The Phoenix Suns selected Josh Jackson with the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft betting his two-way potential would translate to the NBA level. Jackson had been a highly touted prospect since high school, starred for one season at Kansas, and was regarded by some as the best player in the 2017 Draft.
The development of Jackson is a key component in the Suns rebuilding process, finding an elite two-way wing is an ingredient every championship team needs. A player that prides himself in playing team basketball, Jackson provides a team first mentality that can help change the culture of the organization.
“I’ve always been a player that’s been real big on team basketball, anytime my team isn’t playing good, isn’t playing team basketball, I don’t think I’m going to look good,” Jackson said.
For Jackson to take that leap in his career he needs to cleanup a few areas of his game and find a role within the new offense under head coach Igor Kokoskov.
Jackson’s basketball IQ and on-court awareness have not been the best since he has stepped on an NBA floor. Early in his rookie year, Jackson was out of position regularly when a set was called, and although it may not have been his fault every time, it was still a cause for concern.
This clip is a great example, Bledsoe calls out ‘One Chest’, a staple in the Earl Watson offense. Jackson is lost to start the set – breaks the timing of the entire set – and the veteran Bledsoe is clearly frustrated slapping his chest in frustration.
The Clippers had the set scouted out well with both Doc Rivers and Patrick Beverely signaling the set to their team – that is the difference between veteran and rookie players in the NBA.
It’s understandable for a player in his rookie year to not have full grasp of the offense; however, the level of improvement from Jackson has not been there to start his second year.
In this clip, Isaiah Canaan calls out ‘5 Up’ – Jackson was not able to make the weak side cut in the rhythm of the set – and Canaan has to tell him to make the cut.
One could argue the issue is likely a result of playing for three coaches within two seasons and Jackson is still clearly trying to get all of Kokoskov’s sets down; however, I think it should be a cause for concern. It’s rare that a player who makes mental mistakes on the court early in their career translates to living up to the hype of a top 5 pick.
Defensively, Jackson’s awareness has not been the best going back to Kansas. Jackson has the tendency to ball watch and get beat on back-door cuts. This is a Summer League clip from Jackson’s rookie year to illustrate.
Per the BBall Index database from the 2017-2018 season, Jackson graded poorly out as a C+ perimeter defender, and when compared to wing defenders Jackson graded even worse as a D+ perimeter defender in the 39th percentile.
Jackson was labeled as a future lock-down perimeter defender coming out of college, that has yet to translate to the NBA level.
Finding a Role
The Suns organization has been in dysfunction since they selected Jackson fourth overall in the 2017 Draft. Jackson has played for three rookie head coaches in two seasons – an interim general manager – and a group of below average point guards.
The key for Jackson is finding a role within the new offense. Through summer league, pre-season, and the first part of the regular season the Suns have experimented with Jackson’s offensive role in the system.
Jackson sounded optimistic that the team will figure it out soon:
“I think the sooner we get our offense together, our chemistry together, and figure out everybody’s role, that’s when I’ll start to figure it out for myself.”
Kokoskov has done a decent job of utilizing Jackson’s skill-set thus far; however, his role in each individual set can be better. For example, out of the Suns ‘0’ set, a double drag screen into a down screen, Jackson would be better off playing as the four instead of the lead guard role.
The first clip looks at Jackson electing to drive hard to the rim instead of waiting for the action to develop, in the second clip Jackson has Peters open off the pin-down, instead he makes the wrong decision to attack the rim.
You can’t make up your mind at the NBA level. Jackson has to improve his decision making ability and read what the defense gives him.
I do think putting him in better spots to attack is something that can improve. This is a similar Horns action the Suns ran for Jackson at Summer League his rookie year where they put him at the 4, allowing him to attack from the center of the floor.
Jackson has shown the ability to play under control when there is a clear read within a set; moreover, the coaching staff needs to create a clear idea of how to put him in the best possible position to succeed within each set.
At some point it’s also on Jackson to improve his ability to read what the defense gives him rather than making up his mind. This a clip of the Suns running ‘Pistol Flare’ three times early in his rookie season, the first time he makes a right read to attack in PnR, the second time he makes up his mind and forces pass, the third time illustrates the veteran Warren making the correct read based on the defense.
So far this season many of the same problems of making up his mind have continued leading to a high turnover percentage. Among 402 qualified players, Jackson ranks 384th with a turnover percentage of 24.5%.
This is a clip of the Suns ‘Elbow Rip’ set they frequently run to get a post touch to Deandre Ayton.
The set is filled with many secondary options including a shooter in Bridges coming off the down screen. With Davis fronting Ayton and denying the entry pass it would been better for Jackson to either attack Harris or swing the ball back to the weak side.
Within the half-court offense, many of the actions under Kokoskov lead to 5-out PnR from the center of the floor, it’s a ball-screen heavy offense.
Kokoskov experimented playing Jackson as the lead guard to run the offense in summer league and pre-season. This is ‘Wedge PnR’ action the Suns run creating spacing for the 5-out PnR from the center of the floor.
What has always been intriguing about Jackson as a PnR ball-handler is his ability to keep defenders on his hip and make a patient read – I think it will show more as he gets more comfortable within the new offensive system.
Studying Jackson’s Synergy play-type data his most frequent play-type in PnR ball-handler at 29.7% of time and ranks in the 13th percentile. It’s also interesting to note that Jackson has had no possessions this season as the PnR roll man. Although Jackson is listed at only 207 pounds, I could see him a possible PnR partner when Devin Booker gets trapped in PnR, similar to the chemistry Draymond Green and Steph Curry have in Golden State.
Jackson is ranked in the 67th percentile coming off dribble hand-offs converting on 8/15 attempts this season, in addition he looks like a more comfortable play-maker coming off dribble hand-offs, it shows in this clip.
With a new coaching staff coming in, a major shakeup in the front office, and the Suns trading up for Mikal Bridges this summer the window of opportunity is closing sooner than expected for Jackson.
You usually get three years to prove yourself in the NBA – the first three years dictate what your career will look like – but Jackson’s case he may only have the rest of this season to put it all together.