Through the first four preseason games, with T.J. Warren and Devin Booker both missing preseason time, Phoenix’s No. 4 pick Josh Jackson has had a lot of opportunities to learn on the job.
After three consecutive games where Jackson had trouble taking care of the ball, in 40 minutes he only had three turnovers this time, a preseason-low. Jackson finished off his night as the team’s number one option on offense with 22 points on 9-19 shooting (0-3 3PT, 4-5 FT).
Jackson has averaged 15 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block per game in 28.5 minutes. Those are some pretty impressive numbers for someone who many draft pundits said would struggle early on with his shot. The former Kansas Jayhawk has done anything but that, especially from the perimeter.
“No, I didn’t expect to play 40 minutes. I did expect to play a lot knowing we’ve got some guys out," Jackson said about logging a career-high. “Obviously, Devin’s not playing. I knew I was going to come in and have to give us some good minutes.”
For me, it’s getting hard to keep Jackson out of the starting lineup. In-person, it’s difficult not to just follow Phoenix’s newest lottery selection on both ends. His endless motor is on display throughout, and really his jump shot isn’t close to broken.
From watching him even up in Las Vegas for Summer League up til now, the shot seems rather consistent which has to be an exciting development for the Suns.
Head coach Earl Watson says that outside shot and its early success has been the biggest surprise to him, too. On Wednesday, Jackson shot 0-3 from beyond the arc, but he’s been consistent from the corners all summer and now.
“Three-point shooting. Not tonight, but it’s usually been really good, and we knew he would not always shoot the ball as well from three," Watson said of what’s impressing him most with Jackson. “But he’s doing a better job of rebounding, pushing coast-to-coast, finding players, getting to the rim, just rebounding. He has a lot to his game. He plays both ends of the court.”
With both Booker and Warren out against Portland, Jackson had the chance to take over and be the top option. Watson said postgame, however, that wasn’t the plan.
Phoenix’s roster resembles more of a college roster at the moment than an NBA one, in terms of overall age, so someone has to naturally step up and take over when it's needed. Turns out, Jackson was that guy and passed the pretest with rather flying colors.
Whether it was demonstrating a mid-range game including getting him open off of swings — which Kansas head coach Bill Self himself did a ton for Jackson last season — or stepback fadeaways, including a willingness to drive through the lane and finish on contact, Jackson is showing off an array of moves that are translating.
Plus his defense, which had some more flashes shown against the Blazers, Jackson is proving to be a key commodity to a team in desperate need of another dynamic player being implemented to it.
Troy Daniels, who joined the roster right before training camp via trade from Memphis, has bought-in on Jackson as well. Watson has compared him to both Kawhi Leonard defensively and Russell Westbrook in terms of game speed. Jared Dudley compared Jackson’s work ethic to a rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo prior to the preseason beginning, who he helped mentor in his early stages, too.
Now, Daniels believes the sky is the limit on the offensive end, which was projected by many to be the slowest part of his game in the early stages of his career.
“He has great potential. He’s really good,” Daniels said. “He’s a little raw I would say, but he’s very talented offensively. If he learns the NBA game, the sky’s the limit, which he will over time.”
Jackson’s role on this team, at least right now, isn’t to be a top-flight scorer. Alongside Booker and Warren, Phoenix believes they have two of the better young scoring wing duos in the league, now add in Jackson’s elite two-way potential and that rounds out one of the better trios.
Personally, starting all three together with Warren playing at small-ball four could be the team’s best lineup. Sending out Eric Bledsoe, Booker, Jackson, Warren, and Marquese Chriss is super small, but the speed and utilizing your forwards to get out in transition seems to be what they want to do anyway.
If the Suns want to push the pace and have a season based on structure and development, keeping Jackson in the starting group alongside their two other dynamic scoring wings could turn into something over time.
Don’t expect Jackson to take 19 shots regularly throughout the season, but Wednesday’s performance proved he has the potential to take over games even this early on in his professional career.
“We would like to see him aggressive, but remember he’s no Devin Booker, no T.J. Warren. I guarantee you those shot numbers will come down, those field goal attempts. But at the same time, it’s interesting when players are out, we like to see who naturally steps up,” Watson said of Jackson’s assertiveness on offense. “And you can’t create that, you can’t tell a guy tonight you’re going to be the guy. You just have to kind of see who takes over, it’s kind of like the alpha dog mentality. Tonight, I thought he led us as best as he could for it only being the 4th game of his NBA career.”