Joshua O’Neal Jackson, it just sounds like a famous basketball name.
While a majority of the rookie chatter has revolved around Lonzo Ball’s dad, Markelle Fultz’s wacky shot, Donovan Mitchell’s quick ascent to stardom, and Jayson Tatum’s savviness, Josh Jackson has put his head down and improved sub rosa. His name may not grace the top of the rookie hierarchy, but it sure deserves to. In a way, Jackson is the ideal third option on a championship contender, which the situation he has ventured into with Phoenix.
Jackson’s foremost goal is to add weight to his lanky 207-pound frame. Resembling a number 2 pencil with the eraser being his bushy hair, Jackson is certainly not an intimidating figure. He reiterated his goal for the offseason to ESPN writer Zach Lowe, “Eating and lifting,” Jackson pronounced. “Eating and lifting.” He has a sort of recklessness to his game, getting stronger would surely help him bang in the post and guard bulkier forwards.
‘J-Jack’ is surprisingly creative with the ball, knowing when to flash his sundry of creative moves and beating opponents with an explosive first step to finish over help-side with extreme inclination. Although he definitely does not need the ball in his hands to make an impact. While he’s not the most flashy, that’s what makes him so appealing, a rare star that stays undercover and does the dirty work.
His dirty work is not unbeknownst to fans and players alike. He was 5th in steals, 9th in blocks, and 9th in rebounds for rookies. In January, he had an eight-game stretch where he recorded at least 15 points and two steals, joining Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan to be the only other rookies to have such a stretch. He was given the Dan Majerle award for his outstanding hustle, grit, and determination. The award was previously given to gritty defender P.J. Tucker from 2013-2016. The company of players Jackson is joining exhibits Jackson’s willingness to be an all-time great. Notwithstanding, Jackson does so much more than hustle for loose balls most games.
His career-defining game to this point came against the eventual champion Warriors. He carried a heavy workload for a talent-laden Suns team as Devin Booker was in street clothes. Jackson reached down into his bag like Mary Poppins that night.
On one play, Jackson sized up Dray, dribbling it through his legs, hesitating and leaning into the 230 pound defensive specialist for a clean floater. When big men defended him, he used quickness to either beat them off the dribble or shake them and ascending for a hesi pull-up jimbo. What I liked most is how he demanded the ball even when he was fronted by a Warrior, running around the court until he received the ball. That sense of urgency is exceptional for a 20-year-old and shows his determinants in eventually being a first option and a bona fide star. Then, he drove to the rim until a help-side defender confronted him so he could kick to a wide-open Jared Dudley in the corner. Not many 20-year old rookies show this variety of offensive awareness.
In 11 games from March 13 to April 6th, Jackson put up nearly 22 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists with a 1 turnover/assist ratio. During the same time, Jayson Tatum produced nearly 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists with a 1.04 turnover/assist ratio. Even when the ball is in Jackson’s hands frequently, he can take care of it like it’s his newborn.
The FiveThirtyEight career WARP projection compares him to Luol Deng. Is he more Luol Deng or Kawhi Leonard? His rookie year is eerily similar to Luol Deng. Nonetheless, he needs a refined three-point shot if is to become similar to either of them and has to realize his defensive potential. Next year we can discern which direction he is headed in more clearly.
So while Josh Jackson isn’t the biggest name in the 2017 draft class if he ‘eats and lifts’ and works on improving his deficiencies in the offseason he could be a player you tell your kids about.
Indisputably, Jackson, Devin Booker and Doncic or Ayton (Jackson wants Ayton) could be a dangerous trio that is to be reckoned with for the coming decade.
Remember the name, Joshua O’Neal Jackson.