BROOKLYN — Jaren Jackson Jr. and Marvin Bagley III are both smiling. It’s hard not to smile when you’re spending the day with a group of children that view you as superheroes. The pair, along with Shaquille O’Neal and fellow NBA Draft hopeful Mikal Bridges, surprised a group of kids from a local YMCA on Friday afternoon in Brooklyn. Deep inside the Barclays Center, the group of three future pros joined the former pro, all in their finest suits, to hang out with the young men on the Brooklyn Nets’ practice floor in an event put on by JCPenney.
It’s almost impossible to imagine a scenario where either Bagley or Jackson end up on this floor with any consistency, at least for now. Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick, of course, is in the possession of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Even if the Nets held onto it, the selection is sitting at No. 8, and by the time Adam Silver would declare that they’re on the clock, both young big men will be well into making arrangements for what they’re going to do in their new cities.
This is an unfortunate turn of events for the Nets and the 27 other teams that won’t get the chance to acquire either player, because Bagley and Jackson are part of a new breed of big men eager to take over the NBA. While it’d be premature to say the days of players in the mold of Shaq — dump it down low, they pull off a few moves, manhandle you, and dunk on your head — are gone, big men are expected to be versatile now.
Want to protect the rim? Cool, you also need to be able to hold your own while switched onto a guard. More comfortable backing opponents down and turning to a jump hook? Too bad, you have to stand in the corner on this possession, and if the ball comes out to you, feel free to let it fly.
The good news is that Bagley and Jackson are players capable of doing these things in addition to the abilities anyone at the far right end of the height bell curve needs to be able to do if they play basketball professionally. The better news, the news that will likely lead to both of them being top-five picks on Thursday night, is that they’re both cut from the cloth that makes them prototypical big men in 2018.
Take Jackson for example. The big man from Michigan State made headlines earlier in the draft cycle when he spoke about his desire to model his game after Anthony Davis. As he told Dime, Jackson admires how Davis is a top-five player who will “take over the league,” plus physically, Jackson also hit a late growth spurt, just like Davis.
But beyond the Pelicans’ superstar big man, Jackson understands there are other elements to his game that he needs to work on to thrive. He’s a willing and capable shooter; Jackson hit 39.6 percent of his 96 attempts from three during his one year in East Lansing, plus he nearly connected on 80 percent of his free throw attempts, which is usually a pretty good indication that his shooting should translate to the league.