Quick disclosure, this role that Josh Jackson is playing right now will only be temporary. Odds are Jackson will slide smoothly into the second or third option offensively with no issue, but what’s taking place over the last three weeks of the season will only help him exponentially.
Jackson not only is taking lower quality shots due to pressing as the newest top option that drops his shooting percentages but it also impacts his ability to impact shots as a weakside rim protector.
Over his last 5 games, which could stretch through the rest of the season in a similar role, Jackson has averaged 18.8 field goal attempts — way above his usual season tally — including three from the outside. Other teams have already handed the keys over, but especially over the past week or so with Donovan Mitchell (25.2 FGA) and Dennis Smith Jr. (19) chucking up shots at will as well.
In that boosted usage, Jackson has averaged 21.8 points, 6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 2 steals on well below-average 45.7/18.8/60.6 shooting splits.
However, one positive to take away from this is how often Jackson is getting to the free throw line alongside his already budding ability as a cutter.
The Suns’ latest No. 4 pick in the draft is already realizing that his speed at his size is an immediate mismatch. If he can throttle up to another gear, Jackson is already proving that he’s going to either finish at the rim or draw a foul.
What should make Suns fans giddy is how Jackson compares to the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George in that category. Jackson is tied with George at 6.6 attempts per game (T14th) while Antetokounmpo is right ahead of them with 6.8.
Also, as it relates to Jackson’s poor splits at the moment those will be improved upon — I believe significantly — with more pieces that fit his style and pace of play alongside Devin Booker, too. Not only do I see Jackson averaging around 7 free throw attempts per game in 2018-2019, but also taking his playmaking to another level, which we are seeing more flashes of in his primary role we saw often at Kansas.
This season has been a whirlwind for Jackson, but this latest adjustment period has gone rather easy for him.
“I think it’s going pretty good. Still, some adjustments I can make to get a little better,” Jackson said. “I think I can turn the ball over a little bit less and I think I can be shooting a better percentage as well just by picking and choosing my shots. I think some shots I shoot out there are sometimes questionable, so just trying to eliminate those bad shots and make every shot a good shot I think can really help me.”
It seemed like Jackson became aware of that in the second half himself, relating to his overaggressiveness showing through too much.
Interim head coach Jay Triano pulled him aside in the third quarter for a moment and he only saw two shot attempts for about an 8-minute period in the second half. Ironically, when Jackson started becoming more involved in the offense, the Suns began to close the gap once more on Boston.
What was outshined by another strong outing from Jackson was the long-awaited season debut of Alan Williams. He played less than 20 minutes, but his energy alone helped spark a younger Suns rotation toward collapsing a 20-point Celtics lead in on itself. This moment, sans Booker and Warren, was impressive for Phoenix to pull off.
Williams, who sees Jackson go after it every day in practice, finally was able to share the court with Jackson in real game action.
His immediate thoughts? Well, it sounds a lot like how Williams himself as he gives it his all every chance he can.
“He’s awesome,” Williams said. “He plays as hard as he possibly can every time he goes out there.”
Not only has Jackson effortlessly taken on the alpha role on this roster without their two primary scorers out, but he’s picked up the slack in the meantime.
What shouldn’t be overlooked, though, is this has been the usual from Jackson for the last 10 weeks. Ever since Triano sat him down for a game against Atlanta on January 2, Jackson has turned into what many expected when they raved about him after his selection.
Over his last 34 games stretched into starter minutes (per 36), Jackson has looked every bit the part of a top-five pick. The former Kansas Jayhawk is averaging 20.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.2 steals over that timeframe.
As Jackson continues to take strides by the game whether it’s his passing, scoring or even crashing the offensive glass at an even higher rate, I’m getting vibes of how this team turned to Booker during his rookie year near the end. Sure, this is in a much different situation but the main point stands: This will only help further accelerate Jackson towards what I believe is a multiple time All-Star path.
Next season, I believe that next step will be taken and these last 12 games of the season might be the reason why when we look back upon it this time next season.
Once the pieces begin to fall into place around him this summer, including choosing the right head coach to mold him into the bonafide two-way impact wing they believe he can become, Josh Jackson looks on the cusp of becoming a legitimate second option alongside Devin Booker in the Valley for many years to come.
Now, just stay patient and let these ingredients for the Suns stew into what all in the organization believe will be an ascending contender in the near future.