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Practice Notebook: Josh Jackson not worried about making a statement against Lonzo Ball and other rookies

Phoenix’s top pick has his first regular-season matchup Friday against another elite prospect.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Right after the Phoenix Suns got their top prospect on the board, Josh Jackson, he spoke about what separates him most compared to the other top names in the 2017 draft.

“I think my versatility, just my competitive spirit,” Jackson said in Brooklyn, New York at the draft following his selection. “I don’t think the other guys in this draft really care as much as I do. I don’t think they play as hard as I do, period. I think that’s what really makes me special. I refuse to fail, period.”

That relentless desire to be great has been on full display throughout his first few months in a Suns uniform. Through Las Vegas Summer League and preseason, Jackson looked like the real deal, and on Wednesday it was no different.

We have seen Jackson compared already to the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook (both by head coach Earl Watson), and Giannis Antetokoumpo (former Bucks teammate and current Sun Jared Dudley) — as far as his overall potential and work ethic goes — that’s a special trio to be reminded of.

Even though other rookies in the 2017 draft class have garnered more attention, names such as picks 1-3 in Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, and Jayson Tatum, Jackson has shown that he’s much further along than many people expected. Both Watson and general manager Ryan McDonough have mentioned they are both surprised by how Jackson’s shot has come along this early on.

Jackson spoke to me about how his repertoire of moves from high school and Kansas is translating over to the pros. As we saw throughout the preseason, Jackson is trying to find his most comfortable spots on the floor as a shooter. Through his nearly 4-month stint with the Suns so far, Jackson’s mid-range and corner three has been surprisingly effective this early on.

And with the Suns likely relying on Jackosn heavily this year in terms of fighting for rebounds alongside T.J. Warren as a small-ball four, he should be presented with a lot of mismatch opportunities he hopes to take advantage of often.

“It’s translating pretty well,” Jackson said of his offense. “I’m still playing the same way I did in college, so it’s not too much different. But just trying to improve on my game. I got a lot of opportunities out there playing the four position for us where I’m in mismatch situations. I’ve got a big guy on me sometimes. Just trying to work on different moves. Like I said before, knowing where I’m comfortable at on the floor and knowing where my sweet spots are.”

With Ball, the most talked about prospect entering the league in 2017, does Jackson want to prove a point on Friday when he’s eventually switched and or matched up on him? For Jackson, honestly, he’s not worried one bit about any other rookie in his class. He is laser-focused on self-improvement of his overall game and going up against the NBA’s elite tier.

“Against the rookies? Nah, I ain’t trying to make no statement against no rookie, but definitely the other guys in the league,” Jackson said of his first matchup against a fellow heralded rookie in Ball. “Like I named LeBron, Kevin Durant. Those the best players in the league right now and I wouldn’t want to play against anybody else. If you’re the best, you’ve got to beat the best.”

Eric Bledsoe still looking to find his groove after sitting final 15 games

Ever since the Suns shut Eric Bledsoe down when they put their tanking aspirations into full effect post-All-Star break, it’s been stuck in his mind ever since it seems. The Suns’ point guard sat out the final 15 games because McDonough wanted him to rest his knees while getting a more in-depth look at Tyler Ulis.

Bledsoe, who has shot only 22.9% (8-35) from the field through five preseason contests and their season opener, has started to transition into more of a floor general role. And Watson believes Bledsoe could “prime” in such position.

In those six performances, we saw Devin Booker initiate the offense more times than not while Bledsoe played off-ball. Bledsoe has been in this situation when Ulis enters the game alongside him, too, and he replaced him as the first substitution in Wednesday’s game.

After being in control of the offense before Booker’s emergence and additions of Ulis and Jackson, alongside Warren needing more touches, we have seen the eldest former Kentucky Wildcat at points take on a fourth-wheel role. We saw it Wednesday, as Bledsoe deferred to their three young wings most of the night.

“It is tough, man, because the way we got jumped on last night or when they took the lead, it was kind of tough to run our offense, knowing when to score when things aren’t going our way,” Bledsoe said of his career transition from score-first to being a secondary, floor general option. “It’s just got to balance. It’s something you’ve got to fit. I’m trying to get back into the swing of things. I did get sat down (when they rested him after All-Star break). I’ve just got to get back in a groove.”

“Just playing basketball the right way, the way I’ve been playing to get to this point,” Bledsoe continued about how to find his consistency. “That’s all I can focus on.”

After losing to the Portland Trail Blazers 124-76 in their season opener celebrating 50 years of Suns basketball, they will need for Bledsoe to regain his shot for them to avoid a worst-case scenario start from occurring.

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