Josh Jackson stepped up during the last few months of his rookie season and should continue that trend when the Phoenix Suns start the 2018-19 season.
Phoenix Suns rookie Deandre Ayton dominated the headlines this summer and excelled in a lot of areas during the NBA Summer League that left fans wanting more. Mikal Bridges also showed a lot of promise during the summer, as did Elie Okobo, Davon Reed, and Shaquille Harrison. Last year’s top draft pick, Josh Jackson, unfortunately, left a lot to be desired.
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Luckily, people who watched Josh Jackson in the back-half of last season know he’s capable of much more.
The Kansas product started off his rookie season as one of the worst statistical players in the league. After a number of forgettable games, and after a magical talk with interim head coach Jay Triano, he was finally able to turn things around.
This season, he could potentially build on his strong finish from a year ago.
Jackson is kind of an enigmatic player because he’s not very big and his shot is mediocre. On the other hand, he’s a crafty scorer that frequently uses his athleticism to force himself to the rim. His instinctual defensive ability may be his best trait, though, something the Suns have missed at small forward since Shawn Marion was dealt in the Shaquille O’Neal trade.
Jackson is not Marion, and they’re not similar but it’s an interesting comparison.
As far as offense goes, he’s not a spot-up shooter and he’s not going to be a primary ball handler in Kokoskov’s offense. Bridges is kind of the sexier fit in the rotation due to his ability to be a knockdown three-point shooter with a similar defensive intensity. Plus, Bridges impressed everyone in the summer while Jackson did not.
Jackson actually had a horrendous stint in Vegas, averaging 10.3 points and 2.3 rebounds per game on 24-percent shooting from the field.
It could have been not being accustomed to the new offensive schemes Kokoskov runs, or maybe, he just wasn’t playing well. Summer league is not at all representative of anything other than seeing how rookies play and if Euroleague guys can make the jump.
It shouldn’t be concerning but there are definitely things everyone expected to see from Jackson that he failed to display.
So, what should fans expect from Jackson this season? Well, it’s tough to say. If the hitch in his shot is gone and his jumper gets better, the Suns would definitely benefit from having Jackson shoot over 30 percent from behind the arc next season. He’s not going to turn into a high volume shooter, but increasing his overall field goal percentage to anywhere in the 44-46-percent range would help.
What makes Jackson hard to defend is his ability to sneak around defenders and finish around the rim. With that, he draws a lot of contact but misses far too many free throws. The second half of the season he shot just under 69 percent from the free throw line, but the first half of the season he shot a pitiful 56 percent from the stripe.
Players like Jackson can make up for not having a high field goal percentage if they’re able to at the very least make free throws. But having a low field goal percentage and a low free throw percentage makes it hard to stay in the lineup regardless of how solid the defense.
The Marion comparisons are strictly from an athleticism standpoint, Marion was more of a skilled scorer coming out of college, and he was also a better rebounder. Jackson fits the point forward role pretty well, whereas Marion either shot the ball or rebounded.
Jackson had 17 games where he scored 20 points or more last season while Marion had just two games scoring 20 or more his rookie season. The following year, however, Marion’s scoring average increased by more than seven points (10.2 to 17.3).
Marion was on a playoff team his rookie year, however, and Jackson was on the worst team in the league, but perspective is important when comparing two players.
Jackson became the focal point of the offense when Booker was injured, and he should never be the focal point in any offensive scheme. Regardless of how many rough nights shooting the ball he had, his defensive stayed relatively consistent.
Can Jackson become a 17-point-per-game player next season? It’s possible. He needs to improve on every part of his game offensively because his role as a starter isn’t necessarily locked down.
McDonough’s seemingly unwavering commitment to getting younger has come to the point where it’s time to start seeing results. Though trading for Ryan Anderson may not be one of those results Phoenix Suns fans had hoped for, it’ll be interesting to see how he does.
Devin Booker is the first of the young core to blossom. Theoretically, Jackson should be next in line to break out but this upcoming season will determine if that’s going to happen or not. If the second half of last season is any indication, Jackson is more than ready to break out.