Nearly a week after Josh Jackson was selected No. 4 overall by the Phoenix Suns, they are receiving near unanimous A grades across the board from NBA pundits. That’s aided by how Jackson could have the biggest impact of any rookie entirely next season, dependent on his shot developing.
The Suns’ newest building block was heralded for his two-way ability, especially on defense, but there is one area where he doesn’t get enough attention, I believe. That is his playmaking ability for others, and that’s where we could see Jackson make his biggest impact at early on in the season.
Compared to Devonte’ Graham and Carlton Bragg Jr., Jackson now has Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss to set up as a secondary playmaker. That spells trouble once Jackson is able to adjust to NBA speed and slowing down his reads.
Whether it is in transition, pick-and-roll or feeding the ball inside, Jackson will create more space for others and he winds up in the best situation for him to show off his skill set to its fullest.
This example above shows Jackson being patient instead of attacking the rim in a 2-on-1 situation. Maybe Jackson gets the foul call if he turns on the jets, but he slows down and hits Graham right in stride for a wide-open three. Now, just imagine that’s Booker instead of Graham.
That’s probably one of the more dangerous looks you can give a shooter of his caliber, but you will have to key in on Jackson as the lead man in transition.
It’s really a pick your poison type of scenario, and this is where this will help lead to easier looks and more space for shooters like Booker.
Off the rebound, Jackson takes advantage of the numbers and ball watching by Indiana. Josh Newkirk left Kansas’ big a wide open lane from one end to another, making the choice too easy for Jackson.
If you notice, though, once Jackson crosses the halfcourt line, all eyes go to him. The threat of him utilizing his speed and driving always is an option so that in itself helps lead to more openings.
When Jackson gets out and leads a break, it will be contagious for bigs like Chriss and Dragan Bender alongside quicker wings in Derrick Jones Jr. and Davon Reed to get out ahead and take advantage of mismatches.
Yep, Jackson has this in his arsenal as well.
He didn’t bring it out much at Kansas, he rarely needed to anyways, but for a team like Phoenix who loves to get out past half court at a blistering pace, this could be seen much more often. The Suns’ roster is built around team speed with athletic bigs who can get out in front, so having something like this in the back pocket will be fun to see when it’s pulled out.
Jackson’s knack for finding the openings and exploiting them in transition is one of his best attributes in terms of his overall playmaking ability. That’s why allowing Jackson to haul in a rebound and let him lead a break is so enticing.
Setting Up Bigs
Jackson pulled off these kinds of passes with either hand often in Lawrence.
Again, for a wing, that’s a rare trait you want to take full advantage of on the next level.
His height at 6’8 allows him to see over the top of most defenders, and showing flashes such as this proves what Jackson is potential of becoming. Once the game slows down for the former Jayhawk, you will see fewer errors based off going through his reads too fast a year prior.
With the opportunities Jackson set up for Bragg Jr., give him a much higher quality athlete in Chriss and let that become a nightmare for defenses in PnR and elsewhere.
One thing I noticed when watching Jackson throughout the pre-draft process was his ability to absolutely zip the ball into tight windows. Case in point here against UAB. Off the inbounds, Jackson cuts to the basketball and already sets up for his pass inside to Bragg Jr.
He has uncanny ability to already sense where his man and the opposing defender will be at, even though that is still rather raw. The flashes Jackson showed throughout the season were surely eye-opening and made him a perfect fit alongside the weapons head coach Earl Watson already has in the Valley.
Finally, here is an example of Jackson of swinging in off the perimeter, forcing a crowd toward him, and dumping it off to his big man for an easy layup.
In Bill Self’s offense, which featured tons of motions like you see above, Jackson was set up for these plays often.
The Detroit native will always draw a crowd when he drives in with his athleticism and savviness finishing through contact and drawing a foul, so eyes will lay off a lesser threat, which Bragg Jr. was. Jackson was helped with a small pick screen to begin his drive inside and could have kicked it out to the perimeter if he wanted to for a three-pointer.
That’s what is so intriguing adding a player like Jackson into the Suns’ offense. Not only will he help set up outside in drive-and-kick scenarios and in transition, but he’s going to make life much easier for players such as Chriss and Bender long-term.
Phoenix has fully bought in on Jackson as a viable two-way player, and general manager Ryan McDonough was all smiles about him last Thursday when he spoke to the media. The defense was the talk of most, but, really, I’m more excited about how Jackson will affect the offense with his capabilities of spelling Eric Bledsoe or Tyler Ulis as the point in either lineup for spurts.
Now, I don’t suggest the No. 4 pick playing a lot of minutes at the one, but taking advantage of his abilities in transition and unlocking more potential as a PnR ballhandler should be seen early and often by the Suns starting in Las Vegas for summer league.
When Jackson was either stationary or in motion with the ball in his hands, he was able to be accurate when feeding it inside. Whether it was post-ups or off cuts, Jackson always led his man to the ball without any interruptions.
He has some of the better overall instincts for a passer in this draft class, as a wing. That’s special.
Jackson can read the court at warp speed in transition leading it, which will only open up the floor for everyone involved.
I didn’t show off his PnR in any clips, but in small doses, I liked what I saw. Jackson shined in this off setting up the roller with an alley-oop or skip pass between defenders. It’s an area that needs more seasoning, but with more experience, it could help take pressure off of Booker and Bledsoe in terms of offensive creation.
If I had to pick one area, though, with his playmaking that will translate immediately into a Watson-ran offense is in transition. Not only can Jackson haul a rebound and rev it up leading a break, as mentioned, but can be patient to find the open man when numbers are apparent down the floor. That’s a plus compared to a prospect who would just drive it inside and miss an easier shot setup from outside.
Adding more speed to an offense already built around it helps move Phoenix in a team-building direction that’s favorable for sustained success. Jackson is the one prospect you would want in this draft if you wanted a game-changing two-way prospect with the quickness to break open games on either end whichever you want him to. Not only can he disrupt, but he can score and distribute and still have an immense impact on a contest.
With Jackson drafted by the Suns, it offers him the best opportunity to be on-ball and show his diverse playmaking talent. Meanwhile, a team like Phoenix who was in dire straits for another player to help produce more positive ball movement, Jackson should help change the trajectory for Phoenix on both sides, but taking less pressure off of their scorers will only help open it up for everyone.
Really, the Jackson-Phoenix partnership was a true win-win for both sides, so it doesn’t surprise me that McDonough and Jackson’s agent, BJ Armstrong, might have helped construct a way for him to end up in a more fruitful situation than he would have with the Boston Celtics.