While stardom waits, Jackson finds role on Duke


With Duke struggling on its home court against Miami, Jeff Capel made a tactical decision at halftime on Saturday: starting the second half with Matt Jones and Frank Jackson on the floor.

Neither Jones nor Jackson were on the court when the game tipped off an hour earlier. Capel, when asked after the game why he decided on that lineup combination, said he wanted energy. Jackson brought that, and more, as he helped key another Duke victory.

The freshman’s stat line from the win over the Hurricanes is far from gaudy — 10 points (4-of-7 shooting), four assists and two steals — but his flash ignited the defense and helped propel Duke’s outburst on offense. The performance was exactly what Dr. Capel prescribed, and it foreshadows a player who has so much to offer.

Jackson, who has played the most minutes of any of Duke’s freshmen, is one of five Blue Devils averaging double figures scoring (11.1 PPG). Despite a frigid stretch from deep recently (21.4 percent over the last four games), he’s still shooting 36.2 percent on three-pointers.

Jackson’s playmaking chops still need work — he has just 28 assists (1.6 per game) in 450 minutes of action this season. When he’s on the floor, the freshman has assisted on only 11 percent of Duke’s made field goals, which is low, especially for a jet-quick guard who is surrounded by catch-and-shoot bombers like Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen.

However, you can absolutely see his off-the-bounce brilliance in pick-and-roll action; the Utah product is a blur with the ball, and when Duke has the court spread, Jackson can be prolific.

According to Synergy Sports, Jackson scores 1.053 points per possession as a ball-handler in pick-and-rolls — No. 5 in the ACC among players with at least 20 possessions. He’s shooting 51.6 percent on such possessions — better than Joel Berry, Dennis Smith Jr. and Markelle Fultz. As an operater of pick-and-rolls, Jackson turns the ball over just 10.5 percent of the time — a very good figure.

Jackson has struggled in isolation this season, and his catch-and-shoot numbers could certianly tick up — the rookie has made just 32 percent of his “unguarded” catch-and-shoots this season, per Synergy.  But on the defensive end, Jackson has made his mark. As he did against Miami, he has used his athleticism and hustle to be a force contesting shots this season. On spot-up plays, opponents are shooting just 36.7 percent when Jackson is the primary defender, according to Synergy.

This is almost as good as Jones —  Duke’s presumed “stopper” — who has allowed opponents to shoot a lowly 35 percent against him on spot-ups.

The backcourt of Duke is loaded with excellent veteran players, but Jackson has found his spots, and the framework is there for a superstar in the making. Jackson ranks just fifth among Duke’s rotation players in usage rate (21 percent), and minutes can be tough to come by in a crowded guard rotation. But he possesses the type of two-way versatility that can take over a game.

So don’t be surprised to see more of Jackson as Duke heads down a grueling ACC schedule.