MIAMI — Justin Jackson knows what he has to work on as he makes the transition to the NBA.
“I think the one thing I’m trying to focus on is getting stronger,” Jackson said last week at the NBA draft combine. “As a grown man, I’ve got to be able to take that and still continue to play. That’s what I’m focusing on.”
The 22-year-old small forward measured in at 6-foot-8 and 201 pounds at the combine. After averaging 18.3 points and 4.7 rebounds to earn the ACC Player of the Year award and lead North Carolina to a national title last season as a junior, Jackson knows the biggest concern surrounding his game is his lanky frame.
“Getting stronger is an everyday battle for me,” he said. “Every single day I try to get better at that.”
But the Heat could look past this issue, as Jackson is projected to be drafted in Miami’s range around the 14th overall pick in most mock drafts. In the latest DraftExpress mock draft, it has the Heat selecting Jackson at No. 14.
If the jump Jackson made over the past year is any indication, he will find a way to fix his weight issue.
Jackson participated in the 2016 NBA combine, but he decided to withdraw from last year’s draft and return to North Carolina for his junior season after receiving consistent feedback about the need to improve his outside shooting and his rail-thin frame.
Jackson took that feedback and used it to improve his draft stock. After making just 29.2 percent of his 3-point shots as a sophomore, he returned to North Carolina to make 37 percent of his shots from long range as a junior.
“I think it was real important,” Jackson said of his improved 3-point shooting. “That’s the feedback I got last year. You have to shoot the ball more consistently to be able to play at this level. I took that extremely serious.”
And even though Jackson still needs to bulk up, he also added eight pounds from the 2016 combine to the 2017 combine. A thicker frame should allow him to play both the small forward and power forward positions in the NBA.
Jackson’s ability to take feedback and use it to grow his game will only help him during the draft evaluation process.
“I’m all in,” Jackson said. “There’s no going back. It’s a different mindset. I think I’ve matured a little bit in the past year, mentally and physically. I’m really looking forward to taking the next step.”