This Thursday evening is more than the first conference matchup between two storied programs — Memphis Tigers and Connecticut Huskies — this is also a matchup of two senior point guards that are small in stature, but big in terms of scoring points. Joe Jackson of Memphis and Shabazz Napier of UConn are both very talented point guards with dreams of making the NBA, but the reality is small point guards that like to shoot a lot rarely make the league. It’s not impossible though, but if one of these small shooting/point guards is going to be drafted this season, outdueling the other on Thursday will go a long way towards their draft stock.
As of now, you will not see both Jackson and Napier in a mock draft together. There are plenty of mock drafts out there that have one or the other, but none with both. As of right now, I would give the edge to Napier, because he is the superior shooter, and if there is one thing NBA teams will never have enough of, it is three-point shooters.
Napier has improved his three-point shot each season in Storrs, going from 32.6 percent from a freshman to 47.3 percent right now. Jackson on the other hand has taken a step back. When he was a freshman he shot 31.1 percent, then fell to 30.2 percent, and reached 44.7 percent last season, but is now back down to 19 percent this year.
To be honest with you, there wasn’t even an argument about these two as far as NBA talent went until last season. Jackson was the McDonald’s All-American that was a bust, the kid that was too short to excel in NCAA basketball. Last season’s shooting explosion had him right back in mock drafts, the same way he was when he came to Memphis out of high school.
Now that Jackson is having another season where his shot is off again, he has slipped from the graces of NBA talent evaluators. A big reason for Jackson’s struggles is that Memphis brought in Michael Dixon Jr. as a transfer this offseason, after adding Geron Johnson as a transfer last season. Right now Memphis has one of those too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen situations going on.
There is no doubt that Napier has turned out to be the better college basketball player, and if you are filling out a Player of the Year ballot, Napier’s name would appear before Jacksons’ name on every sane person’s ballot, but the NBA is a different type of beast. In the NBA the game is more wide open, guys can create their own shot, so the point guard doesn’t have to do all the work. If Jackson can outplay Napier on Thursday evening it would help him to climb back onto the NBA radar.
Jackson has played well against potential future pros Russ Smith and Chris Jones of Louisville, and Kasey Hill and Scottie Wilbekin of Florida, but he did struggle against Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State. It is obvious that bigger guards are going to give him trouble, but he has the hops to compete with some bigger guards. But, before Jackson can prove that he can hang with bigger players, and before he earns the right to be drafted, he has to prove that he is the best of the small-guards, and he will get his next test Thursday night.
If Napier does in fact outplay Jackson, then this decision will be all but over. Sure, there is still the NBA combine, and Jackson has the athleticism to shine, but if Napier can beat Jackson, and he is the better shooter, it will be hard for teams to overlook him. No matter what, this should be a fun game, and an even better matchup between two of the best guards in the country, no matter their size.
Follow Robbie on Twitter @rmarbury