Before NC State could even blink twice Sunday afternoon in Chapel Hill, the Wolfpack was buried under a heap of three-pointers and open layups. North Carolina blitzed its rival with a shooting performance that nearly melted all of the ice outside the Smith Center.
The Tar Heels shot 52 percent from the field, scored nearly 1.3 points per possession and had 10 different players score at least five points. At the top of the scoring column, of course, was none other than the team’s leading scorer: Justin Jackson.
North Carolina made 12 three-pointers on 27 attempts, and when it shoots that well from distance, very few teams can run with the Tar Heels. Jackson, a junior from Texas, ripped the nets all afternoon, canning six three-pointers in just 23 minutes of action.
NC State had all kinds of issues defending Jackson off of the ball. Jackson required a grand total of zero dribbles before all six of his bombs from beyond the arc — catch and shoot, rinse and repeat.
Jackson was twice left totally unattended in transition for kickout threes — once as a trailer, then on the left wing. According to Synergy Sports, Jackson is shooting 44.2 percent coming off screen this season. The junior nailed two more of his three-pointers after coming off down screens — both times, NC State’s Terry Henderson got stuck on the screen. Finally, the Tar Heels did something rather clever to open Jackson up for a look at the top of the key.
To close out the first half, with Abdul-Malik Abu defending Jackson, UNC had Joel Berry run a 1-3 pick-and-roll with Jackson. Abu and Berry’s defender, Markell Johnson, both tailed Berry coming off the ball screen, which left Jackson alone for an easy catch-and-shooter.
If you are down to stay up late and watch West Coast NBA basketball, that’s an action you will see Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant run on a nightly basis.
A career-high 46 percent of Jackson’s field-goal attempts have come from beyond the arc; in his first two seasons as a Tar Heel, however, only 28.5 percent of his attempts were of the three-point variety. In three league games, that number has crept up to 48 percent. This is a massive jump, and it’s finally allowed North Carolina’s offense to breathe.
Jackson’s playing further away from the basket, which has caused his offensive rebounding rate to drop (2.8 percent), but the Heels still rank second nationally in offensive rebounding rate, thanks primarily to Tony Bradley and Kennedy Meeks.
It would be a serious mistake, however, to label Jackson, who ranks eighth in the ACC in scoring (17.6 points), simply as a shooter; he is so much more than that. He does not operate many pick-and-rolls as the primary ball-handler — that’s Berry’s responsibility. But when he does pull the strings, Jackson is more than capable. Per Synergy, Jackson (on 17 possessions) ranks No. 1 in the ACC and No. 9 nationally in points per possession (1.35). He shoots 50 percent on such possessions, too.
A pick-and-roll means an extra defender comes into the picture; sometimes it is easier to just let a perimeter threat operate in isolation, one-on-one, which is another strength of Jackson’s game. The 6-8 wing has scored 1.18 points per possession, which is the fourth-best mark in the ACC, on iso plays. Berry, for the record, is No. 2 in the league in isolation scoring: 1.4 points per possession — courtesy of Synergy.
Jackson is inside the top 100 of KenPom’s offensive rating metric, producing 125.3 points per 100 possessions.
UNC fans wanted Jackson to be a stud from Day 1, which did not happen. While he was quite productive for two seasons, this is something totally different. This is what a lot of folks thought Jackson could be on offense — a ubiquitous talent with a killer three-point shot.
The Texan has an offensive skill set that should allow him to flourish in the NBA. If this is, in fact, his final season in a North Carolina uniform, then Jackson is certainly going out with a bang.