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Josh Jackson Helps Solidify Ryan McDonough’s Vision

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Adding Josh Jackson helps create a competitive, feisty group built for the long haul. General manager Ryan McDonough shared his thoughts post-draft.

NBA: Draft Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Whichever way you slice it, the Phoenix Suns walked out of Thursday night’s NBA Draft as major winners.

They might not have swung a trade for Kristaps Porzingis, but adding in Josh Jackson with the No. 4 to grow alongside Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, and T.J. Warren will help shape the roster long-term. And when Phoenix had the chance to snatch up Jackson, it not only included adding a versatile, two-way wing but the 20-year-old from Kansas will come in tasked with continuing to mold the culture.

General manager Ryan McDonough, who immediately came out and stated Jackson was the top ranked player on their board following their last selection of the night at No. 54, says Jackson’s competitive nature will be infectious with such a young nucleus around him.

“Yeah, we love his fire, his competitive spirit,” McDonough said. “Frankly, I thought we needed some more of that as a team. Josh is going to have some emotional moments. He’s going to have some moments, maybe crosses the line in terms of technicals, on-court aggression, but, personally, I’d much rather have that and try to calm a guy down than try to light a guy up and start a fire under him. With Josh, you don’t need to do that. He brings that fire, he brings that chip. I think the fact he was drafted fourth in this draft will motivate him even more because I think in talking with Josh, just getting to know him over the past couple of months and watching him play, I think he feels he’s the best player in this draft class. My guess is he will try to set out to start proving that when we go up to Las Vegas and start Summer League on July 7.”

The Suns now look to have an identity, a tough, hard-nosed team that’s going to be a pest to opposing teams on both ends of the court. And Jackson alongside Chriss sure sounds like major entertainment, doesn’t it?

Jackson said Thursday night that what he will bring to the Valley immediately is not only versatility on both ends, but a chip on his shoulder to prove the three teams that didn’t pick him first wrong. His never say die attitude I could see easily winning over this locker room rather quickly.

“I think my versatility, just my competitive spirit,” Jackson said in Brooklyn 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.”

Areas of Jackson’s game that tend to get overlooked outside of his defensive prowess is playmaking ability. He’s a willing and able passer who has great instincts and vision, including off of PnR opportunities and rolling to the rim. That’s what ended up separating Jackson from the rest of the top forwards in this draft class, Jayson Tatum and Jonathan Isaac, he’s an uber unique specimen for someone in a 6’8 frame.

Jackson’s ceiling is often compared to Golden State’s vocal leader on both ends, Draymond Green, but Jackson’s natural abilities give him the opportunity to fully eclipse him in terms of all-around potential. If Jackson hits, he will be a star in the league no ifs, and's, or buts about it.

“Well, Draymond Green, of course,” Jackson said of who he compares his playing style to. “I’ve been knowing him for a long time now. And I’ve watched him grow since he was in high school and playing at Michigan State. He’s kind of exactly how I am in terms of being competitive and a little bit of trash talking, so I’m really excited to get out there and be able to play against him. Obviously, there are a lot of great players in this league, LeBron James, one of the best players in the world, Kevin Durant. I really want to get out there and see where I stack up against some of the best players in the world.”

McDonough echoed Jackson’s confidence, and once they realized he was going to be there at No. 4, the Suns’ GM said that they began to start shutting down in and all trade calls up to an hour before the draft. They were not going to move Jackson unless they were blown away, and staying pat led them to who they would have taken before the lottery in May, too.

Jackson, who was nearly everywhere at the top of his draft class in high school according to multiple scouting services, will step in day one and help complete the rebuild in the Valley.

“We thought Josh Jackson was the best player in the draft, and people say, “Well, he’s the best two-way player.” Last I checked, the game is played two ways, you don’t just play one,” McDonough said. “We really like Josh, his talents. We really love his fit with our roster. I think if you look at the entire draft class, and obviously, I’m biased, but every team’s roster and which player in this draft fits a specific team the best, we think the fit with Josh Jackson to the Phoenix Suns is perfect. We think with him and Devin Booker, and TJ Warren, we have three of the better young wings in the league. We think Josh’s defensive ability and athleticism, his length, his passing ability all really complement two very talented offensive wings in Devin and TJ. And we love his competitiveness, we love his fire, we love his toughness.”

What we really stood out last night after speaking with McDonough was the long-term vision, which they are trying to build the roster in the prototypical modern look. Like Golden State, Phoenix wants to mold its team with versatility and ability to play multiple positions. Adding Jackson and second round pick Davon Reed at No. 32, who’s 6’5 with a 7’ wingspan for a two-guard, will give head coach Earl Watson loads of possibilities for lineups. A rotation around Jackson, Reed, Booker, and Warren gives the Suns four players all 23 and younger who can play 1-4, dependent upon whichever lineups they come across.

“I think that’s the way the league is going,” McDonough said of Jackson’s versatility playing into the selection. “Obviously, the ability to play multiple positions, especially defensively, I don’t think that’s ever been more important. It gives coaches a lot of options. Devin’s a guy who’s primarily a shooting guard, who can play some point guard or some small forward depending on the lineups. TJ Warren is primarily a small forward, I think can play some power forward in some small ball lineups and maybe a little shooting guard in bigger lineups, I think Josh is the same way, so in our opinion it leads wings, two-way wings, are the hardest players in the NBA to find and that’s no disrespect to guards to bigs or whoever but elite wings with that kind of versatility. I don’t say Golden State started the trend, they have mastered it in terms of getting a bunch of guys like that at a high level and we’re trying to see if we can do something similar.”

Meanwhile, the one area that continued to follow Jackson around through the pre-draft process was his shooting ability. In the latter half of last season, Jackson’s shot steadily improved but his form will still need a major overhaul on the professional level. He has poor lift on his jump shot while converting only 56.6 percent from the free throw line.

It’s not promising, but McDonough believes that’s the only hole in Jackson’s game. What Jackson will bring, however, is what has the Suns’ front office ecstatic to add him in. And with the attitude Jackson possesses, he expects to see continued improvement throughout his career.

“Shooting the basketball, spot-up shooting. Honestly, I think you said shortcomings, plural, that’s the only one I see. 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. Other than that, offensively, he moves the ball very well. He’s one of the better passing wings that we’ve scouted, that I’ve scouted in a long time. His feel for a guy who 6’8 or so is pretty unique. His ability to kind of read plays before they happen and get the ball out of his hands quickly, that shows me has a pretty good mind for the game. It’s not like he’s just catching the ball, then thinking what I need to do next. When the ball’s already in the air coming to him, he’s already thinking about what he’s going to do with it. He’s aggressive getting to the basket, getting to the free throw line. He’s got a very quick first step for a guy that size, I think that’s something that really stands out in-person and on film. He’s able to create space to go by his defender or really jab and step back. He’s pretty good at creating space for his shot that way. Really, we don’t see many holes offensively as long as he can shoot the ball at a highly consistent level.”

Now with positions 2-5 settled on, it seems, Phoenix can now build its roster around the strengths of their young core. Booker and Warren will provide ample scoring, while a rotation of Jackson, Chriss, and Bender will be a terror defensively off switches. And Jackson will step in immediately and take over the PJ Tucker role of going against team’s top players, McDonough stated, which Jackson is eagerly waiting to prove himself in.

Many teams before the draft, including the likes of San Antonio and the Los Angeles Clippers, were trying to move up and take Jackson. His value with many teams before going to Phoenix was already palpable, so keeping that potential in-house was the smart move instead of shipping it off.

The future is bright in the Valley compared to most, if not all, rebuilding Western Conference rosters.

Jackson, Booker, Chriss, Bender, Derrick Jones Jr., and Tyler Ulis are all 21 and under, giving Phoenix long-term flexibility with its roster. With the Suns having loads of cap space this summer and next to use, the roster will begin to take the necessary steps to ascend up the ladder adding complementary pieces to a bright, youthful group.

Get excited, Suns fans, because a Jackson and Booker duo could be a major nuisance to opposing teams for years to come.