I wonder what Jay Triano said to Josh Jackson after he didn’t play against the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 2, because ever since it has lit a fire underneath their latest lottery selection.
The discrepancy between Jackson in 2017 and 2018 is eye-opening, to say the least. And the numbers don’t lie here.
Before DNP: 9 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.1 assists on 37.8/23.9/56.4 splits averaging 21.6 minutes, 44.5 eFG%
Since DNP: 15.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.5 assists on 44.2/30.1/69.2 splits averaging 27.4 minutes, 53.3 eFG%
Not only that, but there’s absolutely no denying that the turnaround Jackson has undergone puts him squarely in the best rookies in 2018, remember not the full season.
Over the last six or so weeks, the only other rookies outside of Jackson to average 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 assist are Ben Simmons and Lauri Markkanen.
Both Simmons and Markkanen have been mainstays all year long to make 1st Team All-Rookie but if Jackson continues his recent play he’s definitely making a late push to join them instead of Jayson Tatum.
Those numbers listed in bold above don’t even mention Jackson’s defensive instincts either. I have seen plenty of plays where Jackson ball watches far too often and gets beat, but check out how he baits Gary Harris into this block during the debut of Elfrid Payton.
On the possession before, he had a nasty Euro move placed onto Trey Lyles.
Jackson had a nasty Euro finish on Lyles and then baited Harris into a chase-down block on the next possession.— Evan Sidery (@esidery) February 11, 2018
I will come back and collect my receipts accordingly when he’s an All-Star. pic.twitter.com/9Dmcw2ujBO
These plays I believe will continue to flash far more consistent over the Suns final 23 games after the All-Star break.
Jackson’s turnaround is hard to deny at this point because his last brick of a game came in Houston where he shot 1-13 from the floor. Ever since then, he’s on an elite list of players averaging at least 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 1 block per game while shooting at least 45% from the field.
Outside of Jackson, only seven others are posting this line the past three weeks: Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Karl-Anthony Towns.
As you can see, a rather impressive company for the rookie to be in.
It's been apparent but Jackson has also started to take a lot better shots for himself since then. Phoenix’s No. 4 overall pick out of Kansas is at his best with a head of steam either in transition or off of dribble-drive handouts (DHO), and Phoenix has started doing that more often as Jackson has gained more trust out of Triano.
As we have seen a lot with Jackson, especially in February, is him being fearless heading towards the rim. Since the DNP, he’s tried to end the likes of Dwight Howard and Rudy Gobert on posters but neither were converted. Either way, you have to love the aggressiveness and much like his shot improvements, one of those posters will be converted here real soon.
Far too often in the first three months of the season did we see Jackson settle for mid-range shots that were low percentage. To counteract that, take a look at how his mindset offensively has grown into his role.
Restricted area shot attempts before DNP: 122 in 38 games converting 50.8%
Restricted area shot attempts after DNP: 105 in 19 games converting 60.1%
Not only has Jackson taken a step back as he realizes he doesn’t have to do too much outside of cut towards the rim and take the wide-open looks right now in this system, but he’s naturally letting it come to him.
After what happened against Atlanta, Jackson was very open about it towards the media. He evenly openly admitted that, as the advanced numbers backed up, Phoenix was a better team on both ends when Jackson was off the floor.
It’s rare you see the humility like that in someone this young.
Some metrics have the #Suns as a better team without Josh Jackson on the court. Here's how he took that insight, which included a benching last week, and what he's doing about it with coach Triano. pic.twitter.com/1M8F76eD3U— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) January 10, 2018
After Jackson had another strong display, this time after they came back from a quick trip to Los Angeles against the Lakers, I asked him about his recent play.
If you were placed in a film study session alongside Jackson, what would you see? Well, as Jackson let me know, it’s the areas people most tend to never think about.
“Just some of my body movements. How low I am with the ball sometimes,” Jackson said. “I think I should be a little lower than I am at times. Just really, really small things that most people don’t even think about. Like sometimes when I attack the basket, the positioning of my feet, which way my toes are pointing. Wherever you point your toes is where you’re going to go. So, if I’m trying to go to the basket and my toes are pointing out to the sideline, it’s going to be even harder for me to get in there. Just things like that.”
One shot that caught my attention that Jackson put up in the Suns’ loss in Staples Center that night was this move below.
This is something Jackson would never have done in October or November. Look at him patiently read off the PnR here. pic.twitter.com/G2oZalxc60— Evan Sidery (@esidery) February 8, 2018
He keeps Brandon Ingram honest by staying patient and waiting for an opening, keeping him in no-mans land to say in terms of committing to the perimeter or Jackson. That also forced over the rim protector in this scenario, but he was still able to make a tough floater anyways over Brook Lopez.
Maybe a split second earlier and Jackson makes that shot even easier for himself. Those are the little things he continues to learn as he is now over halfway through his rookie season.
Doesn’t that move kind of remind you of another Sun on the roster? To me, it did, because I asked Jackson about that move Devin Booker has used regularly in his arsenal.
Turns out, he did learn it from Phoenix’s young star and he wants to continue to take pieces from some of the league’s best.
“Yeah, a lot of guys in the league to be honest," Jackson said about who he tries to take moves from offensively. “That’s another thing I’m trying to get better at is using my body to create space and get open shots.”
In this new year, Jackson has taken full advantage of his minutes earned from Triano. Sure, there are still some moments we don’t like to see from him, but the positive flashes are starting to far outweigh the negatives.
I couldn’t even come close to saying that in December.
With the addition of a legitimate starting point guard, Jackson’s impressive play should only continue after their short hiatus.
As we saw early and often in Payton’s first three games, he and Jackson already have a chemistry especially in transition where he’s always rewarding the floor runners. That will continue to grow once Payton has more practices with this group and Triano can re-expand the playbook back to full capacity.
It’s a question I continue to jumble around within my head, but is Jackson starting to solidify as the main secondary piece alongside Booker many in the Suns' organization thought he would become after he was drafted?
If these performances continue to shine through over the final two months of his rookie season, lock him in alongside Booker and their 2018 lottery pick as the three main pillars of #TheTimeline.