Forget that he fell to the No. 4 spot in Thursday night’s NBA draft. Forget that the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers all decided to go elsewhere with their first-round selections. And forget about the fact that he’s headed to a team in the middle of a rebuilding project.
Former Kansas freshman Josh Jackson no doubt would have loved to be the next big thing added to any of those tradition-rich franchises.
But what he’s getting from the team that actually selected him might be a little more exciting.
“I felt like the type of player that I am, I could fit anywhere,” the versatile wing said in his post-draft press conference. “But when I look at Phoenix, I see that they are so young and kind of need a 3, somebody to come in and play that 3 spot, and I feel like that's my favorite position to play. That's where I'm the most comfortable. I automatically just get excited when I see stuff like that.”
After a year of playing mostly out of position and doing everything he could to fill an important role as KU’s 4 man — a task that occasionally required the 6-foot-8 Jackson to guard 7-footers — Jackson should flourish while playing full-time on the perimeter with the Suns.
Kansas coach Bill Self called Jackson to Phoenix “a great fit” and added that the opportunity should allow Jackson to make a major impact right away.
“You don’t pick the fourth player taken in the draft to go sit on the bench,” Self said. “You take him to play. I think it’s a good fit for him. I think he’ll be able to play a ton early and also be able to impose his will on the culture there, as well.”
In many ways, Jackson enters his professional future as the most prepared Jayhawk in the Self era. His versatility ensures that the Suns will find a way to use him. His motor and tenacity figure to keep him fighting even during the inevitable slumps. And his vast skill set — on both offense and defense — have him well positioned to be an important piece of the Suns’ puzzle from Day 1.
“I’ve said this multiple times,” Self began. “He’s the best all-around player that we’ve ever had, by not only his talent but also his IQ, his off-the-court intellect, his work ethic, his toughness, his competitive spirit. I don’t think that we’ve had anybody, when you add ’em all up, that would grade out higher than what he does. So, yeah, I think he’s prepared.
“Obviously it’ll be an adjustment for anybody going from college to pros, just like it is going from high school to college. But I do think he’s about as prepared as anybody can be that is only 20 years old.”
Self was not the only one singing Jackson’s praises after seeing him land with the Suns. His new boss, Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough, said his team walked away from Thursday’s draft with an absolute gem.
“We thought Josh Jackson was the best player in the draft,” McDonough said. “People say, well you know, he’s the best two-way player, and the last I checked the game was played two ways, you don’t just play one.”
McDonough continued: “He’s a very competitive guy. He’s a very driven guy. He’s the kind of player who will raise the level in practice and drills. From what we’ve gathered, he’s not afraid to call people out who don’t compete that hard or aren’t that aggressive going after something.... The more we learned about Josh, the more comfortable we got. I talked to coach Self (Wednesday) night and he swears by Josh and he swears by his character. Thinks he’s a great kid and great competitor.”