Breaking Down G.G. Jackson's Passing | The Friday Screener
Context is king, especially when understanding G.G. Jackson's passing ability.
Gregory “G.G.” Jackson surprised the college basketball world when he not only reclassified to enter college a year sooner to be eligible for the 2023 NBA Draft, but also when he chose to stay home and join the South Carolina Gamecocks, instead of the predicted North Carolina Tar Heels. Jackson is a 6’9” 215-pound forward who has fascinating upside. The young forward is raw defensively but has shown encouraging flashes that should improve tremendously in time. However, the real intrigue with Jackson comes on the offensive end. His shooting and shot creation are tremendously advanced for a player his age and at his position. The big question, though, comes with his passing, and subsequently, his feel for the game.
Jackson’s passing numbers are far from ideal. In fact, they’re relatively abhorrent. Jackson is averaging just 0.6 assists per game with an assist rate of 4.6 and an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.3. On the surface, these numbers suggest that Jackson is an unwilling passer, doesn’t read the floor, and solely hunts his own shot, all of which suggest he may be nowhere close to what the hype was suggesting he was.
Analytics are a tremendous tool in evaluation, and I encourage using them. However, context is still crucial, especially when the numbers are directly tied to the actions of 17–23-year-old young men who are notoriously not the most reliable demographic of society. I can confidently say this as I once was one. So, let’s provide context to Jackson’s repugnant assist numbers.
First, Jackson turned 18 on December 17th. For most of this season, he was 17 years old and should be in high school. Not having the most polished playmaking repertoire at that age and point in development is understandable. Second, assists are a two-person stat. The funny thing about assist numbers, is that the other guy has to make the shot. So far this season, the rest of the South Carolina team is shooting just 40% from the floor and 31.9% from three. With those numbers, Jackson could be spraying the ball around like Steve Nash and still struggle to have impressive assist numbers.
Jackson is by no means a polished playmaker at this point in his career. However, he also isn’t the clueless ball hog some try to make him out to be. There is a lot of nuance, context, and variability to Jackson’s passing, and trying to frame it entirely as one thing or the other is a bad-faith argument.
Jackson’s passing can be extremely frustrating. There will be easy reads that he misses and out-of-control sequences that end up in turnovers. He’ll also follow them up with a brilliant manipulation of the defense by leveraging his scoring gravity to create for others and simple reads that should be made every time. As we break down his film, we’ll progress from through in order of difficulty.
Here, Jackson pushes in transition and makes the hit-ahead pass to his teammate sprinting down the right sideline. The defense has yet to get set, and this pass allows South Carolina a quick route to the rim. Jackson’s pass isn’t complicated, but it is the proper read in transition that sets his teammate up for an easy layup. Unfortunately, the layup is missed, and the trailing big man gets the tip in. No assist.
This time, Jackson again pushes in transition. As Jackson approaches halfcourt, he veers to his right, dragging the closest defender in that direction as well. This move creates a chasm of a passing lane for him to lead his teammate on his left to the rim. Instead, Jackson fumbles his handle and puts his head down to regain composure while veering back to his left. The opportunity to his left has been lost, but he has also dragged both of the closest defenders with him, freeing up his teammate on the right. Now, Jackson makes the proper read but isn’t on the same page as his teammate as Jackson passes to the corner, while his teammate stops above the break.
Given his rebounding and athleticism, Jackson will have plenty of transition reps in the NBA. The more he plays, the more he’ll understand the preferences of his teammates on where they want to shoot from. However, the handle in these spots needs to improve, and he must have his head up from the start to find those early hit-ahead opportunities.
Despite the variability in his passing accuracy that we just saw, Jackson has some really promising examples of being an exceptionally accurate passer. Here, Jackson does a great job of making the simple pass without hesitation in their halfcourt offense. As the ball swings to him on the wing, Jackson immediately sweeps it across his body and extends out with his right hand. This quick action changes the angle he’s passing from and allows him to avoid not only his primary defender but also the post defender. Jackson’s pass leads his teammate straight to the rim for an easy layup that fails to go in.
Jackson’s high level of skill and shot-making ability suggest that he should see plenty of on-ball reps to get buckets. Inherently, his gravity will attract multiple defenders. How he handles that pressure will determine his ultimate role in the offense. Like most things with most young men who are 17 years and 389 days old, the results have been mixed.
Here, Jackson gets unnecessarily surprised by a double team. As Jackson gets the ball on the wing, he quickly initiates a post-up against the smaller defender. As Jackson backs down, he seemingly doesn’t recognize that the defense is playing zone. His two teammates cut to the baseline, but the defender stays up top. Despite looking in that direction, Jackson doesn’t seem to see him. Instead of picking up his dribble and passing to his teammate lifting to the top of the arc for an open three, Jackson commits an avoidable turnover.
This time, Jackson again gets surprised by a double team. As he attacks, his process is sound. He gets his defender on his hip and has eyes on the baseline defender. It appears that he is prepared to make a dump-off pass to his teammate in the dunker spot. However, Jackson has blinders on as he completely misses a gamble made by the help defender that would’ve even made Howard Ratner at least think twice about it. Unfortunately, Jackson takes one extra dribble that allows the defender to take away his space and ability to make a pass to either open teammate. His panic behind the back dribble luckily gets corralled by his teammate as the shot clock runs low, but the clear scoring opportunity is missed.
Despite the struggles recognizing and handling some double teams, Jackson has still shown immense promise at leveraging his scoring gravity to create for others. Here, Jackson’s hesitation move allows him to blow past his defender and force the rotation from the help defender in the strong side corner. It should be a simple read and a pass that gets made every time a defender helps off the strong side corner. Jackson abides by the commandments of basketball and sets up the wide-open three that refuses to drop.
This time, Jackson gets the switch in the pick-and-roll and actively reads the different levels of the defense. Deciding against the risky pass to the roller, Jackson drives middle. His attack forces the help defender to retreat back to the wing, and puts his previous defender on an island since he never fully established quality position after the switch. Jackson sees that the help defender has completely lost Jackson’s teammate, so Jackson kills his dribble, waits a second, and threads a perfect bounce pass for another wishful assist.
This time, Jackson leverages his shooting ability to attack the closeout and get downhill. After effortlessly sidestepping the aggressive closeout, Jackson dances around the would-be rim protector. This move drags the defense toward the middle of the floor while freeing up Jackson’s teammate with a clear path to the rim. Jackson’s teammate hesitates before getting his shot swatted, but no worries, Jackson is there to gobble up the loose ball. Let’s try it again. Jackson takes a dribble to his left, which again drags multiple defenders with him. Instead of taking a contested shot, Jackson dishes it to his teammate who can’t convince the ball to go through the hoop.
G.G. Jackson has plenty to work on when it comes to his passing and processing of the game, but he is far from the disaster that some try to paint him out to be. Jackson is still an extremely young player who has plenty of learning to do. With more on-court reps and chemistry with his teammates, there is plenty for him to build on to become a quality passer. Expecting him to be a primary creator is a stretch, but his foundation of skill, size, and athleticism give him a pathway to developing into one of the best players in the 2023 NBA Draft.