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ESPN’s Pelton, Schmitz skeptical of Suns’ Jackson’s potential as top-5 pick

Phoenix Suns guard Josh Jackson (20) drives past Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) and forward Abdel Nader (28) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 26, 2018, in Phoenix. The Celtics defeated the Suns 102-94. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Phoenix Suns rookie Josh Jackson had an unbalanced season, going through big-time struggles in the first half of the season and emerging in the second half as a legitimate scorer.

That unpredictability led to some rather predictable takes on his rookie season. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton and Mike Schmitz share concerns over the player the Suns selected at No. 4 overall in the 2017 NBA Draft.

When ranking the rookie class for future potential, Schmitz had Jackson eighth in his top-10.

I know my No. 8 prospect had an up-and-down year and is far from an analytics darling, but I still believe in Jackson. I think if he had ended up in Boston rather than Phoenix fans may be talking about Jackson in a much different light right now, praising his toughness and explosiveness rather than killing him for his lack of shooting and turnover-prone style.

There are certainly concerns about his wild play, shooting and approach, but I think he will eventually thrive in Igor Kokoskov’s system. We always knew it would take Jackson some time, though he did show flashes in the final 15 games. It’s just a matter of whether he’ll be able to develop enough winning habits and improve in a losing environment.

Pelton, meanwhile, has Jackson outside his top-10, citing concerns regarding his inefficiency.

Jackson is perhaps the toughest player for me to evaluate. Everything you say in defense of his outlook is reasonable, but second-half performance doesn’t tend to be any more predictive than first-half play and I feel his inefficiency as a rookie confirmed my concerns about him coming out of Kansas. So I’ve got him outside the top 10.

While the rankings might seem harsh, both cases are sound.

Jackson, largely due to the Suns’ overall defensive ability as a team, did not get to showcase much of his chops as a defender he was touted for in college. He had his off-ball lapses while also flashing every now and then on the ball, but as for the “great” defender he was built up to be, the evidence wasn’t there yet.

Like his defense, his passing was hard to judge after one season. Shifting into a role as the team’s primary scoring option at the end of the season, Jackson’s growth in learning to slow down with the ball was the first important step in his development. He never really got to his playmaking, where he only averaged 1.5 assists a game. That, along with his defense, highlight the two major areas to watch for him to improve in the next couple of seasons.

His efficiency, though, was an outright issue. He shot 41.7 percent from the field, 26.3 percent from three-point range and 63.4 percent at the foul line.

That added up to a 48.0 true shooting percentage. Per Basketball-Reference, among the 75 players who attempted at least 12 shots a game this year, Jackson’s number was the second-worst true shooting percentage behind Dallas’ Dennis Smith Jr.

To Jackson’s credit, and to the case of him being a top-five rookie in this class, his true shooting percentage before the turn of the new year was 43.9 percent and jumped to 50.4 percent in 2018.

That 2018 number would still put him in the bottom 10 of that group, but it was the progress that made Suns fans so excited about his development in the second half of the season.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, Lakers guard Lonzo Ball, Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, Chicago’s Lauri Markkanen and Hawks big man John Collins were all ranked ahead of Jackson on both lists.

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