Entering 2021-22, Arkansas basketball has 10 players on the roster who have never donned the cardinal and white in an official game. Head coach Eric Musselman has mastered the art of navigating the transfer portal, reaching out to nearly every player who hits it.
This year, those efforts have led to three graduate transfers choosing to play their final collegiate season under Coach Muss. Not only should they inject a certain level of confidence and experience to their new programs, they have the power to set the tone for Arkanaas, both in the locker room and on the court.
One of the Razorbacks’ new grad transfers, Vance Jackson, has the potential to be the most versatile player on the court during many games next season. He’s a 6’9, 230 lbs forward with guard skills. That size would have made him the biggest player on the active roster for the Razorbacks last season. Despite his power forward-like size, Musselman has alluded to Jackson getting some playing time at shooting guard next season thanks to his playmaking, defense and shooting abilities.
Vance is not known for his defense, and we’re not going to pretend he will become elite on that side of the ball this season. However, he is still a 6’9 combo forward capable of guarding multiple positions. His length and intelligence should allow him to excel in a team-oriented defensive scheme. When left on an island, he can hold his own, although a stop is not guaranteed. He averaged 1.1 steals per game during his time at New Mexico and only 0.2 blocks per game despite that height.
Jackson has the capability of disrupting shots both on the perimeter and in the paint. Some of his highlights even include monster chase down blocks. However, he will not be expected to be the primary defender in many situations, and rightfully so. His opportunities will come on the other side of the court while fellow grad transfers Justin Smith and Jalen Tate clean up any mistakes on the defensive end.
Offensive Breakdown: Scoring
Jackson scored 10.8 points per game during his career at UConn and New Mexico. He only averaged 8.1 points in his freshman season and hit his career high at 13.1 in his sophomore season, also his first year at New Mexico.
However, Jackson has an arsenal of weapons on the offensive side of the ball that will likely be on full display under Coach Musselman. He has the potential to be one of the team’s offensive leaders with his scoring and playmaking repertoire.
Jackson has a smooth shooting stroke, especially for a college forward. He spends a lot of his time behind the three point line. In his freshman season at UConn, Jackson lit up opponents shooting 3.9 threes per game at a 39.7% clip. His percentage regressed slightly during his time at New Mexico, but still hovered just below 34%. For reference, Isaiah Joe shot 34.2% from deep during the Razorbacks’ 2020 season.
When looking to score, Jackson looks for the three point shot first before deciding to attack the basket. His height and ball handling ability gives him a leg up when coming off of screens or catching the ball in rhythm. The window of opportunity he needs to get his shot off is slightly smaller than, say, a 6’5 guard like Joe’s would be. Of course, Jackson’s release is not as quick or as fundamentally pure as Joe’s, but he’s also not as bothered by contests from smaller defenders. The video below includes a barrage of long range shots from Jackson, showing his ability to get his shot off over defenders. A great example starts around 2:24. This clip includes back to back triples with a hand in his face.
Next is the mid-range/high post area. Jackson usually finds himself in this part of the court during drives to the rim or fast break opportunities. Often times he’s looking for the smart play in these situations rather than defaulting to a jump shot. His passing is an underrated part of his game, but we will get to that soon enough.
If Jackson is looking to score from inside the arc, it’s likely that he’s in a high post-up situation against a smaller defender. His post-up game isn’t elite by any means, but as mentioned earlier, his size allows him to make shots in these scenarios. He has displayed a knack for hitting turn-around jumpers in the post despite not seeking out these situations often. See 0:27 in his highlight reel for a good example of his high-post turn around jumper.
Once Jackson gets all the way to the rim, he has the length and weight to throw down with the best of them. He does not rely on pro-level athleticism to score, but he has more than enough in the tank throw it down when the opportunity arises. He also has a soft touch when finishing over or around defenders at the rim. Perhaps most importantly, he displays tremendous patience in the lane.
Though Jackson doesn’t prefer to post up, his arsenal includes some fancy footwork down low. He can often be seen throwing timely ball fakes to shift defenders off their feet once he establishes himself in the lane. He uses these fakes to do one of three things: adjust himself and get an easy bucket, lean into the now helpless defender and get to the free throw line where he shot 71.4% last season, or lure the help defender far enough away from his assignment to dish to his teammate for an easy bucket. See the 2:55 mark of the video for a great example of this.
Offensive Breakdown: Passing
What should be truly exciting to Razorback fans is Jackson’s willingness to share the rock. Though it’s true that he looks for his shot behind the three point arc, Jackson is a grossly underrated playmaker.
After securing a rebound, Jackson’s first look is always ahead to find any open teammates headed to the rim. If Jackson comes off a screen and the defense takes away his three point shot, he’s looking for the screener hoping the defense made a mistake in transition. When Jackson is inside the arc, he watches for help defenders to stray far enough from their assignments to allow an easy pass to one of his teammates. He is, in many ways, the prototypical point forward comes.
His shooting makes him deadly, but don’t be surprised if Jackson surpasses his career high of 2.7 assists per game while playing with the talent Musselman has accumulated at Arkansas next season.
Jackson has a methodical approach to his game. He possess good speed and quickness, but not enough to rely on when looking to score. His size, strength, and shooting stroke earn him most of his points. His slower, more fundamental approach shows remnants of a pair of former Kansas Jayhawks.
When thinking of a player that doesn’t rely on athleticism, likes to live behind the three point line, yet still possesses the height, strength, and footwork to get shots off in the paint, Paul Pierce was the first to come to mind. The 2008 NBA Finals MVP may be a lofty comparison for the grad transfer, but the similarities in their game are not hard to find. Both players share attributes like the ability to stick contested threes, just enough athleticism to attack the rim and a methodical approach when handling the ball.
Perhaps a more realistic comparison is to a more recent Jayhawk, Marcus Morris. The former Jayhawk measured 6’9, 235 during his time with Kansas, measurements very similar to the new Razorback’s 6’9, 230. Morris did not start his NBA career as a very good three point shooter, but his time in college saw three point percentage’s of 34.2%, 37.5%, and 40.0%. He averaged 12.6 points per game over his career, not a far cry from Jackson’s 10.8 PPG so far. Both players rely on their height and shooting touch to score from anywhere on the court.
With Isaiah Joe returning for 2021-22, Jackson will on most nights take a more complementary rather than headiner role. Still, expect Jackson’s experience and offensive capabilities to make him a prime candidate to finish second on this team in scoring behind Joe.
Incoming freshman Moses Moody, though, is already a projected firstround pick in the 2021 NBA draft — even landing as high as 11th on a recent Bleacher Report mock draft. He has the chance to share billing with Joe as the best player wearing a Razorback jersey next season, but his youth and inexperience leaves the door wide open for Jackson to take the wheel.
Jackson’s combination of guard skills and forward size will allow him to play almost any position on the court for Coach Musselman. The size and versatility being put together for the Hogs’ 2021 run is eye-catching. During it, don’t be surprised to see Jackson transition from often being the primarily ball handler while he runs the offense, to sometimes being the biggest guy on the court in a small-ball center position.
2020-21 Stat Predictions
For more on how Jackson’s journey to Arkansas, and how he sees himself fitting into Musselman’s system, see this:
Author: Brandon Baker
Contributor and Senior Writer for overtimeheroics.net
Twitter: @Panamaniac03 and @OTHArkansas
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