Feb 23, 2019; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones forward Michael Jacobson (12) grabs a rebound past TCU Horned Frogs forward JD Miller (15) during the first half at Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tyrese Haliburton knows people outside the Iowa State basketball program don’t know the full extent of Michael Jacobson’s skill. They have not seen what the 6-foot-9, 240-pound forward brings to the floor every day in practice.
They have not seen it because last year Jacobson was tasked with being the man in the middle of Iowa State’s high-powered guard-oriented attack. He did his job well, leading the team with 5.9 rebounds per game and ultimately earning a spot on the All-Big 12 Tournament team.
But in 2019-20, people outside the walls of the Sukup Basketball Facility will get to see what teammates consider to be Jacobson’s full capabilities. He is moving to the four, and that means spending a lot more time on the perimeter facing the basket than he has ever had before.
“I think people didn’t really get to see that side of him last year because his job was to be in the lane and get the rebound when we missed shots,” Haliburton said on Tuesday at Big 12 Media Day in Kansas City. “I think that he can do things that people didn’t really get to see last year or in his years at Nebraska. I just think he’s improved a lot during the summer.”
Honestly, Jacobson has already surprised a lot of people who follow Iowa State basketball once. He was largely expected to be a rotational player, an off-the-bench option behind Cameron Lard, after sitting out in 2016-17 due to his transfer from Nebraska.
It was a fair assumption considering during his two years in Lincoln Jacobson averaged 5.35 points and 5.25 rebounds while starting 56 of his 65 games played. He most certainly did not generate major national headlines once he made the decision to leave the Cornhuskers.
The Waukee native was a role player. It seemed unlikely that would change in Ames.
“Sometimes you sign kids and some aren’t quite as good as you think once you get them and then some kind of outdo your expectations,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said in Jan. 2018. “He’s about everything that’s right.”
Things obviously did change during Jacobson’s redshirt junior season for the Cyclones. He became one of the team’s steadiest players during an uneven, up-and-down season that is best exemplified by its run to the Big 12 Tournament title one week and a disappointing first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament the next.
Few expected Jacobson to become the team’s fourth-leading scorer at 11.1 points per game while averaging 25 minutes per contest. But, few people also could have expected Lard’s unpredictable season that saw him in and out of the lineup and rotation.
In the end, Jacobson proved he was too valuable to the team to be taken off the floor during long stretches. He scored nine points and grabbed 16 rebounds in the thrilling Big 12 semifinal win over Kansas State then followed it up with 14 points and five boards the next night in the title game.
His jump hook became one of the team’s most consistent weapons. He was one of the most efficient players in the country inside the 3-point line shooting 62.5 percent.
Jacobson was certainly no role player.
“We have to make sure we can space people out like we could last year to give him the room to operate,” Prohm said of Jacobson’s inside game. “He’s got to be able to do that. If we do that, when he’s at the four, then our five-man needs to know where he needs to be positioning wise to keep good spacing. The guys need to keep good spacing for him. But, I think he can. I think he can get to his little jump hook, little turnaround jumper.”
This brings us to an important point when you consider Jacobson’s move from the five to the four in Iowa State’s perimeter geared offense. It is partially a move of necessity because of the way the Cyclones’ roster is constructed and where the team’s best players fit best on the floor.
With that said, you are taking a guy away from the paint, the spot where he had made his biggest impact and has played for his entire college basketball career and moving him further away from the basket.
It requires an adjustment and some dedication from Jacobson to make sure he can maintain the impact he made last year, just in a different spot. It means trusting a career 27 percent 3-point shooter to shoot the ball more than he ever has.
“It’s something that’s still kind of a work in progress, but I’m not worried about it. I think it will work itself out. It’s all dependent on matchups and how they guard us,” Jacobson said of the switch. “Just something where I think I add versatility on the perimeter. If they put a smaller guy on me, I can post them up. If they’re trying to hard hedge ball-screens or guarding me with a bigger guy, I can take him out on the perimeter and face him up, drive-by him, shoot the three, whatever it may be. I think it’s just a work in progress, but it will balance itself out.”
The most important thing for Jacobson while working through the switch will be remembering not to fall in love with the 3-point line. While he might feel like he’s got the ability to shoot from deep at a better clip, it is not where he is going to do his biggest damage.
I feel confident in saying that even though we have not seen much of it, but that’s because we have seen him do a lot of damage in the paint. He has to continue to showcase that ability to score near the basket, especially when the times get tough for Iowa State offensively.
Take it from Prohm, this is not his first rodeo with this kind of skillset.
“Everybody talks about how (Georges) Niang’s skill level is off the charts,” Prohm said. “But when it was money time, he was catching that thing around 12 feet and he was scoring around the basket.”