If there’s one thing the 2017 NBA Draft lacks at the top for the Phoenix Suns, it’s the right fit.
Point guards Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith Jr. would add further questions to a Suns backcourt carousel that hasn’t stopped spinning since Steve Nash left town. Small forward Jayson Tatum is similar to Suns wing T.J. Warren, forward Jonathan Isaac is similar to Suns big Dragan Bender and shooting guard Malik Monk sits on the wrong side of the offense-defense split for a combo guard to fit in Phoenix.
This is why Suns fans have been clamoring for Kansas wing Josh Jackson to land in the Valley. His defensive upside and athleticism on the perimeter would mesh well with T.J. Warren and Devin Booker in the wing rotation.
It’s also why fans were irate when the Suns slipped to No. 4 on lottery night. Even if the team couldn’t get their long-term 1A or 1B next to Devin Booker in Fultz or Ball, holding a top-3 choice would have still netted a player like Jackson who would contribute immediately by joining Eric Bledsoe and Booker. Now, the consensus top-3 prospect might not be available to select.
Despite everything going against the Suns on lottery night, there are reasons to believe Jackson is still on the board for the Suns at No. 4 heading into June 22. Those reasons, though, also add questions to the hypothetical selection of Jackson by the Suns.
His off-the-court incidents
What’s flown under the radar regarding Jackson’s stock is his multiple off-the-court incidents. ESPN noted one of the incidents in detail when Jackson threatened to “beat” a women’s basketball player during an altercation in December, according to an affidavit.
The incident in December began inside the bar when (McKenzie) Calvert threw a drink at her ex-boyfriend, Lagerald Vick, another Kansas player. She said she was upset because Vick attended the party with his new girlfriend.
Calver[t] told police Jackson followed her to her car and “was yelling for her to get out of the car and that he would beat her [expletive],” the affidavit says.
There was damage done to Calvert’s car.
The affidavit said the bumper, grille, fender, windshield, left tail lamp assembly and driver’s side front door were all damaged, with a total repair cost of about $3,150. Witnesses reported Jackson only damaging the door and tail light, with an estimated damage of $1,127, and District Attorney Charles Branson said Jackson was not charged with felony criminal damage because it couldn’t be proved that the player caused all the damage.
Jackson apologized in a statement shortly after he was arrested and “offered to pay for any damage that I directly caused.”
Women’s basketball player Caelynn Manning-Allen told police she tried to restrain Jackson by grabbing his arms and he kicked Calvert’s car before she was able to get him away from the vehicle. Another women’s player, Eboni Watts, said she witnessed Jackson kick Calvert’s driver’s door twice and kick the tail light.
Jackson also reportedly got in a hit-and-run in February and was suspended for Kansas’ first game in the Big 12 Tournament.
As they should, teams will seriously look into not only the incidents themselves but Jackson’s personality, too. If a team isn’t sold on Jackson’s character, there’s no question he could potentially fall in the lottery.
His jumper is broken
For all the optimists surrounding Jackson and his potential in the NBA, the one point you can’t sell is his jumper being anything else but flawed and broken.
An easy, overrated narrative that has built around Jackson is his 37.8 shooting from three-point range on 2.6 attempts per game means his mechanics are messy, but he can still be efficient.
Besides the obvious small sample size and the deeper NBA three-point line, an in-depth look at his supposed “improvement” in the second half of the season reveals the way he’s shooting the ball is still a major red flag.
When shooting, Josh Jackson has a tendency to push the ball out, then pull it too far back towards his head. Results in missing short often. pic.twitter.com/fO0VQ3z7Rc
— Drew (@award_22) February 27, 2017
It’s effortless to say a player’s effectiveness hinges on their jumper because that’s the case for all perimeter prospects, but for Jackson, that’s especially the case.
His ability as a passer and secondary playmaker will need to be set up by a successful jumper in order for teams to get the most out of it. He’s still growing as a scorer and his passing is his one offensive skill that should keep him useful on that side of the floor.
As a prospect, this might not keep a team from selecting Jackson in the top-3, but if a team already has shooting concerns, it might, and that’s why it’s so important to consider, especially for the team picking third.
He doesn’t fit in Philadelphia
Lastly, the Sixers, who own the No. 3 pick, can’t afford to pick another player who can’t shoot.
Philadelphia has made it no secret they believe last year’s No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons will run the offense.
With innate playmaking ability at 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, Simmons will very likely be the team’s “point guard” running the offense while probably guarding power forwards.
To say Simmons is not a natural shooter is an understatement. Unlike Jackson, Simmons doesn’t even look to have confidence in his midrange game at LSU. Adding any fade or variety to his jumper made it worse.
The team was unable to see how it would work out in the NBA since Simmons missed his entire rookie year with a foot injury.
We did get to see him at summer league, though, and Simmons showed the same apprehension. He was flat-out refusing to even shoot jumpers around the free-throw line and was also passing out when he got to the rim.
Still, expectations are very high for Simmons’ rookie season, but how he would fit with Jackson is a bit of a mystery.
The optimal lineup led by a player like Simmons surrounds him with shooters. Joel Embiid can hit threes as a stretch-five and while Robert Covington had a down year shooting, he’s a career 35.4 percent shooter.
Beyond that, however, there are no reliable shooters as long-term pieces and adding Jackson would be a significant risk to the team’s promising growth.
Where Jackson is an appeal to Philadelphia is on defense. The aforementioned Covington has become one of the league’s best perimeter defenders and Embiid had one of the best defensive rookie seasons of all-time. Jackson partnered with that duo would be a defensive dream and a nightmare for opposing teams to come against.
That’s not where the Sixers need help, though. The last season Philadelphia did not finish last in offensive rating — the amount of points per 100 possessions a team scores — was 2012-13.
Our logical conclusion at the end of this road is that Philadelphia would be better off adding a signature offensive threat on the perimeter, such as Tatum, Monk or Smith.
With this thinking in mind, there’s still doubt regarding Philadelphia’s likelihood of passing on Jackson, as Sixers beat writer Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer said.
All it takes is Philadelphia feeling Jackson’s jumper is for real, or that there’s too much of a gap between him and the fourth-best prospect, and he’s gone.
On the flip side, the same could be said for the Suns’ staff and their read on the top of the draft and Jackson himself. If they believe Jackson is one of the top-3 prospects by a comfortable margin, it’s possible for them to look into trading up with the Sixers to No. 3. While it is just moving up one spot, there’s a price that far up in the draft. The Suns would assumedly have to give up an asset of some value, whether that’s one of their own future first-round picks with protections, the two they are owed by the Miami Heat or a player(s).
There’s also the chance the Suns are fine with Jackson being off the board because they are high on other prospects such as Isaac, Tatum, Fox or Smith.
General manager Ryan McDonough did say at exit interviews he felt there were five top-tier prospects in the class and has commented on numerous occasions about how good he believes the class to be.
“There are at least five really good players in this draft,” McDonough said in mid-April. “I’ve been in the league since 2003 (and) this is up there in the top two or three drafts I’ve seen in terms of talent. There is some talent at the guard position. Where we’re picking, at the guard and the wing, there are a few really talented players.”
Now, if this was McDonough’s way of being clever about the value of his first-round pick since the team could technically have slipped to No. 5 on lottery night remains to be seen.
How Jackson plugs in with both the current and future cores of the team points toward the team flipping tables and throwing chairs in the draft room if they can’t land him. But if McDonough was being honest, the Suns should be fine regardless of the Kansas wing being there at No. 4 or not.