Jackson’s versatility, leadership make strong early impression on Suns

Oct 3, 2017, 3:26 PM | Updated: 4:08 pm
Josh Jackson answers questions from the media after practice is Flagstaff. (Photo by Joshua Clark/C...
Josh Jackson answers questions from the media after practice is Flagstaff. (Photo by Joshua Clark/Cronkite News)
(Photo by Joshua Clark/Cronkite News)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Expectations were high for Josh Jackson coming into the NBA.

The Kansas product was selected fourth overall by the Phoenix Suns and was hailed by many as the greatest athlete in the 2017 draft class. Some even think he will turn out to be the best of that group.

Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz may have something to say about that, but Jackson is already impressing coach Earl Watson and his veteran teammates.

Former NBA champion and Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler ranks him among the top rookies he has seen in his 16-year career.

“He’s an amazing talent,” Chandler said. “One thing you can always tell if a guy is going to have success is his passion for the game. That’s natural for him, and it’s something you don’t have to teach.”

That passion combined with legitimate NBA size and elite athleticism allowed Jackson to have tremendous success at the college level, scoring 16.7 points per game on an efficient 51.3 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from beyond the arc, while pulling down 7.4 rebounds a game.

His biggest knock was his shooting mechanics, even though he ranked among the best in the NCAA in catch-and-shoot situations.

What really impressed scouts, however, was his defensive prowess. He shined as an on-ball lockdown defender as well as in the open court forcing turnovers and mistakes, leading to comparisons to All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Andre Iguodala.

That excellence on defense will be a huge upgrade for a Suns team that ranked dead last in opponents points per game at 113.3.

Surprisingly, though, Jackson’s defense made up very little of all the good things said about him in the beginning stages of training camp in Flagstaff.

Standout shooting guard Devin Booker lauded Jackson for his versatility and basketball IQ.

“He just has really good instincts, he knows where to be at the right time,” Booker said. “He can play in transition, he doesn’t really have a set position so he can do a little bit of everything. I think that’s what the game of basketball is coming to. If you look at the successful teams, they play positionless basketball. He can bring the ball up the floor, he can post up, he can guard the 1 through 5, so he’s just a real versatile player.”

Jackson showcased his signature confidence when asked what he brings to the Suns offense, echoing what Booker had to say about him.

“I bring a lot of things, scoring and versatility,” Jackson said. “I can pass, I’m pretty much un-guardable in transition, but I think the biggest thing I bring to this team is competitive nature.”

Using a baseball term, Jackson is truly a five-tool prospect. He is a Swiss Army knife of skill, athleticism, intelligence on the court and an uber-competitive mindset that all the greats have.

Surprisingly, considering Jackson’s rookie status, leadership is another element the 20-year-old brings to this young Suns team.

“Leadership has no age, that’s in sports or life,” Watson said. “With Josh Jackson, he is a natural leader, he brings something that we do not have and that is some vocal intensity and that kind of edge.

“We have guys that are capable of playing at intense levels, but Josh is just on another level with the intensity that he brings. We don’t want that to be hidden. We want to embrace all of that because it would impact our team direction.”

The role of leader is one Jackson embraces.

“Multiple guys on the coaching staff and even on the team have been telling me to just be a leader vocally,” Jackson said. “They know I’m a guy that likes to try really hard and give a lot of effort so just hoping that rubs off on other guys here.

“I love winning. Growing up I was pretty much always the best player on my team so naturally I was a leader.”

The Suns will need that leadership if they want to improve on a season that saw them finish at the bottom of the Western Conference winning just 24 games and eventually develop into a playoff team.

Jackson will begin his career Oct. 18 when the Suns face off with the Portland Trail Blazers at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

Cronkite Sports

Cronkite Sports

Sports gambling in Arizona moves closer to reality

In the near future, the Arizona sports fan’s experience could include the ability to place bets inside sports venues while the action unfolds.
2 years ago
Higley quarterback Kai Millner committed to Cal this spring, despite visiting the campus just once ...
Cronkite Sports

Arizona high school football recruits still committing amid coronavirus

Despite visiting campuses few times if at all in some cases, class of 2021 high school football prospects from Arizona are committing at record rates.
3 years ago
(Photo via Cronkite News courtesy Mesa Community College Facebook)...
Arizona Sports

COVID-19 prompts junior colleges to push for cancellation of sports

The 2020-21 school year for Maricopa County community colleges may not include sports, schools await a decision by the district chancellor.
3 years ago
New Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez believes outreach in the Arizona Hispanic market is ...
Cronkite Sports

New Coyotes CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez looks to reach Latino community

New Coyotes CEO Xavier A. Gutierrez is the first Latino president and CEO in NHL history and hopes to reach new fans in the Valley.
3 years ago
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who joined the Phoenix Mercury in the offseason, is ready to get the WNBA...
Cronkite Sports

Full pay, 22-game season in Florida on tap for Phoenix Mercury

Another league has agreed on a return-to-play plan in the month of July. This time it’s the WNBA, whose members include the Phoenix Mercury.
3 years ago
Phoenix Rising FC assistant coaches Peter Ramage (left) and Blair Gavin are awaiting details about ...
Cronkite Sports

Phoenix Rising players await news on resumption of USL Championship

Phoenix Rising FC and the USL Championship are set to resume play July 11 while players wait on more details for the return.
3 years ago
Jackson’s versatility, leadership make strong early impression on Suns