Josh Jackson shows signs of growth for the Phoenix Suns in 2018-19

Phoenix Suns Josh Jackson (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns Josh Jackson (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Returning from a rough rookie year, Josh Jackson made improvements and showed why he was the Phoenix Suns’ number four overall pick just two drafts ago.

There is no more enigmatic player on the Phoenix Suns’ roster than Josh Jackson.

Coming into the 2017 draft, analysts saw him as the hidden treasure (some saying that he would be the best player in the draft) while Markelle Fultz, Jayson Tatum, and Lonzo Ball dominated the overall conversation.

Yet his first year was underwhelming, eliciting calls of yet another Phoenix Suns’ bust.

Phoenix Suns
Phoenix Suns /

Phoenix Suns

Jackson’s 3-point shooting cratered and quieted the ideas of a 3-and-D wing. Even more worrisome, his defense and competitiveness didn’t immediately translate from the University of Kansas.

Phoenix was left in disarray, potentially striking out on three top-eight picks in two straight years (Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, and Jackson).

But this past year has seen Jackson make some strides, albeit in inconsistent form.

Jackson’s improved shot from beyond the arc has showed in his sophomore year after a disastrous start to his career.

He went from shooting 26%, dangerous territory for any NBA player let alone a perimeter player, to canning 32% this past season on basically the same number of attempts (217 and 225).

That won’t make him a candidate for the 3-point contest next year, but it is necessary growth from the former 4th overall pick.

Jackson also made strides in other areas of his game.

His defense became more of what we expected from him coming out of college, putting together some impressive block and steal totals throughout the season. He used his explosiveness and athleticism well to challenge bigger guys and nab chase down rejections like this one:

Moving forward though, Jackson needs to start becoming a more consistent defender. The highlights of embarrassing an opponent with a few inches on him are amazing. Stuffing the stat sheet with three or four blocks from the three position is incredible.

But for this team to reach it’s potential, he needs to show more consistency than his bottom-ten ranking in ESPN’s defensive real plus minus suggests (84th out of 92 small forwards).

Don’t let that ugly number fool you, he did get better between his rookie year and last season (from -1.48 to -1.31), but he needs to better use his innate tools and competitiveness to be an every night terror for opponents that he hasn’t yet shown.

On the other end Jackson’s playmaking skills have improved since college. He has shown a knack for making the correct pass, and making it well, coming up with impressive plays multiple times throughout the year.

Unfortunately, he would often follow that up with a bad turnover, whether it be from making a bad pass or getting his pocket picked (see above for why Jackson had to make that chase down block).

I suggested earlier in the season that Igor Kokoskov think about giving the ball to Jackson more and letting him create. The Suns were clearly tanking and had ample opportunity to experiment with the lineups.

In my opinion, this would also unlock an ideal future starting lineup (Jackson, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Kelly Oubre Jr., and Deandre Ayton).

Yet Jackson was drafted, not only in part because of his athleticism, but also because he could create from the wing position unlike many coming out of college.

His lack of a reliable jump shot would be mitigated by putting the ball in his hand and letting him attack the basket at full speed, surrounded by three shooters and the perfect roll man.

And lest you forget, he can get to any spot when he decides he wants to:

I still think that, minus drafting or signing an upgrade at point guard, having Jackson run point would be an interesting offense to look into.

It takes time, though. Point guards notoriously take longer to develop. Putting a natural wing in that position would take even longer.

But Jackson has potential as a ball handler, Phoenix just needs to be patient with developing that part of his game.

Overall, Josh Jackson wouldn’t receive a great grade for his past year (think, C-). He did develop in areas that he desperately needed to (shooting, playmaking), yet he is still extremely inconsistent.

One moment he could be picked out as the best player on the floor:

And the next moment you’d be screaming for Kokoskov to bench him – or not even notice he was in the game for the past five minutes.

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Jackson should never go unnoticed when he’s on the floor with this type of talent. He should be everywhere, a mini-Giannis harassing everyone in sight thanks to his length and athleticism. He should be speeding by weaker defenders and getting to the rim, either putting a new victim on a poster or dishing it out to the corner for an open 3.

Jackson has the ability. He has shown it on multiple occasions. He needs to string together good play after good play and not get distracted. Once he gets consistent, or at least minimizes the out of control, ugly errors, then Phoenix has yet another young wing at their disposal.