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Prospect Previews: Should the Hornets draft Justin Jackson?

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In our first prospect preview of the year, we take a look at North Carolina’s Justin Jackson. Should the Hornets look to take him in this year’s draft?

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Gonzaga vs North Carolina Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to our first edition of Prospect Previews this year, where At The Hive takes a hard look at potential draft picks the Charlotte Hornets might want.

First up, we’re taking a look at North Carolina’s Justin Jackson.

The Hornets are perennially linked to players from Carolina’s schools, regardless of talent level or fit. It’s true that they’ve selected Tar Heels and Blue Devils in the past — often to pander to more casual fans (I’m looking at you, Tyler Hansbrough) — but by and large the Hornets have elected to take the player they feel best fits what they’re trying to do the last few years.

With that out of the way, Jackson is an intriguing prospect. At 6’8” with a 6’11” wingspan, he possesses the size and length the Hornets have been looking for in a tweener. Big wings are often pushed to become undersized forwards these days, and Jackson’s intangibles offer the Hornets a unique opportunity to craft him into whatever they want.

He’s a bit reminiscent of a young Marvin Williams, honestly.

Jackson shot better than 36.8 percent from behind the arc in his final season at North Carolina and showed off a much-improved, well-rounded offensive game that now includes effective dribble-drives, floaters, and a handful of pet moves inside the arc. There’s no question the kid can score — he averaged 18.4 points per game last season — and there’s no doubt the Hornets could use some scoring. On paper, it looks like a great match.

But back to Marvin for a second. Jackson shares an agent with Marv, too. Remember, Williams’ positive relationship with the Hornets saw him re-sign with the team for less than he’d have received on the open market. Needless to say, Jackson’s agent has a close relationship with the Hornets and that could come into play on draft night, or at least during workouts.

But he offers what the Hornets need. He’s a big wing, shoots well from behind the arc, can create his own shot in a pinch, moves extremely well without the ball and has fantastic vision.

Basically, if you were to take the things you like about Marco Belinelli and Jeremy Lamb and add a few inches, you could very well end up with Justin Jackson. Granted, there’s an expectation of development there, but that’s more or less what he could become given the time and coaching.

But it’s not all gravy. Jackson’s frame is average at best, limiting the amount of strength he can add and thus limiting his defensive potential and ability to dominate around the rim. It’s that lack of strength that forced him to add an (elite) floater to his game.

If he can figure out how to use his frame to slip past screens instead of getting caught on them, however, he could work out well defensively. Unfortunately he’s already 22 years old, so it’s not clear how close he is to his ceiling. He has roughly five years to figure things out before hitting his prime.

Luckily, the Hornets still have the luxury of waiting for young players to develop. There are an assortment of veterans on the roster but the core of the team — Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, and Frank Kaminsky — are all quite young. And in a way, the fact that Jackson’s an older prospect would work in their favor here.

It’s unclear if Jackson’ll be around when the Hornets are on the clock. DraftExpress currently has him projected to go to the Chicago Bulls at 16, but a week earlier he was around the 10th spot. The Hornets pick 11th.

There are plenty of options to choose from and a lot of what happens will depend on other teams and players, but Justin Jackson appears to fit perfectly with what the Hornets want to do. He’s a Christian kid with Carolina ties, has a promising offensive game, and is young enough that he can be molded into more of a tweener.

We’ll see what happens come draft night.