Josh Jackson has already surpassed Jayson Tatum

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 12: Josh Jackson
OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 12: Josh Jackson /

When it was reported that Phoenix Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough had used a little “intrigue” to help raise the odds of Josh Jackson being available when Phoenix selected fourth in 2017, it was with the intention of selecting Josh Jackson.

The top two of the draft were pretty early settled with Philadelphia solidly set to select Markelle Fultz, with the Lakers a lock to land Lonzo Ball.

From there, predicting the draft became somewhat difficult as Josh Jackson was, by most projectors and prognosticators, the third best player available, the best two-way player in the draft overall.

So when Boston passed up on Jackson 3rd overall and went with Jayson Tatum, they gave the Suns a tremendous victory as the two-way skill-set of Jackson seemed to far surpass that of Tatum’s potentially selfish and iso-centric game, a kind of Carmelo Anthony-type who will focus on his own offense before that of his teammates.

Phoenix Suns
Phoenix Suns /

Phoenix Suns

However initially, Jayson Tatum seemed like the absolute perfect pick for the Boston Celtics, and Josh Jackson, who by some accounts had been projected to be the best player in the draft, a Kawhi Leonard-type star, was struggling mightily, and many fans quickly sunk into a state of acceptance that Phoenix had blown their selection, that he would be another unfortunate waste of time on the franchise’s long climb back to league relevance.

I’ll use each player’s 38th game as the key turning point in the discussion, as that game for Josh Jackson fell on January 2, the date that Head Coach Jay Triano benched Jackson for a game.

Through that point in the season, Tatum, the Celtics’ starting small forward, averaged 14.1 points per game, 5.6 rebounds, .9 steals, while shooting an insane 48.7% from 3, 51.4% from the field, and 83.1% from the charity stripe. Over that period, Tatum scored in double-digits 33 times, had three double-doubles, and scored 20 or more points five times.

Over that same stretch, Jackson averaged 9.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.0 steals, while shooting a meager 37.8% from the field, 23.9% from 3, and 56.4% from the stripe. Jackson scored in double-digits only 17 times, scoring 20 or more points only once, and recorded zero double-doubles.

Of course, this season the Celtics are championship contenders while the Suns are contending for the worst record in the league, and possibly the second worst record in franchise history.

Tatum coming into such a situation is a tremendous benefit to him, the ability to play on a roster that already contended for a championship last year and had taken a step forward this season with the addition of Kyrie Irving. Jackson, on the other hand, was placed onto a more traditional situation for a team selecting 4th overall, a losing team, one that has been losing for some time, and that intended on continuing to lose for at least one more season. His roster is far younger, less mature, less experienced, and he would be learning the NBA game along with the majority of the core placed around him.

When Jackson was sat on January 2, is seemed to be a fulcrum point in his career. He was told that he was focusing too much on scoring and it was hurting his game. Jackson took the benching in stride. He didn’t complain; he remained prepared; he cheered his teammates on; he asked his head coach to help him grow and specifically requested additional video-watching time with the staff.

Josh Jackson learned from the experience, matured, and in the process, he took a giant leap forward.

Since each player’s 38th game (granted that game took place on different dates), while Jayson Tatum hasn’t taken a step back, per se, his statline has leveled out a bit while Jackson’s has starkly risen.

Since that point, Tatum is averaging 12.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, and .9 blocks, while shooting 33.3% from beyond the arc, 42.6% from the field, and 80.8% from the charity stripe. He has zero double-doubles while scoring 20 or more points twice, and scoring in double-figures 15 out of 22 games. Almost everything down from from his season’s start.

Jackson, on the other hand, has basically flipped the tables on his career. Over his last 20 games, including 10 starts, Josh is averaging 15.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, .7 steals, while shooting 44.3% from the field, 30.3% from 3, and 69.1% from the free throw line – except for steals, everything is up considerably from his own start.

However there is another caveat to the entire comparison: Tatum has started in all 60 games that he has played. He is averaging 30.8 minutes per game, and has been a key contributor on an offense directed by an All-NBA point guard.

Josh Jackson has been playing behind T.J. Warren, has only started 23 of his 58 games, and on the year hasn’t averaged only 23.5 minutes per game while only playing alongside a legitimate point guard on the roster for seven games, three with Eric Bledsoe, and now four with Elfrid Payton.

The two player’s stats per-36 minutes, (a decent enough method to determine what two players might average if they played equal minutes), and their season-long stats are a completely different story with their non-equal playing time:

Per-36 minutes, Josh Jackson has a statline average of 17.4p/6.4r/1.9a/1.3s/.7b.

Jayson Tatum, on the other hand, has averaged of 15.8p/5.9r/1.6a/1.1s/.9.

Not only does Jackson have slightly better stats across the board, but again, he is doing it on a bad team, generally without a standard point guard, and in a consistently losing culture.

The real comparison won’t happen for at least another two seasons, right at about when each player has reached the beginning of their primes, something that in the current NBA culture is an unfortunate side-effect of players coming in with only one year of college under their belt.

Next: Midseason report card for each player and their second half expectations

Yet at this moment, and especially after his benching, Jackson has not only caught up with, but in some stats surpassed  the early-season hot Jayson Tatum. The Phoenix Suns may have actually selected the true star of the draft, and if his 3-point shooting improves over future seasons as the rest of his game develops, then anything Tatum does, Jackson can do better.