The Prospect Overview: GG's Big Adventure
GG Jackson reclassified and went to South Carolina early. At 17, he's going to be faced with bigger and better competition than ever. Is he ready? Plus: The Expanding Big Board and Quick Hits!
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Feature: GG’s Big Adventure
The 6’10” GG Jackson was labeled as one of the top prospects of the 2023 high school class. Initially, he committed to North Carolina, a blueblood powerhouse in college hoops. Eventually, he would de-commit and reopen his recruitment. Nine days later, Jackson shocked the world. He announced his commitment to South Carolina. Though South Carolina made the Final Four in 2017, they don’t have the same historical gravitas as UNC, having only made the NCAA tournament twice since the turn of the century.
Jackson would be joining a program led by Lamont Paris, a rising star in the coaching ranks. Paris had a slow grind up the coaching ranks, working as an assistant at DePauw, Indiana University of Pennsylvania (wrap your head around that name!), Akron, and finally, Wisconsin. His name started to emerge as he helped aid Wisconsin in an NCAA Championship game. Then, he was off to Chattanooga. In his first year, his squad went 10-23. By his final season, they were 27-8 and took a good Illinois team to the last second of an NCAA tournament game. After that, South Carolina came calling.
Not only would Jackson be joining Lamont Paris at South Carolina, but he would be reclassifying by joining them in 2022, a year earlier than projected.
It’s a scary situation, for sure. With reclassification, there are no right or wrong answers, only a giant vat of unknown possibilities. Last year, there were two big-name prospects who reclassified with drastically different fates. Both Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates opted to enroll in Memphis early. For the 6’10” Duren, it proved to be a great decision. He got the experience of facing higher-level competition earlier in his career. Physically, he was ready for it. Never was he out-matched or overpowered. His team’s shaky guard play made life difficult at times, but he still looked the part. Duren was mobile, he could finish, he started to flash mid-range scoring and passing, and he wasn’t in over his head defensively. For Emoni Bates, the experience couldn’t have been more different. His frame wasn’t as ready for the bigger bodies of college basketball, and physicality gave him headaches. His poor command of the ball caused him to turn the ball over at an alarming rate. The speed of the game was daunting, causing him to shoot inefficiently and get lost on the defensive end.
While Jalen Duren heard his name called in the lottery on draft night, Emoni Bates was forced to return to school based on not making the age cutoff for NBA eligibility. Even if he had been eligible, though, NBA teams weren’t clamoring for him. Heck, even college teams weren’t clamoring for him. After his rough start at Memphis, Bates entered the transfer portal. Rumors swirled. Would he head back to Michigan State, where he had originally committed years ago? What about Michigan, where he could sit under Juwan Howard’s learning tree and soak up the expertise of a long-time NBA veteran? Would a school like Louisville, in search of a new identity under Kenny Payne, try to make a run at him? None of that happened. High major programs passed on him, likely due to the concerns of a circus around him off the court. Emoni Bates had to settle for a lowly Eastern Michigan program that went 10-21 in the MAC last season. Even still, Bates exploded in his season debut against Michigan, raising questions about if his trial by fire ended up reigniting a flame inside of him.
This week, GG Jackson dove into the vat of unknown possibilities. Here’s what I’ve seen so far.
Through two games, GG Jackson has posted shooting splits of 39.3/60.0/62.5 and scored 15 PPG. While he hasn’t been the most efficient overall, for a 17-year-old, he’s still been rather impressive, with tantalizing flashes. Jackson’s three-point shot was a bit of a question mark, as in his high school film, he often operated more in the mid-range, particularly around the elbows. This was concerning from a roster construction standpoint, as 6’11” big man Josh Gray operates entirely around the basket, and graduate transfer Hayden Brown loves to operate from the same spots as Jackson. Thankfully, Jackson has alleviated those worries by being a willing shooter from beyond the arc. He’s ready to catch and shoot, and he’s not drifting into spots that infringe upon his teammates.
When he gets downhill, Jackson is strong for his age, with a bit of wiggle to him. He’s able to shift around help defenders, and contort his body at the cup to give himself a clean angle at the basket. Where he can be frustrating is that he has a bad habit of settling for tough jumpers too often. Though he’s capable of hitting them, he’s not a consistent shooter on tough, long twos off the dribble. When a player is tasked with being a top offensive option, there are going to be times when they’re forced to take shots that aren’t ideal. Still, I’d prefer if Jackson cleaned up his shot diet, particularly when there is time left on the clock. I’d like to see more willingness to pound smaller defenders inside and use his quickness more when he has an advantage in the department against a slower big man. There are times when he’ll take a jumper instead of forcing rotations by attacking the rim. Jackson can become premeditated at times, locking himself into a mindset of, “I’m going to do this move and then shoot,” and then still taking the shot when it isn’t there. Experience should breed more patience and poise into him, so this will be interesting to monitor as the year progresses.
Averaging nine rebounds per game through two contests (with eight against high-level opposition in Clemson), Jackson’s already found a way to make an impact on the glass. Dovetailing with his scoring profile, I have to touch on Jackson’s work on the offensive glass. He is quick off the floor with a springy second jump. This allows him to score off putbacks on misses by his teammates, but also his own. Defenders can’t casually wait for the ball to fall in their hands— they need to make sure they have a body on Jackson. Otherwise, he’ll fly in to generate an extra possession—and usually an immediate two points. On the defensive side of the ball, Jackson takes his responsibilities as a rebounder seriously. He’s engaged and soars for the ball, willing to fight off anyone else who tries to interfere with him.
Tying back to Jackson’s rebounding, where he impressed me the most as a passer was with his quick outlets. He does a solid job of mapping the floor in his head, and he knows where his guards are after he grabs the ball. This is critical, as Jackson’s end-to-end speed should allow him to rim-run in transition or act as a screener in early offensive sets at the next level. When the shot clock gets shorter at the next level, every second counts, and being able to set up his team’s possession as early as possible is an overlooked benefit.
Jackson isn’t a full-on playmaker or anything of that sort at this stage. As previously noted, he falls victim to tunnel vision at times. Throughout the season, I would like to see him get quicker at recognizing help defenders and double teams so he can set up his teammates more easily when he gets swarmed. Still, the flashes are there, and that’s ultimately what it’s all about with a player his age. He made some sharp skip passes to the open man on the perimeter and is capable of making decisions quickly.
This is my biggest area of concern as it pertains to Jackson remaining productive over the course of this season. Jackson is still settling into this level of opposition and can bite off more than he can chew. His game is predicated on facing up, and to reach his optimum outcome, he needs to be functional off the dribble. As a taller player, his handle will naturally be a little bit higher. He’ll need to get lower to the ground with his dribble to better protect the ball as he drives. Jackson also can find himself with his head down, like in the clip above. As a result, he’s unprepared for pesky hands looking to poke the ball loose. There were also a few times in the South Carolina State game where he picked up his dribble for no reason without a plan, allowing his man to cover him tight while his teammates scrambled to get open. While his command over the ball will need to progress, I was ultimately pleased with Jackson’s footwork. He’ll need to add some counters to his bag, but he has a few go-to moves to generate space, and he looks fluid stepping backward and side-to-side. I’m confident that in time, he can parlay this in ways to attack going downhill when he gets his defenders off-balance.
GG Jackson has already shown that he can make plays on the defensive side of the ball. His anticipation is spot-on. He’s ready to intercept poor passes, he gets off the floor quickly for blocks, and he tracks the ball well. While his length and fleet feet give attackers headaches, his fast hands make things even more troublesome. When ball-handlers find themselves walled off, he’s ready to swipe the rock, but he’s able to do that same thing in recovery situations, too. Jackson can stay with quicker guards, and even if they beat him, he’s never truly out of the play due to his effort and multitude of physical tools. Off-ball, he’s tailor-made for the NBA floor. He’s fast, taking big, long strides to cover ground in space. If he needs to rotate or scramble in short order, he can do it without getting wobbly.
Jackson looked comfortable in settings where smaller players tried to make him dance. His balance is tremendous, and he doesn’t get too carried away in any sense. Jackson isn’t going to get burned because he hunts a steal, and he’s not going to give too much breathing room because he’s afraid of getting cooked. He’s sure of himself and his mobility. Smaller players have a hard time creating space against him, and driving past him is a daunting task.
Jackson showed solid instincts defending around the rim. His discipline is what I found to be most impressive. So often, when I’m evaluating young big men, they’re entirely overeager to rack up blocks. They’ll lunge out of position or commit unnecessary fouls trying to add to the stat sheet or make an exciting play. While Jackson hasn’t been a monstrous shot-blocking presence thus far, he doesn’t play himself out of position looking to make an impressive play. He can get into position and stay vertical, forcing a difficult look. Blocks are great, but so is getting into the right spot on the floor and remaining poised. Per InStat’s data, he’s held opponents to 4-10 shooting at the rim thus far.
There are still some classic “young big mistakes” that you can find in the film. On the play above, Clemson set dual screens on a handoff, with PJ Hall diving to the rim while Tyson Hunter stayed spotted up on the perimeter. It’s a simple action for the offense but one that requires communication and understanding for the defense. Jackson started the motion covering Hunter. When teammate Hayden Brown hedged onto the ball handler off the second screen, PJ Hall became Jackson’s responsibility. While teammate Meechie Johnson recovered back to Hunter, Jackson was stuck watching the ball. PJ Hall snuck behind Jackson and caught the ball in the restricted area for an easy dunk.
While that play was frustrating, Jackson was an effective defender for the most part. That was the only glaring example I came across of him misunderstanding his assignment. He was visibly talking on defense, and he wasn’t falling asleep off the ball. Big men are tasked with a lot of responsibility on the defensive end, and Jackson looks like he’ll do everything he can to fulfill his duties. He’s still a bit raw and obviously inexperienced, but he’s far from in over his head.
In the classic 1985 film Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, the main character, Pee-wee Herman, was an easy target. Now, some of you may be griping with me calling that movie a “classic film,” but hear me out— you’re wrong. Throughout the film, Pee-wee falls victim to numerous traps. His bike gets stolen while he’s at the mall, and the perpetrator is obviously his nemesis, Francis. Despite this, Pee-wee takes Francis at his word when Francis tells him he wasn’t the one who stole his bike. A psychic dubiously tells him that his bike is in the basement of The Alamo, but when Pee-wee arrives, he’s told The Alamo doesn’t even have a basement. He accidentally knocked over a bunch of motorcycles belonging to a biker game, enraging them before managing to calm them down with a lovely rendition of “Tequila” by The Champs. While Pee-wee triumphs in the end and gets his bike back, his journey was bumpier than it needed to be. His path was winding because he was easy to pick on, gullible, and foolish.
GG Jackson’s big adventure is off to a much smoother start. The fact that teams haven’t found an easy way to exploit him is already a win. At 17 years old, I don’t expect Jackson to have a flawless season. He should be in high school! The fact that he is not only holding his own but demonstrating flashes of exciting NBA-level skills is beyond impressive. Jackson’s scoring acumen, presence on the glass, and defensive engagement at 6’10” should have front offices foaming at the mouth. Bigger players have become increasingly skilled, and Jackson fits that modern mold.
There are many tests ahead of Jackson, including a daunting SEC schedule where he’ll be matched up against players like Jacob Toppin, who has similar physical tools but a gigantic experience edge. Still, his demeanor has me optimistic. Jackson didn’t play like the highest-rated recruit in the country who was merely waiting for his connecting flight to the NBA. Instead, his motor ran high, he engaged with his teammates, and he showcased a contagious energy throughout both games.
At times, he’s going to struggle, but I have no doubt that he’s come prepared for the challenges ahead of him. If Jackson can learn along the way—clean up his shot diet, tighten his handle, find the open man more consistently, and stay sharp defensively—then there is a clear path to being a Top 10 pick come June. Players his age with his scoring profile, athleticism, and intensity are rare commodities. GG Jackson will be one of the most exciting prospects to monitor throughout this season.
The Expanding Big Board
The Top Three stand pat. This week, I add the fourth player to the board.
1. Victor Wembanyama
2. Scoot Henderson
3. Amen Thompson
And the newest addition is…
4. Cam Whitmore.
In some ways, I’m torn. I wish I could see a few games of Whitmore in college before making this call. Still, I’m confident in Cam Whitmore. He’s a physical marvel at 6’7” and 232 pounds. Whitmore is strong, he’s fast, and he can fly. When his high school season ended, he cleaned up on the All-Star circuit and won the Most Outstanding Player Award at the FIBA U18 Americas Championship. In FIBA play, Whitmore was comically dominant. He also started to answer questions about his biggest area of concern, three-point shooting. Whitmore converted 45.5% of his 3.7 threes per game and looked confident taking them. As a downhill attacker, Whitmore is dangerous. He has no problem soaring through contact and putting defenders on a poster. If he gets a mismatch with a big man, he can blow past them; if he gets one with a tiny guard, he’ll pound them inside. His vision as a passer has grown over the past year, especially on the interior when he has an easy dump pass opportunity to his big man. Defensively, he can cover a multitude of positions, and critically, he should be able to cover high-end 3s and 4s at the NBA level, thanks to his power and mobility. My biggest questions are still about his outside shooting and his handle. When Whitmore is freewheeling in isolation or operating in the pick-and-roll, his handle can get a little wide. His ability to keep the ball on a string will be crucial for him to unleash his upside as a primary offensive option.
-Baylor’s Keyonte George looked good in his debut. His physicality does wonders for him as a defender and grab-and-go operator off defensive rebounds. He looked better jumping out of his slide on defense, too. I’ll be tracking his playmaking throughout the year, and while it’s tough to read too much into a game against an overmatched Mississippi Valley State squad, I like that George immediately pounced on easy reads.
-Cason Wallace’s first step looks better than I anticipated. The 6’4” Kentucky guard can use his strength to get where he wants, but doing so quickly opens up more for him as an initiator. There were a few times when he got a little lost off the ball defensively, but given how good he was on that end in high school, I see that coming around soon.
-Michigan’s Jett Howard blew the doors off my expectations. The floor on wings with size, shooting, high-level defense, a bit of playmaking juice, and great feel is high. No one flew up my board more than him during the first week of college hoops.
-Noah Clowney looked ahead of schedule. I had some interest in the 6’10” Alabama big, but I wouldn’t be stunned if he grabs real draft attention this year or next. He’s a confident shooter for his size, a mobile defender, and has good instincts out of the dunker spot. Given that he was given the starting nod in their first game, he’ll have the chance to make a significant mark next to fellow big man Charles Bediako. Clowney will need to display growth with his ball skills and decision-making to truly pop, as that’s where he may run into more trouble in conference play.
-I was thoroughly unprepared for Alex Fudge to show so much confidence and growth as a scorer. He was more of a “wait and see” prospect for me, and he still is to an extent, but the early returns are exciting. Fudge posted a 3.4 STL% and 5.5 BLK% as a freshman at LSU, but his outside shooting was shaky, and he looked uncomfortable putting the ball on the deck. If he can merely reach reliable levels as a corner three-point shooter and ballhandler when chased off the line, he could easily be a first-round pick.
-Last week’s Feature subject Jalen Wilson is doing everything I dreamed of thus far. His outside stroke is quicker and more confident, with his feet in better alignment. He also knocked down a few off-the-dribble shots in the deep mid-range, an encouraging development. Wilson has more than doubled his output of threes per 100 possessions, going from 6.0 last year to 12.8 through the first two games of this season. Even better, he’s hit six of his 13 attempts. It’s a small sample, but if he can continue to create gravity on the perimeter, it will further open up his devastating attacking game. Oh, and it will substantially help his draft stock. Almost forgot about that part.
-Trey Alexander is looking CONFIDENT from long range! The Creighton combo guard needs to do two things to really make his case for the 2023 draft: show more consistency from long range and finish at the rim better. We’ll find out more about the latter in conference play, but he’s been hoisting and hitting from distance thus far.
-Speaking of confidence, G League Ignite prospect Mojave King is playing like a completely different human being these days. There is a great assuredness and quickness to his three-point stroke, and it’s lovely to see. He’s always had the athleticism, defensive chops, and cutting instincts; he just had no way to punish teams from long range. Now it appears that he does.
-A great week for No Stone Unturned prospects! Trenton Massner of Western Illinois posted a triple-double, Drake’s Tucker DeVries beat the tar out of IUPUI, and UNC Asheville’s Drew Pember posted 40 in a double-overtime win. I can’t wait to keep an eye on those under-the-radar names.
-The week’s Mid-Major Spotlight Match-Up was Boise State vs. South Dakota State! Boise State looks to have taken a step back from last season. They are smaller, less athletic, and not gaining penetration as easily. There was more pounding it inside and less advantage creation. Tyson Degenhart was a bit exposed as a result. He’s more of an eater than a chef, and he struggled to create on an island. As I noted in our returning prospect piece this summer, I thought he was still likely a few years away, but with a chance to break out this season. It’s early, but I’d bank on the “a few years away” option at this point. There’s nothing wrong with that! Not all development is linear! That said, Degenhart’s balance defensively and lack of burst attacking a closeout tells me that there is still work to be done athletically. He’s still 6’7”, he’s still strong, and he can still shoot— all great things. But I wouldn’t feel comfortable with him on an NBA floor a year from now as of this writing. South Dakota State’s Zeke Mayo had a nice shooting game, going 3-8 from deep. The 6’3” guard didn’t fully get the reins to the offense, operating off the ball more often than on it, but he still demonstrated a few passing flashes. Given his size and scoring ability, he’ll need to show he can do more on the ball to gain serious draft consideration, but the sophomore guard is on a good path. SDST’s William Kyle III might be a fun name to monitor in the coming years. The 6’9” freshman is long and mobile with good interior touch. His awareness needs to come along, and he’ll need to develop some semblance of shooting range, but he’s interesting.
-Next week’s Mid-Major Spotlight Match-Up: Eastern Kentucky vs. UNC Asheville! Eastern Kentucky just took a powerful Western Kentucky squad to the brink. They’re a deep team that plays an exciting, aggressive, up-tempo style. My favorite player on the squad is No Stone Unturned prospect Michael Moreno. Moreno is a lethal shooter from distance, converting 40.4% of his threes over the current and past two seasons. He’s also a quick thinker who keeps the ball moving and finished the past season with both his BLK% and STL% over 2%. At 6’7”, he has pro size; he simply needs to prove he can get there athletically. They also have another intriguing wing in Devontae Blanton. At 6’6”, 215 pounds, the junior scores from the outside, sees the floor well, and has upside on the defensive end. For UNC Asheville, the star of the show is the previously mentioned No Stone Unturned big man Drew Pember. After two seasons at Tennessee, where he received limited playing time, Pember headed to Asheville. He broke out as a junior, scoring 15.7 PPG and adding 3.0 blocks per game while hitting 35.6% of his threes. While he creates gravity as a shooter, he also has a polished first step and gets to the line like crazy. He took 5.2 free throws per game last season and made 86.3% of them. The 6’10” senior is agile for his size and can hold his own when forced to guard in space. While he moves well, he does need to get stronger, as big men like Armando Bacot were able to exploit him inside. Finally, 6’5” graduate Taijon Jones can also fill it up from long range and is capable of getting hot in a hurry.