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The floater game could be the key to unlocking Josh Jackson’s offense

San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan (10) looks to pass as Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson (20) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Josh Jackson went down this rough road to start his rookie season.

He played so poorly he was benched, struggled to find a footing in a new offense, turned the ball over and didn’t play sound enough defense to make up for his offensive deficiencies.

The Phoenix Suns’ 2017 first-round pick has started off 2018-19 similarly. He’s last in net rating among 281 NBA players who have played at least 15 minutes per game and appeared in at least five games. Of course, a great deal of that has to do with a talent-lacking group of bench players around him.

Jackson is also the third-worst player in that group in terms of turnover ratio.

Until he embraces and becomes a defensive stopper — the one former interim coach Jay Triano wished for weekly — or the energizer that Suns coach Igor Kokoskov likened to a smaller Shawn Marion before the year, Jackson won’t meet expectations.

He flashed that on Wednesday night in Phoenix’s 116-96 win over the San Antonio Spurs, sticking with mid-range king DeMar DeRozan often and coming behind to recover on a block of a cutting Marco Belinelli.

But it was on the offensive end that Jackson, who scored 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting to go with three assists without a turnover, flashed something that just might get him on the court and keep him there: his short-range floater.

“It’s definitely been one of the shots that I like to shoot throughout my career: college, high school. I feel pretty comfortable shooting it,” Jackson told reporters Wednesday.

He ought to use it a lot more.

Twice against San Antonio, he used a screen, caught a defender on his back and patiently waded into the paint, the fear of his rolling screen-setter keeping the recovering big man noncommittal to stopping the drive.

Of course, circumstance set this up. The Spurs, by this time down and overplaying the Suns, for some reason wanted to go over screens against a 29-percent three-point shooter. They put their doubt in Jackson and prioritized defending the lob pass.

“It’s just being able to read the defense,” Jackson said. “I think I was able to get those floaters because LaMarcus was so worried about Deandre (Ayton) and us throwing the lob over top.”

But that first part is the key. Jackson is often quick to see an open lane and attack it full-speed, picking up his dribble just below the three-point arc and taking two too-long of steps to lift off.

At that point, there’s little time and little control to do anything but shoot. And there’s certainly no time to re-read a defender’s decision to contest or hang with the rim-roller.

Jackson adding more floaters into his game can avoid his deficiencies and play to his strengths.

It will slow him down. It will allow him to develop his relatively good playmaking abilities off simple reads.

It will keep Jackson from relying on his pull-up game that is too frequent — he takes more pullups in fewer minutes per game than gunners like Gerald Green and Mario Hezonja — or his rim-attacking abilities that continue to be a problem.

Jackson averages 4.6 drives over his 17.6 minutes a game, passes just 0.8 times of out those drives and shoots a miserable 32.4 percent on drives. He also avoids contact like the plague, taking 1.2 free throws per game and is last in free throws per shot attempts among the Suns regulars.

Take a look at his drives, and it’s apparent he doesn’t search out contact, settling for full-speed floaters that have little touch rather than heading right for the rim.

Maybe part of it is knowing he doesn’t shoot well from the free throw line (47 percent).

The floater could solve that. Yes, Jackson may not get the same coverage the Spurs showed as teams figure that out. San Antonio didn’t ICE him, making sure to send him baseline. But put him in the blender of coach Igor Kokoskov’s offense and there should at least be a few opportunities to mitigate his offensive holes that he’s yet to fill.

Jackson may not learn to shoot a jumper overnight. Teaching him how to draw contact isn’t so much a technical skill as it is a feel thing. Concerns this deep — or not — into a season about those problems and his turnovers and his defense can be warranted or not.

Giving Jackson the ball headed toward the middle of the floor and at slower speeds by pushing him toward using that floater, however, just might open up enough of his offensive game to keep him on the court as his defensive identity continues to develop more consistency.

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