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March 20, 2017

Sixers Draft: Josh Jackson and Lonzo Ball starring in NCAA Tournament

While it becomes more and more unclear where the Sixers will pick in the 2017 NBA Draft (because they keep playing extremely well and winning), a couple of the projected top prospects put on a show in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.

At this point in the game, I have a rough big board that is starting to take shape and Kansas’ Josh Jackson and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball are certainly near the top. And matched up with his childhood friend and fellow projected lottery pick Miles Bridges, Jackson was fantastic.

The 20-year-old swingman finished with 23 points (9-16 shooting), 3 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks.

Throughout the season, Jackson has been one of my favorite NBA Draft prospects because of his well-rounded game. He’s an amazing defensive player capable of switching and guarding 1-4, an excellent finisher at the rim (much better than Andrew Wiggins in college, for instance), and also a pretty darn good passer.

The one blemish has been his shooting, and it’s not a small one. It’s really hard to be an above-average wing player in the modern NBA if you can’t make threes at an acceptable rate. But Jackson was able to knock down shots consistently against a rugged, NBA-level defender in Bridges yesterday:

Jackson often gets the Wiggins comparison, and in many ways, it does make sense to compare the two. The one major difference in their respective roles that Jackson gets to play the 4 and has the benefit of better spacing than Wiggins did in Bill Self’s beloved two big man lineups. This is important when it comes to projecting Jackson to the NBA.

Jonathan Tjarks wrote a little bit about that subject today at The Ringer:

Andrew Wiggins, Jackson’s one-and-done predecessor at Kansas, makes a living posting up perimeter players in the NBA, and Jackson might be able to do something similar. According to the tracking numbers at Synergy Sports, Jackson is averaging 0.882 points per possession in the post, putting him in the 60th percentile of college players, and that number could go even higher if he’s playing as a small forward in the NBA, where he’ll face shorter defenders.

It will be fun to watch Jackson keep playing the tournament, but perhaps the most fun matchup is next week’s Sweet 16 game between Kentucky’s backcourt of Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball.

Ball, of course, had 18, 9, and 7 on 7-10 shooting as UCLA rolled to the Sweet 16 with a win over Cincinnati. Ho hum:

I think Ball is going to be a very good pro, and while he’s understandably a tricky player to scout, what he’s doing at UCLA is being underrated if that is possible. Ball is shooting 73 percent(!) from two-point range, 42 percent from three-point range (and those are not easy shots he’s taking), and he averages 7.6 assists to 1.9 turnovers.

Perhaps his father’s outsized personality and the media attention is partially responsible for some of that. But the main point is that freshmen simply don’t turn 15-17 teams into title contenders just like that. What Ball has accomplished this year has been tremendous.

And if the Sixers are able to draft either Ball or Jackson (an "if" at this point), my guess is they would be pretty happy.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann