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The Suns last season were among the NBA’s worst defensive teams. In Thursday’s NBA draft, they took a significant step toward improvement.

Amid massive trade speculation, the Suns held on to their No. 4 pick and added to their young core, selecting Kansas small forward Josh Jackson, perhaps the best two-way player in the NBA draft.

A 6-8, 207-pound freshman, Jackson brings a defensive edge that is expected to translate immediately, something that could make him a starter from Day 1. General Manager Ryan McDonough said the Suns considered Jackson the draft’s best player, which is something teams often say, but in this case it’s an opinion many share.

“We love his competitiveness,” McDonough said. “We love his fire. We love his toughness. … You talk about winning and impact on a team, we felt like he was the best player in the draft.”

Shortly after getting drafted, Jackson, 20, told reporters in Brooklyn that he loved proving people wrong and that he aimed to make the teams that passed on him regret their decisions. 

“I don’t think the other guys in this draft really care as much as I do,” Jackson said. “I don’t think they play as hard as I do – period. I think that’s what really makes me special. I refuse to fail – period.”

BICKLEY: Josh Jackson gives Suns exactly what they need

The Suns selected Davon Reed of Miami with their second pick, No. 32 overall. A 6-5 guard, Reed last season shot 40 percent from 3-point range and was an ACC All-Defensive team selection, potentially helping the Suns in two areas of need.

With the 54th pick, the Suns selected Valparaiso’s Alec Peters, a 6-9 forward with a nice shooting touch. A four-year starter, he was last season’s Horizon League Player of the Year.

But Phoenix’s plan for this draft was clear:

“As I mentioned at the end of the season, we wanted to upgrade our defense,” McDonough said.

In that sense, McDonough didn’t think there was a better fit for the Suns, who have missed the postseason for a franchise-long seven years. Jackson not only gives the Suns a versatile perimeter defender – something they’ve lacked – he also brings the competitive spirit that coach Earl Watson craves.

“He’s the kind of player that will raise the level in practice and in drills,” McDonough said. “And from what we gather, he’s not afraid to call people out who aren’t that aggressive.” 

CLOSE

The Suns picked Kansas forward Josh Jackson with the fourth pick in the NBA draft Thursday night and azcentral’s Doug Haller and Scott Bordow offer some quick thoughts.

In his only college season, Jackson last season averaged 16.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists. Offensively, he excelled in the open court and as a passer, but he struggled with his perimeter jump shot. Jackson shot 54.9 percent from 2-point range, 37.8 from 3 and 56.6 from the foul line.

Another issue: Jackson twice was involved in off-court incidents, one stemming from an argument with a women’s basketball player outside a Lawrence, Kan., bar. As part of a diversion agreement, Jackson agreed to take an anger-management course, avoid drugs and alcohol for a year, write a letter of apology to the victim and complete at least 20 hours of community service.

McDonough said the Suns did exhaustive research on Jackson, just as they do with every prospect, and the more they learned about his character, the more comfortable they became.

Jackson admitted to making a mistake.

“I admitted to it from day one when it was brought up,” he said. “I think the whole situation was really blown out of proportion just because of who I am. Reporters want to make a story and get themselves a name. But everyone who was close to the situation and everyone who I’ve talked to about it, they know exactly what happened that day. … It wasn’t as bad as everybody made it out to be.”

Jackson will join guard Devin Booker (20), as well as forwards Marquese Chriss (19) and Dragan Bender (19) as key building blocks in Phoenix’s rebuild. Booker last season showed All-Star flashes, while Chriss and Bender had the rough task of learning on the job as teenagers. Bender also battled injuries.

Jackson looks forward to growing together.

“When I look at Phoenix, that’s one of the things that really excites me is that they’re young,” he said. “I know that I got a lot of things to learn coming into this league. I know they still got some things to learn, but being able to learn those things together, I think down the road that will make our team chemistry just so much better.”

Contact Doug Haller at 602-444-4949 or at [email protected] Follow him at Twitter.com/DougHaller

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