We last took a look at Stefon Jackson before the season started and now down to perhaps his final week of collegiate basketball (barring a run through the C-USA tournament) there is no better time to examine the conferences all time leading scorer.
Once again the senior finds his name amongst the nations scoring leaders at nearly 24 points per game, but his shooting numbers have taken a very alarming dip. Jacksons primary offensive weapon is still his tremendous quickness which he uses to slice up defenses at every opportunity. His handles have continued to improve and he has reached a point where he is almost equally adept at going to either his right or left when attacking the basket.
Jacksons mid-range game has always been one of the more intriguing facets of his offensive repertoire. His first step is so quick with the basketball that he regularly has his defenders back pedaling when he pulls up for a shot. Even when he is faced with pesky defenders who can stick with him, the two-guards release is fast enough that he needs almost no space to get his shot off cleanly. This season two things about Jacksons mid-range game have become apparent though. First, his release while quick and smooth, isnt always consistent. He has shown a tendency, when facing defensive pressure, to short arm his shots; not completely following through. Jackson has also at times shown poor shot selection, attempting tough fall away jumpers with defenders right on him, rather than dishing to a teammate or looking for a better option.
The rest of the time, Jackson is almost always putting the ball on the deck and attacking the rim; he isnt much of a catch and shoot player at this point. He is a tough assignment for any college defender given his quickness, ball handling prowess and ability to improvise; it isnt unusual to see him dribble through three or four defenders on his way to the basket. Jackson has added a soft floater in the lane which is able to execute in traffic or against taller players, as he showed several times in a recent 24-point performance against Memphis. He is at his most efficient when he gets into the lane because of his excellent body control and soft touch. Jackson still gets into trouble inside though due to his average combination of strength and leaping abilitywhich could severely hamper him from translating his slashing ability over to the NBA level. As is the case with his mid-range game, the senior has to take a great number of off balance, contested shots in the paint, since he isnt able to elevate with many big men. He only converts on 44% of his shots from inside the arc, which is pretty poor any way you slice it, particularly considering the level of competition he plays at.
While Jackson has never been a proficient perimeter shooter, his numbers have dipped to a career low this season. Jackson shoots the ball with an awkward, ugly hitch, releasing the ball on the way up, and seeing terrible results in turn. He almost doesnt have to be guarded in catch and shoot situations, but his unorthodox shooting mechanics strangely translate into being very effective pulling up off the dribble from mid-range. In order to make it at the next level Jackson will almost assuredly have to become at least respectable from beyond the arc, at least when given open opportunities. What has improved a great deal (something we mentioned in his preseason report that would be a big plus) is his free throw shooting. Jackson continues to get to the line at a ridiculous rate and ranks second in our database at 11.4 attempts per 40 minutes. His free throw shooting numbers have increased by nearly 12 percent, a factor that has helped a great deal with his scoring numbers, in spite of a huge drop in efficiency.
The transition game has continued to be a comfortable place for Jackson. He has great open floor speed and much like in the half court set, he is more than capable of dribbling through an entire defense on his way to the basket. He shows great ability to change direction on a dime, although sometimes he tries to get a little too fancy and this gets him into trouble. Still, Jackson doesnt turn the ball over nearly as much as you would expect considering his style of play and the huge offensive load hes forced to shoulderhe only coughs the ball up on 11% of his possessions, which is a sparkling rate.
Defensively, Jackson is a tough-nosed kid who doesnt defend like a typical 24-point per game scorer. He has the lateral quickness and length to be a pesky defender, and brings a very intense mentality to this end of the floorwhich certainly serves him well. He would certainly benefit from getting stronger in his upper body as bigger guards (James Harden in November) have been able to bully him around for easier looks at the basket. Jackson continues to be fearless in his play though, fighting much bigger players inside for more than five rebounds per game.
We see a player or two like Jackson almost every year; a mid-major scoring machine whose game and physical abilities seemingly dont translate very well over to the NBA. The senior has no problem creating his shot, has an excellent mid-range game and shows all kinds of ability with his dribble drive game, but its questionable whether his scoring ability will translate. Jackson will need to improve his perimeter shooting, as well as his shot selection, as he isnt going to be going to the free throw line at the same rate he does at UTEP. His advanced age for his class (24) will always be a question mark with him, but his scoring prowess and hustle at both ends of the floor are major pluses. With likely only the C-USA tournament remaining for him to showcase his stuff at the college level, it will be a big week for Jackson.