PHOENIX SUNS

In wake of a rough start, Josh Jackson looks to light at the end of the tunnel

Nov 16, 2018, 6:03 PM

San Antonio Spurs guard Marco Belinelli (18) steals the ball from Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson...

San Antonio Spurs guard Marco Belinelli (18) steals the ball from Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

As Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson continues to struggle at the start of his sophomore season, the young wing gave some very candid answers regarding himself and the team’s effort levels.

With just three wins in their first 14 games, the Phoenix Suns sit at the bottom of the Western Conference during a season in which the organization hoped to step forward. The No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton has come out of the gates strong and the franchise’s focal point Devin Booker has solidified himself as a playmaker in the new year.

Unfortunately for Phoenix, the pieces just haven’t seemed to click for head coach Igor Kokoskov. The Suns rank No. 24 in points allowed and have the second worst offensive rating in the league at 101.6 through the first 15 games of the year.

Jackson, in particular, has taken what looks to be a step down after a rookie campaign that earned the young wing a spot on the 2018 All-Rookie Second Team.

His scoring average is down from 13.1 to 7.2 points per game on 41.2 percent shooting from the field. As his minutes have declined, so has his ability to take care of the ball. The 21-year-old’s turnovers are up to 2.5 in only 17.6 minutes per game, which is a 7.8 minute decline from last season.

“There has always been times where we’ve shown spurts of how good we can be and how talented we are and it just doesn’t last that long,” Jackson said.

However, there have been improvements for Jackson, whose effective field goal percentage is on the rise with some slightly improved three-point shooting. His three-point accuracy is up by 2.7 percent and his effectiveness from inside the arc, where he does most of his damage, has held steady from last year at 46.5 percent.

Even so, Jackson’s opportunities are limited with four small forwards competing for minutes.

Phoenix traded for the tenth overall selection, forward Mikal Bridges, on draft night and signed Trevor Ariza to a one-year contract in free agency. On top of those additions, 25-year-old T.J. Warren is in the midst of a breakout season as his three-point shot has emerged and his confidence is reaching a new high.

Kokoskov hasn’t quite set his rotations for the year and has played a multitude of lineups with many forwards, including Jackson, on the floor together.

Low energy levels and poor defensive effort have nagged the young Suns, who allow the most fastbreak points in the league at 19.9 per contest.

“Some of it has to do with the overall energy coming into games. I don’t think we come into every game with the right mindset as a team so it kind of shows when we start the game out there,” Jackson said. “Nine times out of 10, I can tell where we’re going to be when the game starts so we just got to come ready to play every game.”

Phoenix has struggled when playing from behind which is particularly daunting for a team scoring the second fewest points in the first quarter per game with 23.8. Coming off the bench, Jackson is often asked to provide a boost on both ends of the floor with his excellent hustle and natural feel for the game.

This isn’t the start the Jackson envisioned for the season but there’s still plenty of time for improvement. As he rediscovers his rhythm and reaches mid-season form, Jackson could provide an important spark alongside Ayton and Booker heading into the future.

“It was kind of hard last year. I struggled a little bit mentally and with my confidence, but this year I know I’m kind of going through the same thing,” Jackson said, “I just know there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

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In wake of a rough start, Josh Jackson looks to light at the end of the tunnel