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Indiana Pacers 2017-18 Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Indiana Pacers as they begin life without Paul George.

Basketball Insiders

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And so begins life after Paul George. What had been a year or two in the making finally occurred over the summer, as George was sent to Oklahoma City Thunder for the uninspiring return of Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Now, the Pacers look to recover, somehow avoiding a complete rebuild in the process. This probably isn’t going to be a fun year, but Indiana’s rebuild isn’t the most depressing in the Eastern Conference by a long shot. There are some things to like here, and this will be the season when they cultivate the beginning of the organization’s next chapter.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

Let’s start by admitting right out in the open that the Oklahoma City Thunder won the Paul George trade by a wide, wide margin, and then let’s use that as fodder to predict that the Pacers probably are due for a step back this season. Bringing Victor Oladipo back to Indiana is a fun narrative, and Myles Turner has the look of an All-Star, but outside of that it’s hard to know who the real players are on this team. I love Lance Stephenson, but it’s horrifying that he’ll be asked to play a leadership role on the team this year, and the rest of the roster is filled mostly with replacement-level guys. They will be worse than last year but perhaps better than many people expect. At least the new uniforms are fire, right?

4th Place — Central Division

— Joel Brigham

Everything for Indiana starts with the Paul George trade. Simply put, the Oklahoma City Thunder won that trade – regardless of the fact that George could walk away for nothing after this season. The Pacers took on Victor Oladipo’s bloated contract, did not get any draft picks and actually take on money in the deal. It’s one thing if the rest of the league made no offers on George. However, we know that there were other bids for George’s services, which makes this deal so puzzling. With a roster featuring Oladipo, young stud Myles Turner and a list of mostly replacement level players, it’s hard to see this team making much noise even in the weak Eastern Conference. There’s more that can be said about Indiana, but it’s hard to get much further than the lopsided deal that sent George to Oklahoma City.

4th Place — Central Division

— Jesse Blancarte

Much like their in-conference contemporary in Chicago, the Indiana Pacers lost most of their firepower from last season as well.

Heading into this year, the Pacers will be without Paul George and Jeff Teague, as both players made their trek into the Western Conference. As a result, Indiana has been left to switch immediately from postseason appearance to rebuild mode.

By securing Victor Oladipo, an Indiana State legend from his college time with the Hoosiers, in the George trade, the Pacers at least have some type of marketing ploy at their disposal. But past that and the continued emergence of young big man Myles Turner, next season looks pretty bleak for Indiana.

At least from the looks of it, the Pacers will have a decent draft pick in what projects to be a deep lottery crop next June.

4th place — Central Division

— Dennis Chambers

Life in the post-Paul George era certainly won’t be quite as exciting for the Pacers, at least not to get started. This team won’t be good enough to challenge for anything real in the East, and that’s put them in a slightly tough position: Their best team-building avenue might be to simply bottom out completely and shoot for a high draft pick, but they might have just enough talent on the roster to make this difficult. Guys like Victor Oladipo, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph and Thaddeus Young aren’t anyone’s idea of a contender, but they’re good enough to get you some wins in this awful conference. Combine that with some possible improvement from youngsters Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, and securing a high lottery slot might not be so easy. Turner remains key here – his development should take priority over virtually any standings-related questions this year. Beyond that, we’ll see whether this Pacers team is taking a shot at the eight seed come trade deadline time, or whether they’re considering a fire sale and a full tank.

4th place — Central Division

— Ben Dowsett

Now begins life without Paul George.

On paper, the Pacers are a team that is full of complementary pieces, but one that’s devoid of one that’s capable of leading the pack. I count eight players on the roster that I like as individual contributors, but aside from Myles Turner, I’m not sure who (if anyone) has the potential to be a truly impactful player on his own. Through the early years of his career, Victor Oladipo has had some high moments, but he’s already been traded twice. To me, that means he failed to convince two separate franchises that he has “it.”

In the end, I expect this coming season to be a very long one in Indianapolis. You simply don’t trade a superstar like Paul George and get any better for it, and you especially don’t become any better for it by trading him for Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. The Pacers simply become another example of life coming at you fast in the league, especially for small market teams. If you stumble across a superstar, you have a short window to build his team into a perennial contender. If you fail and he skates town, you start all over. Unfortunately, the Pacers ran into Miami’s dynasty and saw the clock strike midnight.

4th place — Central Division

— Moke Hamilton

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Victor Oladipo

Let’s start by just pointing out the obvious here; Indiana lost a ton of scoring in their offseason overhaul. Between Paul George, Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis and C.J. Miles, Indiana is suddenly missing over 58 points per game which have not been replaced by the players they’ve brought in. Myles Turner, who averaged 14.5 points per game last season, should be a focus for the team offensively this year, but Oladipo is the player with best opportunity to average 20 points per game. He’s never done that, of course, but he’s come reasonably close. With years of experience and a bigger offensive role than he’s ever had, Oladipo appears to have the best opportunity to shine.

Top Defensive Player: Myles Turner

After averaging 2.1 blocks per game in just 31.4 minutes last year, Turner seems likely to be among the league leaders in that category this upcoming season as those minutes ultimately rise. Manning the middle last year, Turner allowed just 0.867 points per possession, which is a testament to just how effective he was as just a second-year player on a middling team. He’s quick for a guy his size, and his height, length and athleticism make him a nightmare for opposing players trying to score. In fact, opponents shot 8.4 percent below their season averages when he was the closest defender within six feet of the basket. He’s elite defensively, and should be even better (and stronger) this season.

Top Playmaker: Darren Collison

Collison has never averaged fewer than 10 points per game in his entire career, and only has failed to average four assists per game just once, making him the model of consistency on the offensive end in what will be his second stint with the Indiana Pacers this year. As the Jeff Teague replacement, he will be asked to do a lot of the same things (but for a lot less money), which will include splitting open defenses and finding open shooters. Even with fewer three-point marksmen on the roster this season, Indiana’s new starting point guard should still end up in the neighborhood of four to six assists per contest, easily the best of anybody on this Pacers team.

Top Clutch Player: Victor Oladipo

In April of last season, when Russell Westbrook had finally broken the triple-double record and took a night off ahead of the playoffs, the Thunder found themselves entrenched in a tight game with the Minnesota Timberwolves. With Westbrook out of the game, Oladipo took the go-ahead shot with just a few seconds left in the game, and he sank it to seal the victory for OKC. After the game, Billy Donovan said, “I think Victor’s proven in his time being a young player that he’s a guy who’s not afraid of taking a big shot,” and while he’s playing for a new coach, if any big shots come up this year, expect Oladipo to be the one who takes them.

The Unheralded Player: Glenn Robinson III

Last year’s Dunk Contest champ is a lot more than just a leaper, as he proved in inconsistent minutes last year, despite 27 starts. He was incredibly up-and-down offensively all season, but flashed some really interesting moments late in the season, including a game-winning shot and a 20-point outing. Defensively, he’s quite good at forcing turnovers and is a good rebounder at the three spot on the floor, and all of this should come into light as he contends for the starting small forward spot this season. Bojan Bogdanovic is a shiny new toy that flashed bigger stats in Brooklyn and Washington last season, but Robinson is quietly a slightly better all-around player. Hopefully he gets the consistent minutes to prove it this year.

Best New Addition: Victor Oladipo

He better be, anyway. He was the reason Indiana felt better about Oklahoma City’s trade offer than any offer that might have included a draft pick, so for better or worse, Oladipo is the future in Indiana, along with Myles Turner. If he ends up falling flat in this opportunity to get huge usage, the George trade will look worse than it already does.

— Joel Brigham

WHO WE LIKE

1. Lance Stephenson:

Something about Indianapolis brings out the best in Stephenson, who got his groove back to a certain extent after rejoining the team last season. The fans have embraced him—there’s even going to be a “Born Ready Crew” fan zone at the Fieldhouse this year, named after Stephenson’s rap moniker—and he’s talking like a leader already this summer. Indy will need some measure of leadership from him this season, so hopefully he’s got it in him. If nothing else, Stephenson is far and away the team’s most entertaining personality.

2. Bojan Bogdanovic:

It seemed like in every EuroBasket game Bogdanovic played this summer, he’d be Croatia’s top scorer with somewhere between 20-25 points per game. He’s not going to pour in numbers like that with the Pacers, but considering how much offensive firepower departed this roster in the offseason, he’ll get plenty of opportunities to be among the team’s leading scorers. Indiana lost a lot of three-point shooting over the summer, too, and that’s another area where Bogdanovic will be useful. In short, the Pacers needed someone exactly like him to fill out this roster, and it’s hard to imagine him not squeezing into the role set out for him.

3. Cory Joseph:

An ideal fit in Kevin Pritchard’s pseudo-rebuild, Joseph is coming off a strong year in Toronto in which he averaged 9.3 points and 3.3 assists, meaning he should slot nicely right behind Collison in the point guard rotation. He’s only 25 years old, so there could be even better years ahead. Between his time in San Antonio and Toronto, he’s got quite a bit of playoff experience for a kid his age, which should be a welcome addition to a team that doesn’t have a whole lot of that in its clubhouse.

4. Domantas Sabonis:

As the other piece in the Paul George trade, Sabonis’ development as a second-year player will speak volumes about how Pritchard did in moving his former team cornerstone. Last season Sabonis shot 46 percent from three, but his bread and butter typically comes in closer to the basket, where his post moves are slippery enough to get the better of bigger, bulkier fives. He should back up Turner and get more of an opportunity to succeed playing on the receiving end of pick-and-roll plays that don’t involve Russell Westbrook. His defense and fouling need to come down to earth, but offensively he’s got a bright future.

— Joel Brigham

SALARY CAP 101

The Pacers are under the NBA’s $99.1 million salary cap by as much as $7.6 million, even after signing Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collison (not to mention their blockbuster trade of Paul George to bring in Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis). Indiana also has their $4.3 million Room Exception.

Assuming the team picks up Sabonis’ team option for the 2018-19 season before November, the Pacers could have roughly $36 million in space next summer under a $102 million cap. That partially relies on Thaddeus Young ($13.8 million) and Cory Joseph ($7.9 million) opting out. Also, Al Jefferson, Bogdanovic and Collison each have partially-guaranteed deals for 2018-19; Lance Stephenson has a team option. The Pacers have valuable contract flexibility as the work through a rebuild in the post-George era.

— Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

Nothing stands out. The team was top-ten defensively last year, but not only did they lose an elite perimeter defender in Paul George, they also added two brutal defensive players in Domantas Sabonis and Darren Collison. Turner anchoring the defense will help, but chances are pretty good that this team will be in the middle of the road pretty much across the board this year. They are relatively young and athletic, which is a good thing, but statistically it’s hard to envision them overachieving.

— Joel Brigham

WEAKNESSES

Scoring is going to be the biggest problem this season. The Pacers were smack-dab in the middle of the league last season in terms of points scored per game, but that’s likely to take a hit with so many of the team’s top scorers gone in favor of lesser-scoring counterparts. It’s asking a lot for the offense to improve with worse offensive player, which places them squarely in the bottom half of the league in terms of scoring. Unless the defense is great, Indiana is going to get outscored a lot this season.

— Joel Brigham

THE BURNING QUESTION

What does life after Paul George look like, exactly?

From an aesthetic standpoint, we know it looks really, really different, thanks in large part to Nike’s radical redesign of the uniform sets. On the court, though, it’s hard to know how well (or perhaps how poorly) the team pops back up after the Paul George fiasco this summer. We expect a huge jump from Myles Turner, but we don’t yet know if he’s capable of shouldering a franchise. We expect Oladipo to make a leap, too, and if both players can do it, the playoffs are more than just a pipe dream for Indiana. If the Pacers underperform, though, they’ll wish they had gotten some draft picks in that George trade.

— Joel Brigham

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NBA Daily: Quincy Pondexter Has Grown With New Orleans

Quincy Pondexter did two stints with New Orleans four years apart, both of which changed his life forever.

Joel Brigham

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By the time the New Orleans Hornets traded for the draft rights to Quincy Pondexter in the summer of 2010, the city was just starting to see some real progress in the reconstruction efforts that followed the half decade after Hurricane Katrina.

In February of that year, the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl, a victory that the city badly needed, and Pondexter found himself dropped into the sports culture of the league’s most unique city.

Now with the Chicago Bulls, Pondexter would only play in New Orleans for his rookie year before getting dealt to Memphis and signing a multi-year extension, but in late 2014 he was traded back to New Orleans, who had rechristened themselves the Pelicans by that point. He couldn’t believe how much had changed in just four short years.

“You stopped seeing the spray paint on the houses, and the prices start going up on real estate. It was definitely a lot different coming back,” Pondexter told Basketball Insiders. “I remember I had a house there, when I first got there as a rookie, and it was very, very cheap. But when I came back, I had a place probably twice as small for almost double the price. The city had just grown and developed a lot more, especially the downtown areas where you could start seeing buildings being built. You’d start to see the city come back to form, come back to life, and I really, really got to enjoy it my second time.”

That sort of progress was slow to come by 2010, however. Despite five years having passed since the initial devastation of Katrina, New Orleans was finding slow progress toward physical and emotional healing. The team had just moved back to the city full-time a couple of seasons prior after having played a good number of games in Oklahoma City during Louisiana’s recovery, but Pondexter remembers the Hornets giving the people of the city something to root for, too.

“The Saints, when you win a championship, when you’ve been there for years, of course you’re going to be the favorite, but, when the Hornets were part of that, too,” he said. “When you win games, and I had the chance to go to the playoffs with two different stints with them, I think it’s embracing how much the city comes together once you make an achievement like that, and whether you’re at the grocery store, gas station, whatever, people are always going to talk to you about the game of basketball. They don’t talk to you like a fan in New Orleans; they talk to you like a family member. It was really cool to be in a city like that.”

He also admitted that it was exciting to play even a small role in helping New Orleans continue to heal.

“It was a unique experience because the city was rebuilding, and being able to be a part of helping put it back together, it was really special,” he said. “We had an unbelievable star in Chris Paul, and you just don’t realize how much people lean on sports to get through tough times. We bridged that gap, and it was a real unique community to help refurbish the city of New Orleans.”

Coming back four years later, Pondexter had grown up a lot, and while a lot of his next few years with the Pelicans would be plagued by a torrent of medical problems ranging from knee issues to a staph infection, he did get to spend a lot more time in the city after having been there for only a year as a rookie in 2010-2011. That’s when he really fell in love with New Orleans.

“The culture, the melting pot culture, the rich history, it’s so much different from anywhere else in the country,” he said. “I grew up in Fresno, California, went to school at the University of Washington, and New Orleans is just something unique, and I could always say I learned so much from a city like that, about our country, about life, about so many things. About music, about food, about everything in that city, you just really learn so much. It’s a city where you get to put your hair down, and just enjoy being alive.”

Time passes quickly in any NBA career, but playing two times for one team several years apart can’t help but give a person some perspective, which is what it has done for Quincy Pondexter.

“You grow up, you learn the game of basketball, you learn a lot about yourself, and you see what you want in life more,” he said. “I think that was a really big pivotal moment in my life, one I’ll never ever forget.”

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The NBA’s Teams Should Fear How Good Spurs Will Be When Kawhi Leonard Returns

Even without Kawhi, the Spurs have been dominant. Imagine how good they’ll be when he returns.

Moke Hamilton

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Even a blind man couldn’t help but to see the irony.

On Friday night, the young-legged Boston Celtics were done in by an Argentinean geezer.

Manu Ginobili sunk the Celts in the closest thing to a early-season “must see” game as there is, connecting on a three-pointer that gave the Spurs a 105-102 lead with five seconds remaining in the game.

For the Spurs, in the grand scheme of things, the win itself doesn’t mean much, but it sure has to make you wonder how much better the team will be once Kawhi Leonard returns from injury this week.

Despite not having him since Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals last May, the Spurs have begun the season by going 19-8. That Gregg Popovich’s team enters play on December 10 as the third-ranked team in the Western Conference isn’t much of a surprise. That they’ve done it without their top gun in Leonard, though, is.

“Whoever is not there, is not there,” Popovich said before the Spurs took on the Celtics on Friday night.

“We don’t worry about him [Leonard] or think about it too much. We’ve got to take care of as much as the business as we can, just like Boston is doing,” he said.

So, of course, the Spurs went out and did exactly that.

What makes the team truly scary is their thriving without arguably the top two-way player in the game.

Aside from being a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Leonard was named to the All-NBA First Team in 2016 and 2017. He’s raised his scoring average in each of his first six seasons, including a 25.5 point per game average over the course of last season.

Leonard also finished second in MVP voting to Stephen Curry in 2016 and third last year to Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

Despite his quiet nature, Leonard has become a transcendent superstar. Even without him, the Spurs enter play on December 10 with one of the league’s top defenses. They rank second in the NBA in points allowed (97.6) and third in points allowed per 100 possessions (103.5). The metrics aren’t nearly as good on the offensive side of the ball, but Leonard will help there—tremendously, at that.

With Popovich running the show, the possibilities are endless. His ability to connect with players of different personalities in unmatched. He’s humble enough to second-guess himself and take criticism from those around him, but enough of a taskmaster to extract the full potential from every talent that he gets his hands on.

Of the other top teams in the league—the Celtics, Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors—precisely none of them would be capable of winning two-thirds of their games without their top gun, much less without two of the team’s most important rotation players. Tony Parker, mind you, has played in just six of the Spurs’ first 27 games. The aforementioned Ginobili has missed five games, as well.

On Friday night, when Irving got off a clean look that would have answered Ginobili’s three and sent the game to overtime, everyone in the arena held their breath. When it rimmed out, the Celtics’ four-game win streak ended, and the team tasted defeat for just the third time in their past 25 games. It was the first time they’d lost to the Western Conference opponent all season, and it wasn’t for a lack of competition, mind you.

The Celtics had previously beaten the Spurs in Boston on October 30, won at the Thunder on November 3 and topped the defending champion Warriors on November 16.

So yes, they’re real—even without Leonard.

After the Celtics topped the Warriors in Boston, Stephen Curry made one of his more arrogant remarks, commenting that he was looking forward to experiencing the weather in Boston in June.

Word of advice to Curry: be more concerned with the spring in San Antonio.

Sure, it may have only been a partial game, but the Spurs badly outplayed the Warriors with Leonard in the lineup for the 24 minutes he played in Game 1 of last season’s Western Conference Finals. At the point where Leonard was forced to exit, the Spurs had built a 23-point lead on the Warriors. Obviously, this became a footnote since the Dubs erased the deficit and won the next three games in the series, but that short-lived dominance of the Warriors is something that the Spurs can hang their hat on, and it’s something that the rest of the NBA’s viewing public needs to be reminded of, even as the Rockets have surprisingly risen to the top of the Western Conference.

Make no mistake, James Harden, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, in some order, are the league’s Most Valuable Players to this point. But the MVP Award is a regular season one—Leonard, Popovich and the Spurs are more concerned with being the last men standing come June.

“[W]hen he gets there, he gets there,” Popovich said of Leonard and his impending return to the lineup.

“In the meantime, a lot of the guys are getting time,” he said.

“We’re playing a lot of different people, a lot of different combinations. Some nights it doesn’t work out really well. Other nights, it looks really good. But I think down the stretch it will help us.”

* * * * * *

When LaMarcus Aldridge walked into Popovich’s office before the season began, neither of the two probably knew what to expect. It was a poorly kept secret that Aldridge had grown somewhat unhappy with his role in San Antonio, and when a superstar-caliber player is unhappy, it’s difficult for itself to not manifest itself in his performance.

It was well-known that the Spurs had considered trading Aldridge over the summer—as the league saw an unprecedented amount of movement among the game’s elite class of players, as any front office would do, the Spurs looked for opportunities to keep up.

So when Aldridge and Popovich met behind closed doors, it came as a bit of a surprise that Aldridge emerged reinvigorated and the franchise decided to double down on their bet that the forward could be a part of their championship puzzle. When it was announced that the duo had agreed on a three-year, $72 million extension for Aldridge, many thought the move to be foolish on the part of the Spurs.

As usual, though, they are the ones laughing now.

Through 27 games without Leonard, the Spurs have gotten 22.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game from the star forward. As Aldridge has come to resemble the player he was on the Portland Trail Blazers, it’s because he and Popovich figured out how he can excel playing for the coach, while Popovich has altered his team’s offensive attack to allow Aldridge more elbow and low-post scoring opportunities.

If you know anything about Popovich, the way he’s traditionally coached his teams has been less about one individual player and more about incorporating the skills and talents of his rotation pieces. Part of what has enabled that to work has been his teaching that no one player is bigger than the team. So when Leonard returns from injury, rest assured that the Spurs won’t simply go back to being the team they were before he went down. Believe it or not, while Leonard will be entrusted with being the team’s primary ball handler and play maker, it’s going to be incumbent on him to figure out how to fit back into the team that the Spurs have become since he last took the floor with them.

That’s what makes them a dangerous, dangerous team.

* * * * * *

Entering play on December 10, most NBA teams have played about 25 games. We finally have sample sizes big enough to make determinations about what we’ve seen—both in terms of individual players and teams.

And we know, for sure, that even without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs are capable of being the third best team in the Western Conference and the fifth-best team in the NBA.

Now, sit back and think about that, and then imagine just how good they’ll be when he returns to the lineup.

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Josh Jackson Isn’t Surprised By The NBA’s Learning Curve

While most rookies are taken back by the NBA’s game speed, Josh Jackson saw it coming.

Dennis Chambers

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In a league that is usually full of surprises, Josh Jackson hasn’t seen anything he didn’t expect so far in the NBA.

The fourth overall pick in last June’s draft, considered one of the centerpieces in the Phoenix Suns’ rebuild, Jackson has been ready for the twists and turns thrown his way during the first month and change of his rookie season.

Most rookies and first-year players harp on how the speed of the game is so drastically different in the Association. Especially for prospects that spend just a year in the college ranks, adjusting to playing at a faster pace against grown men presents a bit of a learning curve.

For Jackson though, that hasn’t been the case at all.

“It’s been going pretty good,” Jackson told Basketball Insiders about his rookie season. “Nothing that I didn’t expect. The game is actually a lot slower than I thought it would be coming in from college. You can really tell it’s a thinking game, just read and react. The smarter players are the best players. You just gotta think the game a little bit more.”

Coming out of the University of Kansas, Jackson was considered one of the top prospects in his class. As a Jayhawk, he showed a deft ability to find his way to the basket and possessed physical traits that projected he could be a solid defensive wing at the next level.

Despite being ready for the next level, Jackson hasn’t been perfect on the court. Few rookies ever are. In the small forward’s defense, the Suns’ struggles as a team certainly don’t help his case any either.

Through his first 27 games though, Jackson has registered 32 steals, and has been responsible for guarding a multitude of the league’s best players. In the ever-evolving NBA, defensive matchups are rarely just “small forward on small forward” — sometimes it’s much more complex than that.

In his early goings, Jackson’s been put in that position more than few times. Again, no surprise to him, though.

“When we played the Clippers I had to guard Blake Griffin,” Jackson said. “It was pretty tough. He’s real strong. He’s really improving on his game from this year to last year, I think. It just shows that guys are always in the gym and always working hard, trying to get better.

“I saw it coming,” Jackson said about his assignment. “The game’s definitely changing. Guys like myself are starting to starting to play the four. The NBA is starting to lean towards small-ball. I already knew coming in I was gonna have to guard a bunch of different positions.”

From guarding Griffin, a 6-foot-10 power forward, to guarding the likes of John Wall, a 6-foot-5 speedy point guard, to Ben Simmons, who is a 6-foot-10 weird mix of the two players just mentioned, Jackson’s done it all.

Coupled with the struggles of his team, and the rookie bumps that Jackson’s taken, his team’s record and statistics may not directly represent the defensive versatility and potential Jackon has displayed in the early part of this season. To him, it doesn’t matter how good the individual can be on that end of the court.

“Defense is always a team effort,” Jackson said. “You can have the best defender in the world on the worst defensive team, and you know, they wouldn’t be a good defensive team. Just trying to keep that energy up, just trying to be that guy who’s pressuring the ball, running off of steals. Stuff like that.”

With his defensive potential serving as a hallmark reason Jackson was drafted so high, his offensive game can be given somewhat of a buffer period to be developed. Having no trouble getting to the rim in college, Jackson did struggle, however, when it came to shooting jump shots. A particular hitch in his shooting motion handicapped Jackson from showing true signs of growth while at Kansas.

After a slight retooling of his mechanics, Jackson’s form is looking a lot smoother than it did just a year ago, even if the results haven’t translated just yet. Jackson is posting a true shooting percentage of 45.1 and is below 30 percent from beyond the arc. With tweaked form, at this point, it’s about getting reps for Jackson.

“I don’t really focus on it that much, I just go and shoot,” Jackson said. “It’s all about repetition and muscle memory. So, more shots, the better you’ll be at shooting.”

Being a Kansas product, Jackson joins a big fraternity of Jayhawks in the NBA, some of whom are star-level talents. While he was in Philadelphia on Monday night for the Suns’ matchup with the Sixers, Jackson got a chance to catch up with an old friend, Joel Embiid.

Embiid and Jackson are good friends, and spent time working out while Jackson was still in college. Known for his Twitter fingers and sharp tongue, Embiid has taken a different role with Jackson as the 20-year-old wing player takes on his rookie season.

“Not that big of a trash-talker to me, more of a teacher I think,” Jackson said of his relationship with Embiid. “He’s been a great guy. Just trying to tell me what to look out for in the league, struggles that he had in his rookie season, just trying to keep my head, and knowing that I need to get better.”

Along with Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and other past Kansas players have reached out to Jackson since he was drafted and offered their advice and support. The NBA season is a long road, and bumpy one at times for a rookie, no matter how gifted they are.

The word of advice from Kansas players to Jackson is mostly to just keep his head up no matter what, and focus on being a better player every day.

So far in his rookie season, Jackson is off to a good start in that regard.

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