PHOENIX — For months, the talk surrounding the Phoenix Suns and the NBA Draft was either about the point guard position or Josh Jackson.
Sure, there’s been a Jayson Tatum here or Jonathan Isaac there, but it was always going to involve Jackson if he was on the board for Phoenix.
It was Thursday night at the No. 4 overall selection.
It’s been well-noted how lacking the Suns have been defensively, particularly on the perimeter.
Mainstay P.J. Tucker always would pester the likes of Kawhi Leonard or LeBron James when they faced the Suns, but it was his work ethic and toughness that got him to that point, not his overall defensive ability. He was also an absolute zero offensively except for shooting anywhere from below- to league-average from the corners.
That’s where things can potentially change with Jackson.
At 6-foot-8, Jackson plays with an attitude that will fit in with a team that produced enough scuffles where people covering the team had to start using synonyms like “kerfuffle” and “dust-up.”
Jackson’s just mean and has an edge about him. Even on plays when he takes a step in the wrong direction, he’s working his tail off to hustle and recover.
This is what gives Jackson the profile as a guy who could stop the other team’s opposing star. More on that later.
The most underrated part of Jackson’s game in relation to the Suns is that he’s a willing passer and will create opportunities for his teammates not only as a second option, but will also go out of his way to do so.
Jackson averaged three assists a game playing mostly power forward for the Jayhawks, and it’s the part of his game that gets him compared to Golden State Warrior Andre Iguodala.
That sets up not only his teammates but his own offensive game attacking the basket. That’s where Jackson can be an effective offensive player. He averaged 16.3 points per game on 51.3 percent shooting from the field.
Sports-Reference’s databases go back to the 1992-93 college basketball season and the three first-round picks to average at least 15 points, three assists, a block and a steal per game as a college freshman are Dwyane Wade, Markelle Fultz and Jackson.
What this adds up to is one heck of an NBA Draft prospect and a player worthy of a top-2 selection in most drafts, but he winds up going fourth to the Suns in this year’s class.
With all that in mind, Jackson isn’t a perfect prospect, even in Phoenix, despite all you’ve heard.
The major red flag on Jackson is his jumper.
A 37.8 percent mark from three-point range on 2.6 attempts per game is a mirage for what’s really going on with his shot.
It’s, quite simply, broken. The major flaw in his form is his repeated mistake of pushing the ball out and then bringing it back toward his head, arriving at a short finish for the ball most attempts.
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
His mechanics and numbers showed improvement towards the end of the season, but an in-depth look and breakdown — as this Twitter thread shows — reveals many concerns.
Speaking of free throws, Jackson shot 56.6 percent from the foul line. This is often a strong indicator of how a three-point shot will translate.
As the folks at Nylon Calculus note, predicting how a player’s jumper turns out is incredibly difficult, but their model taking into consideration all the three-point and free-throw shooting has Jackson as a 32 percent shooter in the NBA from deep.
A good example of how the model works is De’Aaron Fox. Despite the new Sacramento King failing to shoot above 25 percent from three-point range at Kentucky, he’s still projected to be a similar shooter to Jackson in their model.
For an idea about how poor that number would be for Jackson (and Fox), 154 of the 169 players who qualified for the NBA’s three-point shooting percentage leaderboard shot at least 32 percent.
For a team that just finished 27th in three-point shooting and only has one player in Devin Booker who projects as a good shooter long-term, that’s certainly not a seamless fit.
Now, Jackson’s shot being around the 31-33 percent mark won’t prevent him from being a really good player, but that’s if he fully reaches his ceiling as a defender.
This is where some draft experts take pause, backing off the notion Jackson is a no-doubt top-3 pick.
As our own Kevin Zimmerman said in his look at Jackson, we didn’t see a whole lot of sneak peeks at how Jackson would fare as a signature perimeter defender because he mostly played power forward.
We did in the NCAA Tournament, though, and it was a mixed bag.
When he came up against likely top-10 pick next year Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, who also is somewhere between a power forward and small forward, Jackson didn’t get to the basket or necessarily lock Bridges down.
Offensively, Jackson fared well, ending the night with 23 points and making several tough midrange jumpers. He wasn’t consistently beating Bridges off the dribble to the rim, though, and his poor isolation numbers reflect that. According to Draft Express, Synergy Sports has his isolation points per possession at 0.59.
On defense, there were a handful of plays Bridges, who is probably a power forward in the NBA, showed he was the much better athlete. He was consistently overpowering Jackson, who weighs less 205 pounds, and beating Jackson with either his first step or a hesitation dribble.
Jackson simply doesn’t have the freakish length — a 6-foot-10 wingspan– power or elite quickness to really lock up someone like Bridges right now, and that could be a concern if he’s expected to play small forward immediately for the Suns.
The good news is Jackson has the relentless nature playing to make up for this, and the way it flows through his scoring, rebounding, passing and defense make him an interchangeable player who can play multiple positions.
“My versatility, just my competitive sport,” Jackson said of what separates him from the other prospects.
Jackson will be a good NBA player, but the question is if he can be great.
He needs to get stronger and quicker to have a real chance against the Georges, Butlers, and Leonards of today’s NBA at small forward. That’s more important in Phoenix than other places he could have been drafted because they will be overly reliant on him in that category with Booker’s struggles defensively.
Regardless of how that development goes for Jackson, the Suns drafted another prospect who plays with a mix of swagger and an unrelenting motor who will look to specialize as a defender on the perimeter.
That’s a great pick for them and another good piece to go alongside Booker, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender in the rebuild.
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