Even though he’s 21 years old, Josh Jackson is still a moldable ball of clay that’s waiting for his unique two-way profile to be best utilized.
New head coach Igor Kokoskov is ready to ace this sculpture project, because it’s critical to the Phoenix Suns’ overall trajectory one way or another.
Throughout his career, Kokoskov has been revered as a shot doctor of sorts, especially with point guards. Whether it’s Goran Dragic, Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, George Hill, and even Raul Neto, all have seen immediate improvements in their shooting.
During Kokoskov’s second go-around in Phoenix, this time as the one in charge, he will be tasked with leading still raw prospects and turn them into productive pieces soon.
At this point, I’m not worried about how Devin Booker will adjust to his fourth voice in his ear heading into year four, because he has continuously developed at an All-Star rate amidst the chaos. With stability in place, Booker should thrive in Kokoskov’s offense but his main task will be to squeeze the most potential out of their three most recent lottery selections.
It will be in the hands of Kokoskov to turn Jackson, Dragan Bender, and Marquese Chriss into what general manager Ryan McDonough hoped when selecting them in consecutive drafts.
Between those three, though, the most pressure has to be on Jackson to fulfill Phoenix’s sky-high expectations for him to be pillar alongside Booker through multiple versions of this Suns roster. After saying thanks but no thanks on shipping Jackson out for Kyrie Irving last summer, they have fully invested into their No. 4 pick as a vital piece of their long-term nucleus.
Outside of his shot, which still looks far from being fixed even through his strong second half, Jackson needs to be taught how to be more efficient offensively alongside buying in to becoming a defensive perimeter anchor right now. If Kokoskov is able to tap into Jackson’s fiery attitude but harness it into his on-court play, we could quickly see a jump from the former Kansas Jayhawk.
However, Phoenix should be applauded for at least making some progress on his jump shot form. From how it looked a few weeks after his arrival in Phoenix compared to midway through his rookie campaign, his push on the ball seemed way less apparent. The hitch is still there — and it rears its ugly head when Jackson is in no-step spot-up situations — but its looking more fluid overall.
Both sides said after Jackson was drafted they were going to work tirelessly on improving his jump shot. Working from the outside now: pic.twitter.com/Iy7spjVZwQ— Evan Sidery (@esidery) July 5, 2017
6+ months later, the shot is looking much better pic.twitter.com/lYLYpfhhTd— Evan Sidery (@esidery) February 11, 2018
Pointing towards Jackson’s shooting splits, which featured below-average three-point and free throw numbers (26.3 3PT%, 63.4 FT%), shows how far away he still is from becoming a consistent threat outside the paint. It’s fair to say his upside is totally tied to how his perimeter game comes along over the next few years.
Phoenix called upon Kokoskov to work his magic touch, and if he does it completely changes the course of their potential once their young core matures.
If you have dove in and watched Kokoskov lead Slovenia to a Cinderella-like run to a championship this past fall, his philosophy on offense leads me to believing Jackson might have way more playmaking potential coming right around the corner. As a pusher in transition getting the offense out ahead flanked by plus shooters, Jackson could easily be versatile enough to become a secondary ball handler in both units.
Luka Doncic is a better shooter than Jackson, but the sets he ran for him mimic what could be done often with the Suns’ uber athletic wing. When he’s given a full head of steam to the rim, Jackson has already shown off plenty of times he can finish through contact.
Once he adds more weight to his frame, preferably over the next few offseasons, Jackson could quickly turn into a bigger offensive weapon than even I imagined during the pre-draft process. It truly was surprising to me how much more comfortable he looked on that end compared to highly advertised defensive instincts, which flashed not as often due to the talent around him.
For Kokoskov, he will have to tap into Jackson’s full two-way potential and help mold him into a permanent fixture alongside Booker and their top pick in this year’s draft. Luckily, the motor Jackson possesses likely entails a prospect who has a high floor with immense glue guy tools, even if his shot doesn’t come along at a promising rate.
Right now, the offense Jackson has shown is one that could turn inefficient quickly if he’s not able to keep defenses honest on drive attempts. If opposing teams find out all Jackson can do is drive at the rim or step back for a fadeaway, that will cap his offensive outlook but Kokoskov seems like the perfect coach to bring all this out of their dynamic wing.
As was showcased throughout his one year at Kansas, Jackson is a plus rebounder, passer, and team defender when put into the right ecosystem to thrive.
Jackson has all the tools in his bag to develop beautifully under the guidance of Kokoskov, who has had ample opportunity to coach top-flight forwards like Shawn Marion, LeBron James, and Gordon Hayward along his long-winding journey back to Phoenix.
Back in the preseason, Jackson was voted in the annual general manager survey to be the best player from the 2017 class five years from now. The reason falls back to his high floor, but also if his shot becomes a weapon in his arsenal, he could turn into that critical second or third piece on a championship contending team.
It’s fitting that his first NBA head coach, Earl Watson, believed so highly in Jackson’s future when he arrived in Phoenix.
“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.”
Now, it’s in the hands of Kokoskov guiding Jackson towards fast tracking his development similarly as Leonard, which might need to happen for Phoenix to become a contender in the immediate future.