Justin Jackson’s arrival in Dallas represented a significant shift in the trajectory of the Dallas Mavericks future. The Mavericks’ blockbuster trade for Kristaps Porzingis was the headliner of the season, but shipping Harrison Barnes to Sacramento and everything he represented for the organization and city of Dallas was monumental. And while the long-term fruit of the trade is cap space and the flexibility to build a core around Luka Doncic and Porzingis, Jackson showed glimpses of a future role player in Dallas.
Jackson’s rookie season with the Kings left much to be desired, but before being traded to the Mavericks, the former Tar Heel began to show flashes of what made him the 2016-17 ACC Player of the Year. Unfortunately, he started off slow in Dallas almost certainly trying to find his bearings as a young player dealing with his first trade deadline exchange.
In total the second-year wing played in 29 games with the Mavericks. In 18 minutes per night Jackson contributed eight points and two rebounds while shooting 37 percent from three. As the season drew to a close, Jackson found his stride scoring in double figures in eight of the final 12 games.
It’s difficult to evaluate a player in the final month of the season, and it’s often fools gold. Playoff teams have their sights set on greater objectives and every other team is evaluating a variety of things, biding their time until the season ends. But in Jackson’s final eight games (small sample size), he played 26 minutes per contest and scored nearly 14 points per game while shooting a blazing 56 percent from the field and 50 percent from deep on four attempts per game.
From a 30,000 foot view, Jackson’s season with the Mavericks was fine. At times he looked very much like a lost former first round pick, and at other times he showed traits of a useful role player the Mavericks were able to snag in a salary dump trade.
Jackson has two years remaining on his rookie deal with a team option on the final year. He will count $3.2 million against the cap this season.
While Jackson’s strong close to the season was an encouraging development, it must be taken with a grain of salt. Teams do funky things at the end of the season, and player performances are often random and by no means indicative of future success. If Jackson is anything more than a third or fourth wing on the roster, then the Mavericks will need all-star caliber play from Doncic and Porzingis to compete for the playoffs.
Even still, Jackson has the makings of a quality reserve. With the Mavericks Jackson ranked in the 87th percentile as a spot-up shooter. However, on a much better Sacramento team, Jackson ranked in the 34th percentile as a spot-up shooter, which brings up questions on consistency. He has makings of a prototypical 3&D wing, yet he’s been a mediocre three-point shooter in the NBA (shooting 31 percent his rookie season and 35 percent this season) and shot above 30 percent only once in his three college seasons. On the other end, his frame is slight so he has trouble guarding fours, but he’s long enough to be a disruptive defender.
At 24 years old it’s important to remember Jackson’s development is likely limited and expecting a rise in his game is frivolous. But at the same time Jackson is experienced having played three years at UNC. He’s an instinctive and cerebral player. His 1.68 points per possession off a cut ranked in the 98th percentile, albeit on a low frequency.
The Mavericks’ roster should look much different next season, but after a strong close to the season, Jackson proved he could be a contributor off the bench.