Josh Jackson has been an enigma since he was drafted by the Suns at No. 4 overall in 2017. The athletic wing from Kansas was supposed to be a defense-first stopper who complimented Devin Booker perfectly.
“I think if you look at the entire draft class, and obviously, I’m biased, but every team’s roster and which player in this draft fits a specific team the best, we think the fit with Josh Jackson to the Phoenix Suns is perfect,” former Suns GM Ryan McDonough said at Jackson’s introductory press conference almost two years ago. “We think with him and Devin Booker, and TJ Warren, we have three of the better young wings in the league.”
Unfortunately, Jackson hasn’t broken out onto the scene unlike some of his draft counterparts like Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen and De’Aaron Fox. The worrisome part is that Jackson hasn’t really improved much at all since the end of his rookie season. Outside of the hitch in his shot motion being nearly gone now, which has resulted in slight percentage bumps from the perimeter, there’s an argument to be made that Jackson has regressed in more categories than improved.
Hard to deny the improvement Josh Jackson has made on his shot over the past two years. The hitch is almost gone: pic.twitter.com/iYxFoXRO3R— Evan Sidery (@esidery) December 20, 2018
Jackson’s defense was supposed to mask his deficiencies offensively, at least early on, but that hasn’t been the case. After his minutes continually increased from December to February, it’s been slashed 5.4 minutes (23.2) in the month of March for Jackson. That’s even with T.J. Warren remaining out of the Suns’ rotation with his ankle injury, because Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mikal Bridges are starting to spread their wings as the long-term wing duo (Oubre Jr. - 32; Bridges - 29.4).
The opportunity has continued to be there for Jackson throughout his professional career to capitalize on, but the two newest members to his position group are making him fall back into the shadows.
We saw appealing flashes here and there from Jackson as a rookie, but they’ve been rare sights lately in Year 2.
Had to rewind that, because Josh Jackson just put the clamps on Harden once he crossed halfcourt. pic.twitter.com/jP2GEd8Gb8— Evan Sidery (@esidery) January 28, 2018
Heading into this season, Jackson was advertised on the #TimeToRise billboards around the city with Booker and Deandre Ayton. Now, he’s barely mentioned as Oubre’s wavy effect and Bridges’ defensive brilliance have taken the spotlight amongst the young core.
And if Warren returns before the end of this season, that will also cut into Jackson’s already limited role where he could realistically slip below 20 minutes per game. I never thought that would be a possibility once Jackson was selected by the Suns 21 months ago.
However, we should’ve seen the warning signs this past Las Vegas Summer League. As I wrote back in November initially worrying about Jackson’s chance slipping away, the inefficiency on offense has been disastrous while the shot selection remains questionable.
Possessing a thinner frame and lack of length to make up for it (Jackson’s wingspan = 6’10”, Bridges’ wingspan = 7’2”, Oubre Jr.’s wingspan = 7’3”), it makes finishing around the rim a tough task. This month, Jackson is somehow shooting only 23.3 percent inside five feet and 34.7 percent overall from the field. Compared to Bridges and Oubre Jr., Jackson is lagging far behind not only this month but throughout the season.
Over the last five games, Jackson is averaging 8 points but shooting 17.8 percent inside the paint/restricted area which is a jaw-dropping number that speaks to an issue that’s become concerning.
According to Cleaning The Glass, Jackson is converting only 51 percent of his shots at the rim this season which places him in the 10th percentile. The separation between Jackson and the Suns’ three other wings is not great as the former Kansas Jayhawk ranks in the bottom 10th percentiles for overall shot efficiency and finishing around the basket among all forwards (Bridges = 65 percent, Warren = 64 percent, Oubre Jr. = 62 percent).
The wing who compared himself to Draymond Green after he was selected for his toughness and defensive ability has been playing more like Andrew Wiggins. Jackson has become an inefficient shot chucker for some reason whose shot profile is based off the mid-range. This development curve is completely the opposite from what I expected when he was locking down defenders in college.
When comparing Jackson and Wiggins’ second seasons head-to-head, per 100 possessions, it shows the Suns’ lottery pick from 2017 being a way more ineffective scorer than what Wiggins already is with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
If Jackson ends up staying around for his third season with the Suns, this upcoming offseason is arguably the most important for him out of anyone else on the roster. Jackson appearing in Summer League again would be disappointing, but that could be the road we’re currently heading down like it was for Dragan Bender. There’s a fair debate to be made that Jackson is last in the pecking order right now between all of the Suns’ wings if Warren remained healthy.
What the Suns end up doing with Oubre Jr. in restricted free agency will likely tell a lot about what their plans are for Jackson, to be honest. Since Oubre Jr.’s arrival, many seem comfortable with him supplanting Jackson as the true wing of the future paired with Bridges, who they invested a high price into last June.
Also, Jackson has his fourth-year team option coming up in October for $8.9 million. Are we 100 percent sure the Suns feel comfortable doing that right now? After declining Bender’s option, is Jackson worth $3.1 million more than him at his current value?
Some might say no to that question, which again is a shocking turn of events over an 18 month span.
At the moment, Jackson seems to fit best as a small-ball 4 but other teams around the league could view him either as a secondary playmaking shooting guard or plus cutter from the 3 spot.
As ESPN’s Zach Lowe put it in his 10 things column last month, Jackson is a prospect many around the league are still trying to figure out.
He’s shooting just 30 percent from deep; defenses duck under screens when he has the ball, and ignore him when he doesn’t.
And yet! Jackson is 22. He has the tools to develop into a lockdown defender. He has decent passing instincts; he just lacks the supplementary skills to activate those passing instincts as often as he’d like.
Jackson isn’t good enough with the ball right now to handle it on a good team, but he’s not a good-enough shooter to play off of it. He’s a puzzle the whole league is trying to solve.
Right now, Jackson will likely be in the 15-20 minute per game role if he remains apart of the Suns next season based on how others among the core have done, especially Oubre Jr. and Bridges. As the third wing at best, it’s possible Jackson never reaches his full potential in the Valley.
There are way more questions than answers remaining with Jackson. The final 12 games for him could be make-or-break time when it comes to his long-term standing with other members of the Suns’ long-term core headlined by Booker, Ayton and Bridges.
At the moment, it looks more like a slippery slope than a gradual rise.