Jackson, young players set to tip off Suns’ season against Portland

Oct 18, 2017, 4:55 PM
Phoenix Suns second year players (from left to right) Tyler Ulis, Derrick Jones Jr. and Dragan Bend...
Phoenix Suns second year players (from left to right) Tyler Ulis, Derrick Jones Jr. and Dragan Bender at Suns shoot-around at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, AZ. (Photo by Eric Newman/Cronkite News).
(Photo by Eric Newman/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX — As the Phoenix Suns prepared to take on Portland in the season opener Wednesday, coach Earl Watson said rookie forward Josh Jackson is as prepared as possible to start his NBA career.

“It’ll be his first game, so he might have too much excitement at times, but I think that’s a good thing to have,” Watson said about the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft. “I expect him to be really aggressive, and just be Josh Jackson. Whatever happens, we support him, continue to build him up whether it’s positive or challenging him.”

Watson remembered playing against Sacramento in the first game of his career. Playing at UCLA under intense media coverage helped prepare him for the big stages in NBA stadiums from the start. Jackson, a “one-and-done” player at Kansas for the 2016-17 season, faced much of the same scrutiny.

Though Watson understood the tradition and impact of the NBA, he said nerves were little of what comprised his emotions on opening night.

“It’s more excitement of actually seeing guys that you grew up admiring, guys you grew up watching and playing video games,” he said. “It was that guy in the video game, and now you get to compete against them.”

Watson hesitated to give a lineup for the opener, but Jackson could be among many young prospects playing heavy minutes for the Suns.

One of the budding players for Phoenix, among multiple second-year contributors, is forward Derrick Jones Jr., who said he and the rest of his second-year class have a lot of potential and just need to keep working hard to improve and help the team win.

“Just growing as a team, growing individually. I mean, it’s our second year so we’ve got to come back a lot better than what we did last year,” he said.

For Jones, he said a specific goal was to defend at a level warranting consideration for an All-Defensive Team nomination at the end of the season.

After a rocky rookie year that saw him finish runner-up at the 2017 NBA Dunk Contest, but also go undrafted and spend time in the NBA D-League, he said the stability that a full offseason with the Suns offers the second-year players can allow them to improve.

“It’s a lot better. I just know how it works more, what I have to work on and expand my game.”

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