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Suns Fully Bought-In on Josh Jackson’s Two-Way Potential

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Josh Jackson won’t take a backseat in Phoenix, he’s option A, too, as head coach Earl Watson and general manager Ryan McDonough exude high praise for the No. 4 pick.

NBA: Phoenix Suns-Press Conference Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

While many Suns fans believe the roster should be built around Devin Booker, they might have just found his perfect partner in crime with Josh Jackson. However, don’t think of Jackson as a complementary building block alongside Booker, this will be a co-star effort.

After speaking with head coach Earl Watson and general manager Ryan McDonough Friday afternoon, the former Jayhawk will be a cornerstone in the Valley for many years to come. Adding the best two-way player in the draft with a dead-eye scorer spells trouble for the league once they mature.

Jackson, who played mostly out of position at the four spot while at Kansas, should have an easier transition to the professional game. Remember, he was the top prospect coming out of high school in this draft class, according to multiple scouting services.

Watson, who saw a flurry of activity revolving around teams wanting to move into their spot to select Jackson, believes there’s more to Jackson’s repertoire, especially on offense, where no limits will be set on his development at that end.

“Oh, for sure, Josh is a perfect fit on any team,” Watson said. “That’s why every team was interested in moving up to try and get him. A year ago at this time, he was the number one prospect in the NBA coming out of high school — and I’ve always said you have to look deeper — but if you look deeper we all know college basketball is dominated by guards and point guards, so wings never really have the ball that much.”

Outside of his developing offensive skill set, Jackson already has the intangibles to be an immediate impact player on the defensive side of the floor. Jackson’s quick-twitch instincts are capitalized off of with steals and deflections. Outside of that, his vision and being able to switch and play positions 1-5 really stand out in film studies of him.

Simply put, Jackson’s going to be a pest to opposing players with his competitive juices flowing, and will often gamble on that end with it paying off.

It’s rare to see a rookie step into a role immediately to guard the LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard’s of the association, but the Suns’ No. 4 pick is a fiery competitor who won’t shy away from a challenge and get aggressive against them.

“I think he has amazing potential to be an all-league defender,” Watson said.

Compared to defense-focused prospects of past drafts, Jackson is unique in that he has the playmaking ability of a combo guard alongside a while not consistent shot, but will have to be respected if in the corner off of an Eric Bledsoe or Booker drive to the rim.

Watson said he’s kept tabs on Jackson since high school and believes there truly is no comparison out there for him. Also, the entire front office definitely holds their young star in high regard for what ceiling he could reach.

“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.”

Adding Jackson alongside competitors like Chriss and Booker will only make the roster held more accountable. Jackson won’t be afraid to come in at training camp and call out people who aren’t giving it their all, someone who goes all-out in practices sessions, too.

Phoenix is starting to build an identity for itself, the young up-and-coming roster that is going to get under everyone’s skin throughout the 82-game ringer. Chriss and Jackson especially will continue to cause scuffles on the floor with their high motors. Tossing Jackson against a top scorer, while Chriss is inside on the block? Good luck not getting a technical with them to set the tempo, which Watson joked around about when I spoke with him.

From an outside perspective, building a Bad Boy Detroit Pistons style team is enticing. Booker, Jackson, and Chriss all have that dog in them to turn it up in all facets, which should peak the interest of the Suns’ front office with how much potential they actually have in front of them.

It might not exactly be Pistons-esque, but it most certainly could be classified as Bad Boys West with the addition of Jackson to the roster.

“Moving forward, it’s just that toughness coming together that we need some of that nastiness and some of that edge,” Watson said. “To a lot of these young guys, to start cutting into close games, just having a presence.”

Watson elaborated further on wanting to add Jackson alongside this core of young players, and it relates to wanting to build a similar culture in Oakland. Many in the front office believe they have found an even more explosive and fast-twitch Draymond Green with Jackson, with him being that missing piece for the Suns to start their ascension.

“I wouldn’t say lacking, but the team moving forward, they need that. The reason why Draymond is in Golden State,” Watson said. “It’s the reason why top teams have that ability to take the next step. Always felt like there’s been a tough guy on each team that’s won championships that allowed them to. Someone needs to set the tone. He does that at a wing position, and he can guard bigger guys.”

Much like Green, Jackson is from Michigan, Detroit to be exact. Watson believes they have found their lockdown defender on the perimeter for years to come, maybe even inside once Jackson fills out his frame, too.

With his Detroit toughness alongside a fiery mindset and will to be the best in this draft class, why not let him take his wounds his rookie season as the top defender? It will only help him in the long-run more, and even Watson believes a star stopper has to have that mindset, which Jackson has in spades.

“I don’t think anyone can do it, it takes a certain personality, a certain mindset, a certain life experience, whether it’s basketball, life, or overcoming an obstacle,” Watson said. “He’s from Detroit for a reason, he’s tough.”

McDonough spoke further on how Jackson will help complete the vision they have set out for the roster. Adding maybe a more athletic Green in Jackson will help them traject upwards toward a Golden State, which he mentioned in Friday’s introductory press conference.

Not only that, but Watson has also chimed in on it by the front office watching hours of games on the Oklahoma City Thunder when they had Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook all in the same starting lineup as youngsters.

Going all-in on the youth movement paid off eventually for the Warriors and Thunder, and McDonough believes the addition of Jackson will help usurp Phoenix’s potential toward the top of the Western Conference with a sudden surge up within the next two years. It’s bound to happen and turn around if you commit to it, which McDonough plans to now build around his core of Jackson, Booker, Chriss, Bender, Warren, and Tyler Ulis.

“We obviously studied what Golden State did and Josh talked a little bit about that and how they built their team. We studied what Oklahoma City did, Earl was there when the group was young and not winning a whole lot of games, helped turn it,” McDonough said. “So, we’ve looked at all of that. Obviously, it starts with the caliber of the player, in terms of the talent, in terms of their approach. Most teams with young players don’t win a lot of games, we get that part of it, but if the guys work hard and grow together and grow on the same timeline, you can turn it pretty quickly and take off pretty quickly. I think with the experience our young group has now, in terms of the players who’ve been on our roster a year or two or three years, those guys are starting to get to the point we’re more ready to win consistently. What we think and hope is what those guys have done and what coach has done with them will help elevate these guys and acclimate them quicker into the NBA level and help us do pretty impressive things for a team that looks like it will have a young roster.”

Jackson looked giddy throughout the press conference to be a member of the Phoenix Suns, and who can blame him for that? He went into the perfect situation for himself long-term. Jackson mentioned that Phoenix has been squarely on his mind as a roster fit ever since the lottery in New York in May.

“It’s definitely been a place I’ve thought about being ever since the draft lottery. I look at the team and I just really get excited. This team just has so much promise,” Jackson said. “I think I fit in pretty well, so I’m more than happy to be here. I can’t wait to see what we can do this year.”

How Jackson ended up in the Valley in the first place raised some eyebrows around the league, but like McDonough mentioned Friday, it’s a competition anyways to get the guy you want, even if it’s against a friend like Boston’s Danny Ainge.

McDonough mentioned how the pre-draft process between the lottery and the draft allowed for Phoenix to stay in constant talks with Jackson’s agent, BJ Armstrong, and the Wasserman Group to have a win-win situation for both sides.

This time, it was the pupil who finessed the master as Jackson’s camp canceled a meeting and workout in Sacramento the week of the draft with the Celtics. It wasn’t confirmed nor denied that the Suns were the team that promised Jackson near the beginning of the workout circuit, but I’d be hard pressed to bet against after speaking with McDonough and Watson on Jackson.

Trust me, the sky is the limit on both ends with Jackson. That’s a mutual feeling for everyone throughout the Suns’ front office and staff.

“I’d like to consult my attorney BJ Armstrong,” McDonough joked about the Celtics dynamic. “It’s an interesting process, this pre-draft process. I think the question was asked what we thought about Josh not working out for the Celtics -- and you guys all know my history with the Celtics and the respect I have for Danny Ainge and the organization — but I think you guys who also know me know how competitive I am. Look, it is a competition. So, the Celtics were ahead of us at three, they could have selected whoever they wanted to — I think they got a really good player in Jayson Tatum — but that doesn’t mean that BJ and I and Jason Ranne with Wasserman Group and other members of my staff couldn’t talk and try to formulate the best plan to get a player we were really high on to a place where we felt like he really wanted to be and would be a great fit for him.

The process is what it is, we play by the rules I guess. We’re thrilled that Josh Jackson is sitting next to me as a member of the Phoenix Suns.”

Overall, what is Jackson going to bring to the Valley? It’s what will probably make him a fan favorite right when he steps on the court, the anger he plays with and his mentality on both ends of destroying his matchup. Adding in another player like this alongside someone of similar thought in Booker, I can’t see a duo under 21 topping this.

Not only his effort and energy, but he’s held in high regard in terms of his playmaking ability for others. McDonough mentioned that Jackson was the best forward he’s seen in a number of years in terms of passing skills. The potential for him to run PnR is there, which will be a nightmare for opposing coaches. Pick your poison, either Jackson will take his man one-on-one in ISO or drive and dish to Booker or other sharpshooters on the perimeter.

Having a 6’8 forward who can play spot minutes at all positions opens up plenty of possibilities for Watson to play with, in terms of on-court rotations. As Jackson continues to mature his body and develop his all-around game to mesh alongside Phoenix’s college team itself, in terms of age.

As Jackson mentioned, Watson and McDonough and Co. visited Jackson in Sacramento for a private workout in June. Watson told Jackson there that he’s going to let him take his lumps against the best on defense and continue to tirelessly work on his shot every day. Not only did the front office buy-in on Jackson, but Jackson bought into the Suns themselves.

Like the defending champions further west, having all this youth at the same time growing together is a rare and special thing to occur, especially the talent level of them. As the roster matures year after year, the wins will increase and maybe even take a big spike up.

The Suns believe Jackson isn’t just a complementary piece to a Booker-led team, but a co-star who they plan to build their roster around for the next decade. If this is the Suns’ Draymond, then Jackson could turn into even more of a unique specimen on the court than the former Spartan.

Jackson might just become the final piece to beginning the process of sustained success on the basketball court in the Valley, and he can’t wait to build chemistry alongside the likes of Booker, Chriss, and the rest of the Suns’ youth.

“Well, I thought that was one of the more special things about this team is the youth that we have, and like you mentioned, being able to grow together,” Jackson said of this roster’s potential to flip into victories soon. “I remember watching Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green when they were all young and they didn’t seem to click as well, but as time went on and they got older, they just had the best team chemistry at how I look at them. And when coach (Watson), came to visit me and watched us work out, that was one of his key points was just being able to give the young guys an opportunity. He knows we’re not perfect. We’re going to come out and mess up, but we have to have that opportunity to come out and make mistakes so we can learn from them and get better.”