Outside of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, there are a lot of other Dallas Mavericks players to be excited about this season, despite the team not having the big summer it had hoped for.
Seth Curry is back on a long-term, team-friendly deal, and he's coming off a season in Portland where he shot 45-percent from deep, ranking him third in the entire league and one spot ahead of his superstar big brother, Steph Curry. Delon Wright was also a quality consolation prize, as he's a big guard with defensive abilities on the perimeter that should pair perfectly alongside Doncic.
However, one guy who seemed to be forgotten about in all of the madness, at least early on in the offseason, is third-year forward Justin Jackson. Jackson, who was acquired in the Harrison Barnes 'salary dump' trade with the Sacramento Kings at the trade deadline last season, will be starting his first full season with the Mavs.
"I don't know why people didn't see his ability to contribute on both sides of the ball," Mavs owner Mark Cuban told DallasBasketball.com.
In 29 games played for the Mavs last season, Jackson averaged just 8.2 points and 2.3 rebounds in a little over 18 minutes per game. Those aren't eye-popping stats, but the efficiency stood out. Jackson shot 48.4 percent from the field, 37.2 percent from three, and had an impressive 56.8 effective field-goal percentage in his brief stint in head coach Rick Carlisle's system.
Here's what I wrote for DBcom back in mid-July:
When it comes to Jackson's role next season, it might be in the team's best interest if starts at the small forward position, potentially giving the Mavs a starting lineup with an average hight of around 6-9 if you pencil in Doncic and Wright as your starting backcourt.
When Jackson was a starter last season (he started 14 of his 81 games played, and 11 of those starts were with the Mavs), he saw his overall field goal percentage rise from 43-percent to nearly 50-percent and his points per game nearly doubled, going from 6.4 PPG as a bench player to 11.2 PPG as a starter. Jackson also had a plus-3.4 box plus-minus rating as a starter, meaning that he was 3.4 points better per 100 possessions than the average NBA player.
For reference, a plus-5 BPM rating would be approaching an All-NBA level, according to Basketball-Reference.com. Compare that to his BPM as a bench player, which was a negative-1.5 rating, and you can see why the Mavs might be willing to keep him in the starting lineup this coming season.However, as good as those small sample size numbers look, Jackson as a starter is definitely not set in stone yet.
"As far as starting," Cuban said, "It's going to be a heck of a competition for minutes this fall that I that think will make everyone better."
As much competition as training camp can breed, I think it's fair to say that Jackson has a leg up on the rest of this year's field. It's early, and things can definitely change with the roster between now and the start of the season, but for now, count me in on the idea of 'Dallas Mavericks starter, Justin Jackson.'
Fast forward nearly three months later, and it appears that Jackson, at least for the time being, has indeed won the Mavs starting small forward spot.
Although the 'probable starters' list on a preseason game notes sheet can change at any given time, we still thing it's a good indication of what we'll see on opening night at AAC when the Mavs take on the Washington Wizards, with the exception of Dwight Powell (strained hamstring) starting in place of Maxi Kleber, if 100-percent healthy.
"(Justin) had a great finish to (last) season and has been working super-hard this offseason," said Cuban. "We expect him to continue to improve in all facets of his game."
We'll get our first look at the 'new-and-improved' Justin Jackson in live action at 7 tonight, as the Mavs take on the Oklahoma City Thunder on ESPN to open the preseason.