EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Will the Suns see Josh Jackson as a star or an elite role player?

Apr 7, 2017, 9:48 AM | Updated: 11:04 pm

A deep 2017 NBA Draft comes with its pitfalls, even if those pitfalls are relatively shallow.

The main concern for a team picking at the top of such a rich draft class comes in identifying safe picks and identifying stars. In the case of Kansas Jayhawks freshman forward Josh Jackson, it’s easy to see him as a star if he can fix his one major flaw.

The hard part is knowing the ceiling if he doesn’t.

Jackson is projected in most mocks to be selected no lower than third, likely behind point guards Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball. Some even see him as the best overall prospect.

While it’s easy to subscribe to the idea that he’s a top-three draft choice, there is a case to be made his star potential lags behind players like Fultz, Ball and even others through the top-10 players in the class. While one-and-dones aren’t often viewed as “safe” picks, Jackson might be just that.

How his jumper develops will act as a trigger for whether he can become more than a sensational role-playing forward similar to Warriors bench savant Andre Iguodala.

Jackson ended the year on a torrid shooting pace, and his 51-percent shooting overall and 39-percent three-point accuracy might make worries over his shot laughable. But there are concerns about his future as a No. 1 offensive option.

There are at least four problems with his shot:

— Low release point
— Release off outside fingers
— Slow, three-movement release
— Inconsistent release

The motion on Jackson’s shot includes a dip upon receipt of the ball, a slight pushing out of the ball as he goes up, and the forward release that pushes the ball toward the hoop. While Jackson has a solid base and balance on his jumpers, what happens above the waist makes his shot vulnerable to bigger, faster defenders.

Per Synergy, Jackson hit just 20 percent of his mid-range shots off the bounce.

The wonky form also showed on his free throws, where he hit just 57 percent at Kansas.

The shooting could limit everything Jackson does well. And he does quite a bit well.

Known as a competitor, he is already an athletic, two-way player. Jackson has lockdown perimeter defender potential with a 6-foot-8 height and a thin 207-pound frame.

Offensively, Jackson showed excellent instincts in the fullcourt as well, pushing the ball off rebounds and using shiftiness — change of direction and speed — to slip past defenders seemingly in position to stop the advancement of the ball.

Jackson thrived playing in an offense alongside two ball-dominant guards in Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham, and his efficiency shooting said as much about his willingness to play team ball than anything. Jackson has sound handles and proved most capable breaking down defenses in the halfcourt to score at the rim or make the smart pass — again, that was easier when his jumper was falling.

Therein lies the problem.

Much of Jackson’s production came with him playing as a ball-handling power forward, where he was able to easily take defenders off the dribble or cause havoc running them off screens. The threat of the jumper played a big role in that, as college bigs out of their element reacted to Jackson’s pump-fakes.

Those lumbering college power forwards will be lanky small forwards and even shooting guards in the NBA.

Playing alongside a perimeter-oriented team helped Jackson, but it remains to be seen how sagging weakside defenders might be able to slow him down on a pro team without floor-spacing abilities.

Beyond that, Jackson’s thin frame will limit him to playing small forward, even in today’s small-ball NBA, and a lack of shooting ability at that spot could hold him back.

This is where the Iguodala comparison can be made. Iguodala has made a career as a point forward on a unique team. The 2015 Finals MVP, who has developed a selective perimeter shooting game, has been the ultimate glue player without being an alpha-scorer. That dates back to his days with the Nuggets and Sixers.

Can Jackson become more, or will he be overwhelmed being asked to become a franchise savior much like Iguodala was in Philly?

The 20-year-old has the same point-forward abilities and defensive intensity as Iguodala, but much of his success will come down to fit.

The Suns pairing Jackson with Devin Booker makes sense, perhaps more than does a Booker-Ball pairing that would cause opponents with elite scorers in the backcourt to lick their chops upon a Phoenix matchup. With the Suns, Jackson could even play as a point-forward, directing offenses or working off Booker initiating the offense.

Much of Phoenix’s decision-making depends on where they draft and what they want to do with Eric Bledsoe considering there are several point guards available. Then, it’s a matter of deciding if any of those players have more star potential than Jackson, and whether taking a risk on their lower floors could bite the team in the long-run.

Even if Jackson’s floor is as an Iguodala-type glue player, is taking that type of player in the top-3 of a deep draft the best option?

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