Countdown to Tipoff: 49 Days
Josh Pastner does not keep a large rotation. If he thinks you are the best option, you are going to be playing a lot. Four players last season played over 30 minutes a game (Ben Lammers, Josh Okogie, Quinton Stephens, and Josh Heath). Surprisingly, Tech’s second best shot creator and one of the most talented players on the team, Tadric Jackson, only played 23.8 minutes per game last season. I don’t know if it was endurance issues or if he found himself in Pastner’s doghouse, but I would constantly find myself wondering why Tadric was not in the game. This year, with a very shallow team, I expect Jackson to take a much bigger role on the team next season and succeed at it.
Jackson came in as Brian Gregory’s highest touted recruit, but struggled to do much for his first two seasons. He got some minutes, but he made poor decisions with the basketball and Gregory seemed frustrated at his lack of tenaciousness on defense. He seemed to get very frustrated on the court and would press way too hard. He shot an atrocious 27.4% from the field his freshman year and improved to a still very bad 38.5% his sophomore year. Coming into last season Jackson needed to improve his efficiency while also taking on a lot more volume. That’s tough to do.
Jackson did it. He was only one of two players on the team (Okogie being the other) that could reliably create their own shot. He significantly increased his usage last year. In 2015-16 Jackson was responsible for 20% of the possessions when he was on the floor. Last season that increased to 27.1%, the highest on the team (Okogie had 26.7%). Despite that large increase in volume, he shot much better from the field last year at 44.5% and 32.5% from 3. He also had the best assist-turnover ratio on the team, which is good to see from somebody who handles the ball so much. He made much better decisions with the ball last season. He also improved on defense last season. His long arms made him trouble at the top of the key when the Jackets went to zone, and he did a decent job against some very good scorers. Possibly my favorite part about Jackson’s improvement is his variety on offense. He can drive, he can hit some threes, he was by far Techs’ most aggressive player on fast breaks, and when he got guarded by a small player, he didn’t hesitate to post him up. It was great to see.
Part of the reason it frustrated me to see Jackson on the bench so much is that Tech was mediocre to bad on offense last year and often struggled bad when Jackson was off the court. He was inconsistent, so it wasn’t a sure thing that he would give the offense a boost, but there were games where he carried the team. Remember Tech’s first signature win, against VCU? Jackson absolutely dominated the last three quarters of that game and willed the team to overtime. How about that win over Notre Dame where he put up 25 points on 11-19 shooting and made the heads up assist on Okogie’s game winning layup? I hope you don’t remember the win against Boston College because it was awful, but Jackson was the only player who could score for much of that game. Even in Tech’s blowout loss against TCU Jackson was fairly effective when the team desperately needed offense.
That isn’t to say there aren’t ways Jackson needs to improve. The first is in his 3 point shooting. Last season he improved his deep shot to respectable (32.5%), and I think he has the ability to improve it even further this year. Gregory had a complete inability to develop anybody’s three point shot, so hopefully we see some more improvement in this regard. The second obvious place is free throws. He does not get to the line nearly enough and when he does get there he struggled. Last season Jackson’s free throw rate (FTR), the ratio of FTA/FGA, was only 27.4% last year, less than half of Okogie’s 56.4 (Marcus Georges-Hunt had a 63.5% rate in 2016). He does a good job of driving the lane, but he doesn’t seem to have the feel that Okogie or MGH had to find the contact and finish through it. I would love to see Jackson’s FTR rise to around 40% this season, you can’t leave those free points on the table. Even when Jackson got to the line, he only shot 56.7%. That’s bad. He has a good shot and shot better free throws in previous seasons, so I suspect that it was a bit of a mental block. He should be better this season. The final is consistency. He can be a bit of a hit or miss player, but we need him every game this season given this team’s lack of depth. Late last season he did a lot better in this regard, only really struggling against Pitt and Syracuse out of the last 11 games. Hopefully his late season form continues.
This year Jackson has the chance to make a huge mark on this team, playing 30+ minutes a night and being a true leader on this team. I think he takes it.