipari often recruits such a wealth of talent that these players do not have the opportunity to truly display their potential. Devin Booker and Tyler Herro were way more skilled than what their college film would show. With Jackson, there is a possibility that he has a hidden seam of talent that nobody knows about.
Jackson’s best game of the season came against Alabama. Jackson only played 23 minutes and yet he stuffed the stat-sheet. Jackson had 14 points, 6 rebounds and 7 blocks as he dominated the game with his defense.
Jackson is limited on offense right now; he does not have a reliable shot and should not be relied upon to space the floor out to the perimeter or the mid-range. However, Jackson is brutally efficient within 3ft of the rim. His finishing ability comes from his explosiveness; Jackson is very good at getting off the ground and finishing strong.
His athleticism is his greatest strength by far. Jackson’s leap means that he can provide vertical spacing for the Thunder as he can soar above the rim for lobs and easy tip-ins. That sort of vertical threat can be very useful in opening up the floor particularly in the pick and roll.
The opposing big must remain aware at all times that Jackson can finish wherever and whenever; they cannot afford to be so aggressive when it comes to pressuring the ball-handler. Jackson puts pressure on the rim and this creates more room on the perimeter or in the mid-range for the ball-handler to work.
This athleticism translates over nicely onto the defensive end of the floor. Jackson is a voracious shot-blocker and seems to relish the opportunity to send shots back. He averaged 2.6 blocks per game last year as he came off the bench for Kentucky. His production in limited minutes was really impressive and his feel for getting blocks should carry over into the NBA.
That being said, Jackson can be prone to hunt blocks even when the outcome does not always benefit the team. Attempting to swat every single shot can leave simple finishes at the rim for the opposing player if Jackson completely whiffs on the block attempt. He has to better at picking his spots and using angles to protect the rim.
At the moment, he reminds me of Nerlens Noel during his first year with the Thunder. Noel would leap into the air, miss the block and would then be completely out of position. In his second season, Noel became much better at using his length and feet to force the attacking player into difficult shot attempts near the rim. With time and good coaching, Jackson should be able to add this string to his bow.
Jackson moves fluidly across the court and is light on his feet for a big man. He is very mobile which is one of the reasons why he projects to be such a versatile defender in the pick and roll. Jackson has the quickness and length to contain smaller players and buy time for his teammate to recover defensively.
Jackson can face up and achieve decent results with his first step but he does need a reliable jumper to get the defense to play him honestly. I like the fact that Jackson is willing to take contact whenever he is facing up but that will not be enough in the NBA.
Jackson’s only other skill on offense is his screen-setting. Jackson is a physical player and likes to set hard screens on the opponent. He gets his feet set early and lets the guard run the defender straight into his body. Isaiah’s willingness to sacrifice himself for the good of the team will create a ton of separation for the ball-handler to operate.
Jackson is a mobile, athletic center who will bring value to the Thunder’s defense. He projects to be a versatile big who can defend in space and protect the rim. In this current meta of the NBA, teams need bigs who do not get ran off the floor in the playoffs. Jackson could be that player for the Thunder in a few years time.