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Josh Jackson’s work ethic reminds Jared Dudley of rookie Giannis

Rookie Josh Jackson has caught this veteran’s attention, and his development will hold paramount for the future success of the Phoenix Suns.

NBA: Phoenix Suns-Media Day Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Jared Dudley understands his role with the Phoenix Suns. As he explained on a podcast with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski recently, he’s there to be a mentor and help progress the likes of Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis, and Josh Jackson until they are ready a few years from now to be top flight threats.

Meanwhile, the Suns have high expectations for Jackson and understandably so. They held him out of talks this summer to acquire Kyrie Irving due to the fact they believe he, alongside Booker, can help turn this franchise around once again. Thus far, Jackson has made his presence felt to his teammates.

Head coach Earl Watson even set the bar high, himself, back after Phoenix selected Jackson.

“I think in the future, people are going to say he’s the next Josh Jackson because most defenders they are not really skilled in passing and scoring, just tough defenders,” Watson said. “You might have a tough guy who can hit a spot-up three out of the corner, but this guy is different. He has the ability to be a great defender, impact games like Ron Artest or Kawhi Leonard defensively. He’s not afraid of challenges.”

Watson’s mention of Jackson’s corner threes showed up in Monday’s portion of practice open to the media. Jackson, who was playing the four with the second unit, made one and showed off his renowned motor throughout, too.

When I spoke with Dudley after practice, I asked what stood out about Jackson now that he’s been practicing with the team since July. What Dudley pointed out are encouraging signs, as the Suns hope Jackson can evolve quickly into a successful two-way player.

Dudley, who was mentoring another young forward himself in Milwaukee with Giannis Antetokounmpo two years ago, even compared the Suns’ No. 4 selection’s overall mentality to improve to a current MVP candidate in the infancy of his development.

"I've seen a guy who's very aggressive offensively and defensively; Hates to lose. He has a will to win. I see that he's a hard worker,” Dudley said. “He's better at attacking the basket than I thought. He's also better at shooting the basketball- it’s a weird form; it goes in more than you’d think. I think he's going to have his ups and downs throughout the whole year. Confidence is going to be an issue and working {positive: consistently on improving his shot}, but he puts the time in like Giannis did. I've seen where it might not be this year or a couple years, but I think already one of our top wing defenders. And then offensively, he tries to dunk everything going to the basket. That way, it will help him get to the free-throw line."

Coming out of Kansas, Jackson’s main and only criticism in the front office’s eyes, according to the Suns general manager, Ryan McDonough, was his jump shot. However, outside of that, they truly believe he could be a major star in this league. With the value on versatility nowadays, Jackson is the prototypical wing for any team wanting to build a contender from the ground up.

“Shooting the basketball- spot-up shooting. Honestly, I think you said shortcomings, plural, that’s the only one I see,” McDonough said as he replied to a question after selecting him. “If he can do that at a high level -- I think he’s going to be a heck of a player either way — but if he can shoot the ball at a high level, even above-average level, he has a chance to be a star.”

That fully explains right there how valuable Jackson is to this rebuild. Now, with the cornerstones of this new era of Suns basketball beginning to be formed, Dudley believes they are almost halfway finished with this team being ready to be contenders.

The next two seasons will be all about nurturing the future of this roster (Booker, Jackson, Chriss, Bender, Warren, Ulis, Reed, Williams) until they are ready to take the next step as a playoff team.

"If it's a five-point stage, maybe stage two,” Dudley said, of where this roster currently is at on their trajectory. “Where we're trying to develop to see what their roles are. Josh Jackson, is he an All-Star caliber player? Marquese, too. You've got to figure out within this next year and a half who that player could be. Then, you build your offense around it. Maybe another draft pick. Maybe you sign a free agent. So, we're phase two on that. We played Tyler. We played Alan Williams. We played Quese a lot of games and started, Bender. Now, let's see where their development is this year and you go from that."

Booker stayed in the gym all summer; ready to make the Suns winners once more

At season’s end, Booker mentioned that the team needs to take their craft much more seriously heading into his third season. For Booker, he took it to the next level.

His trainer, Robbie Haught, stayed with him all offseason and even flew out to China alongside him to continue to get work in across the globe for a Nike event. Outside of locking himself in the gym with Haught this summer, Booker made sure to stay on top of his cardio and flexibility.

"I was working. Usually doing something extra like yoga, hot yoga, spin. I went hiking,” Booker said. “Then, one day, I come in here with the team, do individual work, and then Robbie would stay with me at my house and then we would go back later in the night and just get shots. Nothing crazy on the body. Some weeks were harder than others, but just staying consistent, staying in the gym."

The Suns face of the franchise has had rapid progressions individually in each of his two seasons, but now he believes is the time for this team to click into a playoff contender.

Bringing the Suns back to relevancy is at the top of the 20-year-old’s mind as year three of regular season action begins in only two weeks.

"I won't go through all of them, but one is winning,” Booker said. “That's the next step for me is being on a winning team. Turning around this franchise, making the playoffs, and leading this team also."

Practice Notes

For media viewing of practice, we saw about 30 minutes or less of it. I would guess the latter on that notion, but there was still a ton of things that popped out to me.

First, it was the first time I saw Chriss and Bender work extensively with the starting unit since Summer League. Also, Tyler Ulis and Eric Bledsoe flipped lineups this time around as Ulis worked with the starters for what we were able to watch.

Here were the lineups:

Black - Bledsoe, Daniels, Jones Jr., Jackson, Chandler/Len

White - Ulis, Booker, Warren, Chriss, Bender

Purple (alternated into Black) - James, Jok, Bennett, Peters

*Dudley and Millsap also participated and alternated in with the White squad.

Two names that stood out to me on Wednesday: Troy Daniels and Anthony Bennett. Daniels had two steals on passes intended for Booker, while Bennett flashed a high-end motor on both ends. The former No. 1 pick had a standout moment finishing through contact on a pick-and-roll with Booker feeding him the lob, who showed off his own playmaking ability on multiple occasions.

Also, the Suns continued to emphasize crisp ball movement while maintaining a fast pace. It looks like they intend on utilizing their youth to their advantage trying to outrun teams night-in, night-out.

Dudley admits they were a bad passing team last year, and now they are looking to incorporate an offense much similar to Golden State and San Antonio that rely on swings and overall flow the basketball is moving at on each possession.

After such an abysmal year in terms of passing production, it’s no wonder why Watson has made that priority number one throughout training camp and leading in towards the season.

“We were a bad passing team last year, so we’re trying to put an offense in that try to force you to move the ball. Forces you to swing it from side-to-side,” Dudley said. “We were a good offensive team in transition, but half-court, we would pass the ball once or twice and shoot bad percentages.”

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