LAS VEGAS – Josh Jackson has always been under a microscope.

The 6-8 forward from Detroit was a five-star recruit and one of the better players in the country when he committed to play for Bill Self at Kansas. He followed that with a standout year in college, leading to his selection by the Suns at No. 4 overall in this year’s NBA draft.

Pressure and high expectations have always been there. 

This past week, everyone’s eyes were on Jackson – as usual – as the Suns kicked off their summer-league games. He didn’t disappoint, averaging 17.4 points and 9.2 rebounds through the first five games. He did not play in the team’s consolation game against the Sacramento Kings on Friday.

“He’s been tremendous,” Suns summer-league coach Marlon Garnett said. “He’s just going to continue to get better as he continues to pick up our schemes that we want to do. He’s such a versatile player that he picks up things so quick.”

He’s stood out on more than just the stat sheet. On Wednesday, Jackson had two highlight blocks against Jazz center – and former Kansas Jayhawk – Julian Wright. Seemingly coming out of nowhere each time, he paused and stared down Wright after the first swat, with a look on his face like he knew he was the best athlete on the court.

Thursday, Jackson coasted down the floor for a monster slam dunk that got everyone in Cox Pavilion on their feet. Adding to the highlight-reel plays, Jackson was a force on defense and has the ability to guard positions one through four, according to Garnett.

His knack for getting to the rim led to easy buckets. He also led the team in rebounds, an area in which the coaching staff was hoping he’d excel.

“Rebounding the ball is something that we wanted him to do, the blocked shots yesterday were amazing, too,” Garnett said. “The fact that he can actually put it on the floor and create for himself and draw fouls, I think that’s probably the biggest one.”

Jackson’s teammate Mike James said his level of improvement over just a handful of games stands out.

“I think he’s gotten more patient,” James said. “The first couple games, every time he touched the ball he was really antsy and anxious to score and anxious to do everything in one play. As it went on, he took his time more and got comfortable and made better plays. He’s good.”

He’s also grabbed the attention of other players around the league, including Boston Celtics first-round pick Jayson Tatum, who was taken one pick ahead of Jackson in the draft. Tatum said he’s been able to watch Jackson play a little while in Las Vegas and of course sees the highlights.

“Josh is a great player,” Tatum said. “I’ve known him for a long time and he’s just a really good player.”

The Suns are hoping Jackson will be a key member of the team’s core. They opted not to trade away the No. 4 pick in order to secure him, and, after his summer-league performance, the team has to be pleased. Garnett says he thinks Jackson can step in and be the guy Phoenix needs.

“He has it in him,” Garnett said. “It’s kind of what he’s wired with, to be the lead dog. I don’t know how that dynamic is going to play out with our regular group, but he does have it in him.”

Jackson himself knows the transition to the NBA won’t be a cake walk and that he won’t be immune from mistakes. He had his share in Vegas, including his miscommunication with James in the final seconds of the Suns’ loss to the Grizzlies.

“One thing I learned is that you have to give extra effort in this league,” Jackson said. “Giving your best sometimes isn’t enough, you have to give a little bit extra sometimes, especially playing guys that are so talented and athletic.”

James, Reed strong in summer league

While Jackson stole the show, both Mike James and Davon Reed were impressive.

James averaged 20.5 points, 5.2 assists and five rebounds for the Suns in six games, and Reed added 14 points and four rebounds per contest.

“(James) is getting better,” Garnett said. “I think over the course of the week he’s gotten better and we’ve been staying on him, making sure he understands that he needs to be a floor general. A point guard is an extension of a coach, so we’ve got to be able to trust him out there.”

The 26-year-old James had a team-high 32 points in the team’s loss to the Grizzlies on Thursday. He appears likely to see some minutes as the third point guard this fall.

“I kind of know myself now, I’m kind of old,” James said. “I’ve been working on stuff. I still need to make better decisions, and take care of the ball a little bit better, but I’m happy with what I did this week. I’m playing better and better as the games went on.”

Reed, the first of the Suns’ two second-round picks showed flashes as well. He played in all six games averaging 27.3 minutes a game. 

“He’s a gamer,” Garnett said. “He’s going to be a guy that is a shooter that makes shots and then defends. In college, he was known as a pretty good defender, and that’s what we’re going to need from him. He fits that role and is willing to accept that role. He’s not complaining about not getting shots, he’s more upset when he’s not making shots. So he’s going to continue to shoot, and I thought he had a good week.”


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