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NBA Draft Combine 2017: What can we expect from Maryland’s Justin Jackson?

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If he exceeds expectations, he could turn to a one-and-done and after quietly entering the draft.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Minnesota Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland basketball’s Melo Trimble and Justin Jackson are among the 67 players in Chicago for the NBA Draft Combine.

Keep an eye on Jackson’s process, in particular. Following his stellar freshman season, Jackson received an invite after quietly adding his name to this year’s early entrant list. It appears he is just testing the waters, but it’s too early to entirely rule out him leaving his name in the draft.

Jackson hasn’t yet signed with an agent, and although he isn’t projected to be drafted this year, he’s already in the first round of Draft Express’ 2018 mock draft. From Sports Illustrated:

Jackson is a versatile forward from Canada coming off a strong freshman year in which he functioned as a jack-of-all-trades for Maryland coach Mark Turgeon. He’s a talented passer and ball-handler and good jump shooter who has potential to become a plus three-and-D forward down the line. Jackson’s freakish length should measure out well, and he’ll want to show he can guard several positions in the five-on-five and work from there. Whether it’s this year or next, he’s one to follow.

Jackson’s first couple of days are a toss-up

The first two days of the combine are traditionally positional drills. Despite his length and starting at power forward as a freshman, the 6’7 Jackson projects as a small forward at the next level. If he manages solid performances against a position group that includes Oregon’s Dillon Brooks, Syracuse’s Tyler Lydon, and the other Justin Jackson, he could turn enough heads to have scouts drooling over his measurements by the back half of the combine.

Jackson was Maryland’s second-leading scorer last season, behind Trimble, with 11 points per game on 44 percent shooting from the field, while also leading the Terps with six rebounds a game. Also, his 44 percent 3-point clip was good for fourth in the Big Ten.

After playing power forward all season, it will be interesting to see how Jackson matches up against the other small forwards in the draft. His best performance of the season came against Minnesota in January, when he went 5-for-5 from 3-point land, scoring a career-high 28 points and adding 10 rebounds for a double-double.

Early indications are that Jackson would benefit from playing more minutes at small forward for the Terps. If Jackson returns for a sophomore season, he could bump Kevin Huerter — who ran the point in high school — to shooting guard in Trimble’s absence. Jackson would also be the Terps top-returning scorer and rebounder, so if nothing else, his usage rate would definitely get a huge bump in his second season.

The good thing: if the combine doesn’t go well, he can return to school.

The NBA changed its early-entrant policy last season, and Trimble was the first Maryland player to benefit. Trimble declared for last season’s draft without an agent, and after getting feedback, knew this year’s draft would be his best shot to make the league.

Trimble admitted the two haven’t spoken a lot since Trimble signed with an agent and moved to Las Vegas to train, but he’s been in Jackson’s position.

“Everyone wants to make it to the next level, of course,” Trimble said last week on Glenn Clark Radio. “But when you still have that option to come back, it’s a great feeling. Whether you go through workouts and have a bad one, you know that you can still come back. He’s going to do well, he just has to prepare himself that if he wants to stay, that’s what he wants to do.”

Trimble won’t have to worry about the projected top two picks, Markelle Fultz or UCLA’s Lonzo Ball during positional drills, as Fultz isn’t expected to do on-court activities and Ball is skipping the combine entirely. But Trimble isn’t projected to get drafted at all. Being grouped with projected lottery pick De’Aaron Fox and Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans may give him a chance to shine, but could also hurt his stock.

Jackson’s measurements should help. His athletic testing may not.

It’s not uncommon for top prospects to skip the first couple days and only participate in the athletic testing and measurement portion in order to prevent over-exposure of weaknesses. Trimble, in all likelihood, will still have to answer questions about his size, but Jackson should thrive during this part of the combine.

No matter how Jackson does during positionals, his measurables will catch scouts’ eyes. Again, at 6’7, he’s undersized as an NBA power forward, but he’s no pushover as a 230-pound small forward, especially with his 7’3 wingspan. Jackson also averaged nearly a steal and a block per game last season, but experts feel he needs to improve his athleticism to be able to feasibly guard multiple positions at the next level.

"We used to say he was a tweener, but the way the NBA has evolved, he’s a guy that can play,” ESPN Draft analyst Fran Fraschilla said on a conference call Tuesday. “I have a sense that he’s not going to stay in this draft. But the thing that I think he needs desperately is to go back to school, be a little more athletic, work on his lateral quickness, and become more of an NBA wing player.”

One the biggest ways prospects benefit from the combine is the ability to build the buzz around their name. Last season, scouts told Trimble he’d need another year; he returned to work on his game and lead a trio of freshman, and he’s at the combine again a year later.

Now, Jackson will get his shot in front of NBA scouts to build his hype and see what parts of his game need improving before he goes to next level, whether it’s this year or next.