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Justin Jackson will have the chance to prove a lot this season

The opportunity is there for the taking if Jackson is ready for it.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Dallas Mavericks Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Jackson, the 24 year old wing entering his third NBA season, joined the Dallas Mavericks at the trade deadline last season, part of the Harrison Barnes deal with the Sacramento Kings. Once seen as trade filler to unload Barnes’ paycheck, Jackson showed some interesting flashes in what became season-ending garbage time for the Mavericks.

Now as training camp kicks off, the Mavericks look invested in the 6’8 forward, having already picked up the 2020 option on his rookie deal and possibly seeing him as a key piece of a young core.

While there are plenty of questions about how much he can provide night in and night out, Jackson should have plenty of opportunity this season to prove he can be a vital part of this season’s success in Dallas.

Biggest question

Is Justin Jackson a viable starter for a full season? Some of the word out of Mavericks Media Day and the start of training camp indicate that Rick Carlisle could be working with a fluid starting lineup. And while a few of those spots can be written in pen, Justin Jackson and a few others may show up quite often in pencil.

And this is the greatest conundrum for this new-look Mavericks squad: will depth outweigh a lack of an obvious starting five? If Justin Jackson can step up into a new role in Dallas, perhaps those questions get quieter.

That will start with Jackson proving he can be a knockdown shooter, and continues with him providing some versatility on defense. The Mavericks don’t need him to be a shutdown perimeter defender (though it would be nice), but they do need him to be smart and athletic enough to switch some position. It’s unclear whether him gaining 20 pounds this summer, a number he confirmed at practice on Wednesday, will aid in that or not.

But if Jackson can be a catch and shoot threat every night, and pair that with some smart team defense, the Mavericks might have found their fifth starter.

Best case scenario

Whether or not Jackson makes consistent appearances in the starting lineup or not, the Mavericks will desperately need him to carry over the shooting touch he showed at the end of last season. During the final stretch of games on a tanking team, stats often get skewed, leaving some to have too much faith in potential. But let’s take a second to dream.

In the 29 games Justin Jackson played in Dallas, he connected on 37 percent of his 86 three point attempts. A solid if unspectacular number. But zoom in on his catch-and-shoot attempts from deep, and that percentage pops up to nearly 41 percent.

If that’s the version of Jackson the Mavericks can see consistently, then Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis will have a weak side weapon to kick to in their two-man game. If that Jackson exists, the Mavericks could conceivably surround Doncic with an all shooters lineup of:

  • Jalen Brunson (35 percent from three in 2018-19)
  • Seth Curry (50 percent on Catch and Shoot threes in 2018-19)
  • Justin Jackson (41 percent on Catch and Shoot threes in 2018-19)
  • Kristaps Porzingis (42 percent on Catch and Shoot threes in 2017-18*)

Let’s all take a breath.

Worst case scenario

It may be asking a lot of Jackson to be that knockdown shooter. And while he’s proven to be at the very least a high IQ addition to the Mavericks, Jackson’s time in the league has shown the kind of low ceiling midrange player some were worried he’d be.

During his stint in Sacramento, Jackson never seemed to find his niche. Going back and forth between a starter for much of his rookie season, to almost exclusively a bench player with the Kings last year, Jackson’s passive style lends itself to short peaks and deep valleys. That passivity can often leave him out of rhythm on offense, and lost on defense.

The Mavericks aren’t on the books for much with the University of North Carolina product over the next two seasons. But it’s often players like Jackson that outplay the value of their contract that give teams the extra boost to make an unexpected leap in rebuilding. So the pressure is on.

Lucky for the Mavericks Rick Carlisle does well with players like Jackson who seem to understand their role in a system. The boost in his net rating, from -2.2 in Sacramento to +1.8 in Dallas, when playing under Carlisle might be enough reason for optimism that Jackson is due for a high impact season.