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Suns’ Josh Jackson has responded after honest talk with Jay Triano

Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson (20) shoots next to San Antonio Spurs forward Davis Bertans (42) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, in San Antonio. San Antonio won 103-89. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
LISTEN: Jay Triano, Suns Interim Head Coach

Before his first game as the Phoenix Suns’ interim head coach, Jay Triano had told forward Marquese Chriss he expected more out of him.

The honest assessments have continued since then.

Triano has since admitted that Dragan Bender used to need coercing to work on his game following team practices. He was open about Devin Booker’s effort on defense leaving something to be desired.

On Tuesday, he told the latest honest truth, this time about rookie forward Josh Jackson.

“We sat down and talked and I said, ‘I don’t have a lot of confidence in you right now. You’re playing fast. You’re doing what we want you to do, but you’re supposed to be a defender and I think you’re trying to score,'” Triano told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

“It was just one of those things where I said, ‘I need to have more confidence in you as a person,’ and he said, ‘I appreciate that Coach. I appreciate you telling me that.'”

Triano didn’t play Jackson in his first game after that conversation, a 104-103 comeback win against the Atlanta Hawks.

At the time, the coach said it was just about rotation decisions, where he was trying to ignite a second unit of shooters that had lately struggled. Maybe it had to do with the three-ball happy Hawks and the Suns’ need to have another shooter on the court.

No matter whether it was more about trust issues or fit, Triano used the single game to learn something about Jackson.

“There’s a term in basketball called ‘sitting well.’ And I thought he sat well,” Triano said Tuesday. “Although he didn’t get in, he never said anything and I think that really showed a lot of maturity on his part.”

Shooting 39 percent overall and 27 percent from three on the year has harmed the production of the 20-year-old Jackson, who is averaging 9.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. The Kansas product has played at one speed — fast — all year long, picking up 4.5 fouls per 36 minutes and playing defense inconsistently, especially off the ball.

Offensively, he’s sprinted into the paint in transition and the halfcourt, where his athleticism attempting to score hasn’t made up for the current lack of finesse in his skillset. Per NBA.com stats that classify many floaters and contested shots as layups, Jackson is shooting just 39 percent on so-called layups.

But since Jackson was benched for the first time against the Hawks, he has taken baby steps forward. He scored 14 points the next night at Denver, shooting 6-of-8 from the floor. He started in place of T.J. Warren at San Antonio the following game, scoring 11 to go with five boards and two assists.

Then came a 17-point, 10-rebound and five-assist performance Sunday against Oklahoma City in which Jackson played patiently in pack-and-rolls, hit three triples and looked for his teammates.

“I think I played a little bit slower tonight. I think a lot of the time I get going a little too fast and get out of control a little bit and it’s hard for me to look around and make decisions,” Jackson said Sunday.

Jackson began the year starting as a power forward under then-coach Earl Watson, and after hitting bumps in the road over the month of December, his play since the challenge from Triano has led to improvement.

“I think he’s slowly figuring it out,” said veteran forward Jared Dudley after practice Tuesday. “I always believe in not handing a young draft pick the keys unless they’re ready. What I mean by that is if you start a kid too early, they get entitled. I think the best thing for (Devin) Booker was sitting on the bench, getting mad, feeling that disappointment of not playing. And I think that drove him.”

INJURY UPDATE

Forward Marquese Chriss (hip) didn’t practice on Tuesday, the first of three straight practice days for Phoenix. He remains listed as day-to-day.

TRAE AND BOOK

Oklahoma freshman point guard Trae Young has averaged 29.4 points and 10.2 assists per game so far this season, shooting himself up the NBA mock draft boards and putting him in territory of where the Suns might pick — outside of the first five selections.

Booker isn’t recruiting Young — so he says — but considering Phoenix needs a point guard and that Booker will have a say in the draft process, this latest nugget makes you wonder about their potential fit as teammates.

That nugget: Young and Booker are buds after meeting on the AAU circuit and in Nike camps.

“He’s must-see TV right now,” Booker said. “I know him a little bit personally. He’s texted me a little bit during the season, and so we’ve texted back a little bit before then. I’m just, not saying ‘I want you to be a Phoenix Sun,’ but you know, ‘keep doing what you do, chase greatness.’ That’s what he do. I’m really proud of him.”

Young is ranked seventh on ESPN’s mock draft board and 11th on Arizona Sports’ Kellan Olson’s board from late December.

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