During the 2011-12 season, Syracuse basketball fans all saw Rick Jackson evolve from a steady role player to one of the Big East Conference's premier stars. On Sunday, the 6-foot-9 forward/center, who averaged 13.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game his senior season, will have a chance to improve his NBA Draft position at the New Jersey Nets Scouting Combine, which began Saturday.
Currently in NBA Mock Drafts, Jackson is a projected as either a late second-rounder or not being drafted at all. This means No. 00 wouldn't be guaranteed a contract -- which is what NBA first-rounders get. This dynamic will put a lot of pressure on Jackson to showcase something to scouts and front office personnel.
"If they handed out draft spots based on the number of double-doubles you had during the season, Rick would be a lottery pick," wrote Sean Keeley of SB Nation's Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician on Thursday.
SU fans know what Jackson, who is an excellent defender that can block shots and rebound on both ends of the court, can bring to a NBA team. From his freshmen to junior season, Jackson was just a bean-pole role-player who wasn't dropping any spectator's jaws, but was a solid contributor. During his final off-season, Jackson morphed into an impact player made of lean muscle who the Orange depended on to stay out of foul trouble (which he did very well) and play at least 35 minutes per game. That evolution not only showcased SU's head coach Jim Boeheim's ability to develop players, but also allowed Jackson to show NBA scouts that there's a lot of room for improvement. That "diamond in the rough" potential is what will separate Jackson from the second-round draftees.
The truth is, however, Jackson probably would have benefited for one more season at SU, which would have allowed him to improve his offensive game. Last season, Jackson was solid in the low post, but could do nothing from the mid-range. An additional year to develop would have allowed Jackson to evolve into a solid power forward NBA teams would consider as a first-round selection.
Despite having his amateur status clock run out, I believe Jackson will be worth somebody's draft selection come June 23. There's just too much to gain from his selection, especially if some team has the luxury of developing him.
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