Josh Jackson is improving, but is he ready to be a starter for the Suns?

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Evan recently had an interesting film study on how much better Jackson is improving on offense this season. It shows Josh seems to understand how to use his athleticism and skills better and has let the game come to him more.

James Jones has also lauded his play of late:

"He’s relentless. Josh is one of those guys that I say doesn’t take possessions off. He competes. If there’s a turnover, Josh will run it down. If there’s an opportunity to attack the glass and make an emphatic play that will lift our team, lift our crowd, he lives for those moments. And you’ve seen him steadily get stronger. His endurance has picked up, so he’s playing at a higher pace for longer and he’s wearing teams down. So, we’re extremely excited about the strides Josh has made, especially the last few weeks."

While we don't know where Josh's ceiling will ultimately end up being, the recent improvements have been a welcome sign. This team needs all the help it can get. Whiffing on the 2017 draft would be (another) big black eye on the franchise's history. Its looking less and less that the #4 pick will be a bust. He's still got a long way to go to make Suns fans to feel like selecting Josh was the right choice over De'aaron Fox. But looking at what a hard worker he is, and how much he hates to be outplayed, I won't count him out.

With TJ nursing (yet) another mysterious injury, Josh has seemingly flourished in the starter's role. Or has he? And what is his role, ultimately?

I started looking to just how much he has improved month to month, and found interesting statistics that show that while his offense has truly found a new and improved rhythm, his overall play has perhaps not.

All info from, and looking at splits.

As Evan’s article points out, Josh has gotten a lot better at finding his spots and being a more efficient scorer. If you look at his monthly splits, his TS% has shot up to ranges I, frankly, never thought we’d see.

Oct : .409
Nov: .483
Dec: .447
Jan: .513
Feb: .563 (!!)

That’s impressive. But there are concerning signs.

For one, as he’s gotten more playing time, his DRtg has dropped considerably from a low this season in November of 109 up to 117 for two months in a row now. Maybe some of that is on the team overall. But there are other warning signs.

While his points and assists per game have gone up with increased minutes and offensive officially, his +/- have dropped a LOT.

Dec: -2.9
Jan: -11.1
Feb: -13.2

That also may be from overall poor team play. Yet- Other interesting stats show he is clearly better as a reserve.

TS%…… .459……….. .516
USG%… 26.3………. 23.4
ORtg…… 85………… 94
DRtg…… 114………. 114
+/- ……. -18.0…….. -2.9
MP……… 29.8………. 20.8
(PTS, TRB, AST stay about even per 36 min)

These numbers start to suggest that Josh’s best use is still off the bench as an energy defender, secondary play-maker/scorer. With his new found skills as a scorer, this makes even more sense as he can totally torch opposing bench units.

JJ is improving, but not ready for the full-time starting role. He needs to continue to improve his offense without letting his energy defense lapse. Right now that seems to be within a slightly smaller role of about 20-24 mpg.

What to do, then, when TJ is healthy again? Is it as easy as switching them out for each other? Call me skeptical that is the right decision.

There was a great BSoTS article (again by Evan) a while back that showed the combo of TJ, Booker, and Ayton is simply not good. Not enough defense. And while the article doesn't mention it, I might argue TJ also takes too many touches away from Ayton.

That article suggested replacing TJ with Oubre. I think this would be an improvement for the time being. But I also like the combination of JJ, Oubre, and Holmes. Those guys (often with Melton or Bridges on the floor) really flummoxed opposing bench squads, and brought the Suns back into games after the TJ, Booker, and Ayton combo would dig large holes. If we lose Oubre in that role, I think the bench squad doesn't dominate as much. I also think it is the combination of those three playing extended minutes that riled up the rest of the Suns roster to play harder. Place TJ on the bench with those guys to provide more scoring and it could be even more potent.

We really could have used a better starting PF to place next to Ayton for the rest of the season. That would have kept the bench mob together.

(Dare we try Bender there more? I've pretty much given up on him- and he hasn't impressed a ton in limited minutes this season. If you look at his game log, he only has one good game out of every 6-8.... just like last season. And his 3pt shooting has been attrocious (16%). But his aggressiveness and play at the rim has been way better. No. No. I can't go there.)

Perhaps the best way to handle it is to keep rotating the wings evenly. Start Oubre and never let Ayton play with TJ and Booker. Play Bender sparingly if you have to. But try to keep these combos together:

- Booker, Bridges, Ayton

- JJ, Oubre, Holmes

With the addition of Johnson (who I am totally not sold on yet), the team added another defensive guard to play next to either of the above combos. Melton and Johnson can play with either combo.

- Johnson, Booker, Bridges, Oubre, Ayton

- Melton, JJ, TJ, Holmes (along with Bridges, Oubre, Bender, Crawford, or Okobo)

If you have five players playing the majority of three positions (SG, SF, PF), they split 144 minutes (48x3), which equates to about 28 minutes each (divided by 5 players).

Booker - 34

Bridges - 25

Oubre - 25

TJ - 25

JJ - 25

Bender - 10 (or put these 10 minutes back with the wings)

This way you can keep at least two defensive wings on the floor all of the time, and three of them the majority of the time. Those playing best finish the game and get closer to 36 mpg. I think that is probably the best we can do the rest of the season.