PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns took the next step toward building what they hope will grow into a championship contender Friday as general manager Ryan McDonough and coach Earl Watson introduced Josh Jackson, Davon Reed and Alec Peters as its 2017 NBA Draft class.
“We think it was a great night for us in terms of the talent we added,” McDonough said. “But more importantly in terms of the people we added, who they are and probably more importantly, what we think they can become in this league as players and as men.”
After plenty of trade speculation, the Suns decided to hold onto the fourth overall pick in Thursday night’s 2017 NBA Draft and used it to select Kansas freshman Josh Jackson.
The 6-foot-8, 207-pound small forward averaged 16.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game on his way to becoming a Wooden All-American and the Big 12 Freshman of the Year in his only season with the Jayhawks.
McDonough said the team thought Jackson was the best player in the draft and believe his all-around game will fit in perfectly with the Suns’ young core.
“We think Josh’s defensive ability and athleticism, his length, his passing ability all really complement two very talented offensive wings in Devin (Booker) and T.J. (Warren),” McDonough said.
McDonough added that Jackson needs to continue to improve his shot, but expects his competitive fire to help enhance his game and the rest of his teammates’ when he joins them for offseason workouts.
“He’s a very driven guy,” McDonough said. “He’s the kind of guy who will raise the level in practice and in drills. From what we’ve gathered, he’s not afraid to call people out who don’t compete that hard.”
Shortly after the selection, Jackson told ESPN that he was excited to come to Phoenix and be a part of the team’s youth movement. The 20-year-old will join Booker, Warren, Marquese Chriss, Tyler Ulis, Derrick Jones Jr. and Dragan Bender as Suns players under the age of 24.
“I think we can learn a lot together and over the years, we can grow to be something really special,” Jackson said. “Just being able to grow together, I think that’ll make our team chemistry a lot better.”
Despite only playing one year in college, Jackson believes his game is ready and will translate well to the NBA.
“I can play multiple positions, I can post up, I can shoot, I can dribble,” Jackson said on a conference call with reporters Thursday. “I’m just a really versatile player. If you look at the league today, those are the players that are thriving right now.”
While Jackson’s on-court potential is sky high, there are some lingering concerns about off-court activity, which date back to a December incident where he allegedly vandalized a woman’s car and threatened to beat her. He was subsequently charged with property damage, according to the Associated Press.
He pleaded not guilty to the charge and signed a diversion agreement in April, which requires he attend anger management classes and refrain from using alcohol or drugs for 12 months.
Jackson was eventually suspended for Kansas’ Big 12 Tournament opener for that and failing to report a separate fender bender that he was involved in on campus.
Jackson said Friday that he’s learned from his mistakes and is ready to put the past behind him.
“I made two mistakes,” Jackson said. “One was just because of ignorance because I didn’t really know how to fix that situation that I was in when I got into that fender bender and then the other one was just bad judgment.”
Jackson’s new teammate Marquese Chriss, who played with Jackson on a high-school travel team, expects these to be isolated incidents.
“I don’t think that those things are going to continue to happen,” Chriss said. “I think it’s growing pains and going through college and other experiences.”
McDonough echoed Chriss’ statements and defended the team’s pre-draft process and eventual decision to draft Jackson.
“We do exhaustive research on everybody in the draft,” McDonough said. “Any player with an incident or alleged incident, or whatever have you, we really exhaust every resource to make sure we know exactly what it is and what happened.”
“The more we learned about Josh, the more comfortable we got. I talked to Coach Self last night and he swears by Josh and he swears by his character. He thinks he’s a great kid and a great competitor. We were comfortable enough to obviously pick him at four and I think you’ll see Josh come right in and compete.”
Coach Earl Watson hopes Jackson’s defensive prowess can help a team that allowed a season-high 113.3 points per game last season and fill the void left by P.J. Tucker, who the Suns dealt to Toronto at the trade deadline last season.
“We think Josh can bring a lot to the game that you can’t teach,” Watson said. “He has an amazing feel for the game, he can play one through five, he’s a great passer with both hands. You see athleticism above the rim, but at the same time, he’s a lockdown defender.”
McDonough said that defensive ability was something the Suns were looking for throughout the pre-draft process and it was one of the reasons the team selected Miami Hurricanes guard Davon Reed with the 32nd pick.
“He’s got pretty good size, strength and length for a two-guard,” McDonough said. “He can defend his position and he can hit an open shot. He can make a three-point shot.”
Reed averaged 14.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game and was named to the ACC All-Defensive team in his senior season. He wasn’t sure where he stood after working out twice with the Suns over the past month, but was happy to be back in the Valley a third time.
“I was just very hopeful,” Reed said Friday. “I felt good about both my workouts and am blessed to have the opportunity to be here.”
Peters, who was named Horizon League Player of the Year in his senior season at Valparaiso, also talked about how thankful he was to be there, given the difficulty of his pre-draft process. Peters has been rehabbing a foot injury and was unable to work out for any prospective teams, which made him worry that he was out of sight out of mind among league front offices.
“It got pretty lonely,” Peters said. “It got pretty hard, but at the end of the day, I knew I was getting my opportunity and I couldn’t be happier to have my opportunity here in Phoenix.”
McDonough said Thursday that the team will likely hold Peters out of the Summer League play, but plans to have him available in time for training camp in September.