Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Column: Bridges and Jackson may not want to leave, but they should

March 22, 2018
Freshman forward Jaren Jackson Jr. (2) expresses emotion after making a dunk during the first half of the men's basketball game against Michigan on Jan. 13, 2018 at Breslin Center. The Spartan's led the first half, 37-34. (Nic Antaya | The State News)
Freshman forward Jaren Jackson Jr. (2) expresses emotion after making a dunk during the first half of the men's basketball game against Michigan on Jan. 13, 2018 at Breslin Center. The Spartan's led the first half, 37-34. (Nic Antaya | The State News) —
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If you asked Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. what they’d rather be doing right now, they probably would say preparing to play Duke in the Sweet 16. Instead, they  both have a big decision to make. 

Most mock drafts project Bridges and Jackson as lottery picks in the NBA Draft in June. 

These two are the only members of the team Spartan fans need to worry about leaving, as Nick Ward’s name isn’t on many mock drafts and Cassius Winston pretty much confirmed he will return for his junior season. 

The question now: should they stay, or should they go?

It’s much easier to answer for us than it is for the players themselves. The question has a lot of layers to it, but what it really comes down it is, what’s more important to Bridges and Jackson, a chance to play in the NBA or a chance to win a National Championship? 

With the win-or-go-home nature of the NCAA Tournament, a championship isn’t guaranteed. For a player chosen in the lottery, a more than $1 million contract is guaranteed, which is why Bridges and Jackson should leave for the draft. 

Bridges would have been picked in the top 10 had he opted to enter the draft after his freshman year, but he chose to come back for a chance to make a deep run in the NCAA Tourney. That decision didn’t really pay off for Bridges, as his team couldn’t make it out of the first weekend. And while still a sure-fire lottery pick, his stock has fallen slightly from a year ago. 

Bridges shouldn’t be knocked for choosing to stay an extra year, though, because he knew with the addition of Jackson, along with his three returning sophomore mates — Ward, Winston and Joshua Langford — he would play on arguably the most talented roster Tom Izzo has ever had. But that’s the risk in staying for one more year. Nothing is guaranteed. 

Jackson is projected to go as high as No. 3 in several mock drafts and has all the physical tools to excel in the NBA right away. Sure, he needs to fill out a bit and isn’t physically imposing like Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton, who is considered by many as the consensus No. 1 overall pick, but few prospects have more upside than Jackson.

The freshman’s defensive ability is evident, and he’s shown the ability to score in the post, shoot from the perimeter and even put the ball on the floor.

If Jackson does decide to return for his sophomore campaign, the team would be deeper next season with the addition of three four-star incoming freshmen, and he will still likely be a lottery pick in next year’s draft. 

But Jackson has a realistic chance to be the top overall pick, and a talented crop of freshmen in next year’s draft pool could hurt those chances if he chooses to stay another year. Bridges shocked everyone last year deciding to skip last year’s draft, so nothing is imminent. But all signs point to the sophomore reluctantly leaving — and Jackson would be smart to follow suit. 

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