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Despite ups and downs, Suns’ Jackson confident about progress

Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson (20) drives on Indiana Pacers forward T.J. Leaf in the second half during an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, in Phoenix. The Pacers defeated the Suns 120-97. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

PHOENIX — For Suns forward Josh Jackson, his first season in the NBA has been one of highs and lows, from securing his first double-double in January to two ejections and losing to the Portland Trail Blazers by 48 points in his debut.

Though playing on a losing team could be troubling for a young player, Jackson said he is embracing the opportunity.

“I’ve been having fun learning, growing with the guys, getting better team chemistry, so it’s been fun,” Jackson said.

Though he is having fun, the Suns have had many lows this season with few glimmers of hope. The team is 17-33 entering Monday night’s game at Memphis, with the lows starting early, including the blowout against Portland and the team firing coach Earl Watson five days into the season.

For Jackson, the first 50 games of his career haven’t been trailblazing, as he is averaging 9.9 points per game (12th among rookies), 3.6 rebounds (12th among rookies) and 1.2 assists (tied for 20th among rookies). Interim coach Jay Triano said he has seen growth from his top rookie so far in the beginning of the season.

“I think he’s slowed down a little bit,” Triano said. “ I think he’s starting to figure out the NBA game out a little bit, when he can attack, when he can pick and choose his spots to attack.

“I think he’s shown that he can make plays for other people and with his speed I think that’s going to be one of his assets moving forward, the fact that he can drive, to get two guys to guard him and create for somebody else other than himself.”

Triano also said that though he’s seen growth from Jackson, room for improvement remains.

“I think they’re a lot of things,” Triano said. “Obviously his outside jump shot, his ability to stay focus at the defensive end throughout the course of the long minutes … and understanding the NBA personnel, the players he’s going to have to guard on a regular basis.”

This year has been a “learning process,” said Jackson, who knew he wasn’t “going to come in and just be super successful.” But he also said that he has “to stick with it, keep learning and keep working” if he wants to have an accomplished career in the NBA.

Lately, Jackson has been reaching new highs as he’s grown into the league, scoring a personal-best 21 points against the Pacers and also earning a double-double against the Thunder a week before. In his last five games, he has put up double-digit points in three of those five games and he’s averaging 13.3 points per game in the month of January.

“I’m getting more comfortable,” Jackson said. “Learning a lot more, learning from mistakes that I’ve made previously, and just been learning from things that have been working for me as of late … just trying to stay in the gym, work on my shot and keep playing with confidence.”

Though there has been improvement, Jackson just came off arguably his worst game as an NBA player, shooting 0 for 13 with six of the misses coming from the 3-point line, and only getting two points off free throws in a 113-102 loss to Houston. Even with and only playing 50 games, he has earned the backing of the Sun’s star shooter Devin Booker and when asked about this, he agreed with Booker, saying he feels the sky is the limit.

With the young core being developed in Phoenix and a potential top pick coming in next year (the Suns sport the fifth-worst record in the league and are two and a half games behind the Atlanta Hawks’ 14-35 record), the team is excited about its future.

Jackson is a big reason why.

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