Justin Jackson is looking to be the Kings’ two-way spark plug

When the Kings nabbed Justin Jackson with No. 15 in June, a handful of conflicting thoughts went through my head. I wasn’t sold on Jackson going that high. While his improvements at North Carolina were evident, he still had some obvious flaws and a lower ceiling than you’d like out of a top 15 pick — especially with the depth of this year’s class.

Although, I will say this —  Jackson has shown potential in Summer League on both ends of the floor. He scored 25 points last night on 9-of-19 from the field in a losing effort to the Dallas Mavericks. He took on a big task in guarding Dennis Smith Jr. and did a decent job.

With that said, it is Summer League and any of these performances need to be analyzed with a grain of salt.

But when you look at the overarching theme behind Sacramento’s picks, the reasoning behind selecting Jackson is clear. This is a Kings team that’s looking to rebuild not only its team, but also its culture. High character and hard working individuals is exactly what Vlade Divac was looking to fill.

They ended up drafting four rookies from world-class collegiate programs, all of whom had been lauded for their work ethic and locker room presence in the past.

Jackson may not fill the largest of roles for Sacramento, but he’s the type of teammate they need in that locker room. He’ll work hard, and he still has a defined niche in the rotation.

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With a veteran like Vince Carter now in place — somebody who’s capable of grooming Jackson long-term  whether it was the best choice or not, makes a lot of sense.

Sacramento is building from the ground up, and the roster they’ve put together has been surprisingly well constructed given their prior blunders from up top. Rather than falling into a Nik Stauskas-esque trap or overpaying for veterans who have lost their luster, they went all-in on youth that jibes with what they’re trying to orchestrate down the line.

Rather than trading up for a player like Josh Jackson, whose off-court attitude has left some weary, the team took De’Aaron Fox at five. He just might be the hardest worker in the lottery.

Jackson worked tirelessly to transform his stock from an iffy second round flier to a borderline-lottery talent in the eyes of some. His defense has never been gaudy, but his energy level is inordinately high. His offensive game was quirky, but proved to be among the most effective in the nation last season.

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The Kings’ current rotation now boasts all the assets needed to bring Jackson along slowly, while placing him into a position that suits his needs perfectly.

There’s a legitimate chance that Jackson never starts in the NBA, and for a top 15 pick, that could be viewed as a turn-off for some. But when you look at the basics of his game, he could be best in more of a sixth man-esque role off the bench.

Sacramento won’t need to start Jackson this year. There’s a chance they run both Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic on the wing, a smaller combination that can overcome its defensive flaws on the backs of scoring prowess alone.

You then factor Carter into that equation, giving the Kings another viable contributor who can provide some much-needed wisdom for a group of kids who are more than willing to listen.

Jackson’s niche is then entrenched in the second unit, where his microwave scoring and defensive intensity could be the spark plug a competitive roster needs down the line.

The Kings, even with George Hill on board, won’t be winning much in the early stages of their development. Jackson can be given the freedom to work through the ebbs and flows of his rookie year, while still adjusting to a role that fits his long-term outlook.

The NBA is a 3-and-D league, and those needs manifest at all rotational levels. Capable two-way pieces — especially on the wings — are just as important in reserve as they are in the starting group.

Jackson isn’t a good defender yet, but that effort is something that almost always translates in time. He may not be the most fundamentally sound or an overly athletic force, but he sticks to his man with impressive vigor. He fights through screens and rarely has a lapse in focus.

If anything, he’ll be an irritant for whoever he’s guarding. His offensive fit follows suit. Jackson is in constant motion when off the ball, gunning around screens and finding open spots on the floor.

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His 3-point shot is funky aesthetically, but his mechanics are both quick and clean, while his 37 percent shooting from deep shows a positive trend that will ideally continue in time.

Jackson doesn’t have the superstar potential that some of the upper echelon talent in this year’s class has, but he does have a direct path towards NBA relevancy.

Heady offensive players who move without the ball, shoot at a high clip and can finish around the rim have a place as a complimentary piece in almost any system, while his defensive effort should only boost his success.

Jackson isn’t a starter, and his ceiling may be the lowest of the Kings’ three first round picks — but he’s something every team needs, all while bringing the willingness to work that this Sacramento team needs from their young guys.

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Christopher Kline on Twitter
Christopher Kline
Special Contributor to Cowbell Kingdom. You can follow the rest of his work on The Sixer Sense and 16 Wins A Ring.

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