Is Josh Jackson forcing his way into Suns' starting lineup?

Jackson led the Suns with 22 points in Wednesday's preseason loss to Portland

The morning after the Suns committed 32 turnovers in their loss to the Utah Jazz Monday, coach Earl Watson asked his assistants a question.

“Do we want to win tomorrow (Wednesday’s game against Portland) or do we want to win the season?”

The coaches all agreed it was more important to win the season.

Watson then put the Suns through a 100-minute practice that included 32 full-court sprints for layups for every turnover they had against the Jazz. All that running took some steam out of Phoenix’s legs, one reason it shot 37.8 percent from the field in Wednesday’s 113-104 loss to Portland.

But Watson thought it was more important to challenge his players.

“We knew our practice would put them in a tough situation physically that would allow them to either push through the wall or falter or fall,” he said. “They pushed through the wall … I’m proud of the way they responded.”

One player never seemed to hit the wall. Rookie forward Josh Jackson continued his strong preseason with a game-high 22 points on 9-of-19 shooting to go along with seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. He also played 40 minutes.

“I’m tired right now,” Jackson said as he sat on his stool in the locker room. “I didn’t expect to play 40 minutes.”

 

Watson said before the game that he hoped to have his regular-season starting lineup in place for Friday’s preseason finale against the Brisbane Bullets, an Australian professional team. Guard Devin Booker (knee) and forward T.J. Warren (back) sat out Wednesday’s game.

The question is, how can Watson keep Jackson out of the starting lineup? Jackson was sold as an elite perimeter defender when the Suns took him with the fourth overall pick in the draft, but his offense – particularly his shooting – was supposed to be his shortcoming. Yet, before going 0 for 3 from 3-point range Wednesday, he had made 6 of 9 3-point attempts and was shooting 48 percent from the field.

“I’ve always known I can shoot,” Jackson said. “I shot 38 percent (on 3-pointers) in college. Nobody can tell me I can’t shoot. Just because it’s not the strongest point of my game people always try to find something to nit and pick at. Obviously I still need to work at it but I would never say I’m a bad shooter.”

Watson praised Jackson’s overall game, saying, “He’s doing a better job of rebounding, pushing coast to coast, finding players, getting to the rim, everything. He has a lot to his game on both ends of the court.”

What impressed Watson most on Wednesday, however, was Jackson’s willingness to take on more offensive responsibility with Booker and Warren out.

“It’s interesting. When players are out you like to see who naturally steps up,” Watson said. “You can’t create that. You can’t tell that guy, ‘Tonight, you’re going to be the guy.’ You have to see who kind of takes over. It’s kind of an alpha dog mentality. I thought he led us as best as he could for it only being the fourth game of his NBA career.”

Watson said he had an idea of what his starting lineup will be but added, "I'm not going to put it out there yet."

He'll unveil it on Friday. Wednesday night, Jackson added a few lines to his application.

 

is-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 1 Phoenix Suns players huddle before taking the court for pre-season NBA action against the Portland Trail Blazers at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. October 11, 2017.  Michael Chow/azcentral sportsis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 2 Phoenix Suns center Tyson Chandler (4) jumps in the air before paying Portland Trail Blazers in pre-season NBA action at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. October 11, 2017.  Michael Chow/azcentral sportsis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 3 Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) dives for a loose ball with Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson (20) during the first quarter in pre-season NBA action at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. October 11, 2017.  Michael Chow/azcentral sportsis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 4 Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson (20) grabs a loose ball from Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) during the first quarter in pre-season NBA action at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. October 11, 2017.  Michael Chow/azcentral sportsis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 5 Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) looks to pass against the Portland Trail Blazers during the first quarter in pre-season NBA action at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. October 11, 2017.  Michael Chow/azcentral sportsis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 6 Phoenix Suns guard Tyler Ulis (8) passes the ball while defended by Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) during the first quarter in pre-season NBA action at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. October 11, 2017.  Michael Chow/azcentral sportsis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 7 Phoenix Suns center Tyson Chandler (4) high-fives center Alex Len (21) during a substitution against the Portland Trail Blazers during the first quarter in pre-season NBA action at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. October 11, 2017.  Michael Chow/azcentral sportsis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 8 Phoenix Suns guard Mike James (55) defends Portland Trail Blazers guard/forward Pat Connaughton (5) during the first quarter in pre-season NBA action at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. October 11, 2017.  Michael Chow/azcentral sportsis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 9 Phoenix Suns forward Dragan Bender (35) looks for a rebound against the Portland Trail Blazers during the first quarter in pre-season NBA action at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. October 11, 2017.  Michael Chow/azcentral sportsis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 10 Phoenix Suns guard Tyler Ulis (8) passes the ball while defended by Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) during the first quarter in pre-season NBA action at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. October 11, 2017.  Michael Chow/azcentral sportsis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 11 Phoenix Suns head coach Earl Watson argues a call with referee Bill Spooner (22) during the second quarter in pre-season NBA action against the Portland Trail Blazers at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. October 11, 2017.  Michael Chow/azcentral sportsis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 12 Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson (20) defends Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum (3) during the second quarter in pre-season NBA action at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. October 11, 2017.  Michael Chow/azcentral sportsis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 13 Portland Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts watches his team play against the Phoenix Suns during the second quarter in pre-season NBA action at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. October 11, 2017.  Michael Chow/azcentral sportsis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 14 Phoenix Suns forward Marquese Chriss (0) runs back on defense against the Portland Trail Blazers during the first quarter in pre-season NBA action at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. October 11, 2017.  Michael Chow/azcentral sportsis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 15 Phoenix Suns players put their arms around each other during the National Anthem before playing against the Portland Trail Blazers in pre-season NBA action at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. October 11, 2017.  Michael Chow/azcentral sportsis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 16 Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) is introduced before playing against the Portland Trail Blazers in pre-season NBA action at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. October 11, 2017.  Michael Chow/azcentral sportsis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 17 Phoenix Suns guard Elijah Millsap, left, has his shot blocked by Utah Jazz forward Joel Bolomboy (21) as he drives to the basket during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Phoenix.  Ralph Freso, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 18 Utah Jazz forward Jonas Jerebko (8) shoots as Phoenix Suns' Dragan Bender, center, and Alex Len defend during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Phoenix.  Ralph Freso, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 19 Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) attempts a shot over the defense of Utah Jazz center Tony Bradley during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Phoenix. The Jazz defeated the Suns 120-102.  Ralph Freso, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 20 Phoenix Suns center Tyson Chandler (4) slaps hands with fans as he leaves the court after being ejected during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Phoenix.  Ralph Freso, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 21 Utah Jazz guard Ricky Rubio (3) drives to the basket as Phoenix Suns' Erik Bledsoe defends during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Phoenix.  Ralph Freso, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 22 Phoenix Suns guard Erik Bledsoe (2) drives to the basket past Utah Jazz center Derrick Favors, second from right, and forward Ekpe Udoh, right, during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Phoenix.  Ralph Freso, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 23 Utah Jazz guard Ricky Rubio, left, drives to the basket as he is guarded by Phoenix Suns' Eric Bledsoe during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Phoenix.  Ralph Freso, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 24 Utah Jazz forward Ekpe Udoh (33) loses control of the ball under the basket as he is guarded by Phoenix Suns' Alex Len, left, and Josh Jackson (20) during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Phoenix.  Ralph Freso, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 25 Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson (20) advances the ball up-court on a fast break as Utah Jazz forward Ekpe Udoh defends during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Phoenix.  Ralph Freso, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 26 Utah Jazz center Derrick Favors (15) grabs an offensive rebound over Phoenix Suns' Eric Bledsoe (2) and Devin Booker during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Phoenix.  Ralph Freso, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 27 Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) leaps to dunk the ball over Utah Jazz forward Thabo Sefolosha during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Phoenix.  Ralph Freso, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 28 Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson, left, smiles as he talks with teammate Devin Booker before a preseason NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Phoenix.  Ralph Freso, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 29 Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson (20) lays the ball up as Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, right, defends during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)  Rick Bowmer, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 30 Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles, left, passes the ball as Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson (20) defends during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)  Rick Bowmer, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 31 Phoenix Suns forward Marquese Chriss, left, goes to the basket as Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) defends during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)  Rick Bowmer, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 32 Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson, right, defends against Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles, left, during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)  Rick Bowmer, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 33 Utah Jazz guard Ricky Rubio (3) defends Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)  Rick Bowmer, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 34 Phoenix Suns guard Elijah Millsap (22) lays the ball up as Utah Jazz guard Alec Burks (10) defends during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)  Rick Bowmer, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 35 Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder shouts to his team during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)  Rick Bowmer, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 36 Phoenix Suns' Josh Jackson, right, and Alex Len (21) defend Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)  Rick Bowmer, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 37 Utah Jazz guard Ricky Rubio, front, battles for a loose ball with Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)  Rick Bowmer, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 38 Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2) shoots as Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) defends during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)  Rick Bowmer, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 39 Phoenix Suns coach Earl Watson watches during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)  Rick Bowmer, APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 40 Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker finds himself surrounded by Portland Trail Blazers forward Maurice Harkless, center Jusuf Nurkic and center Zach Collins, right, during the second half of an NBA basketball preseason game in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017.  Steve Dykes/APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 41 Phoenix Suns forward Marquese Chriss blocks the shot of Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic during the first half of an NBA basketball preseason game in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017.  Steve Dykes/APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 42 Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum shoots over Phoenix Suns forward T.J. Warren during the first half of an NBA basketball preseason game in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017.  Steve Dykes/APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 43 Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic goes up for a dunk over Phoenix Suns forward Marquese Chriss during the first half of an NBA basketball preseason game in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017.  Steve Dykes/APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 44 Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic passes the ball past Phoenix Suns forward Marquese Chriss during the first half of an NBA basketball preseason game in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017.  Steve Dykes/APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 45 Portland Trail Blazers forward Maurice Harkless loses the ball out of bounds as Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson and forward Marquese Chriss, right, defend during the first half of an NBA basketball preseason game in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017.  Steve Dykes/APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 46 Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard looks to drive the ball past Phoenix Suns forward Derrick Jones Jr. during the first half of an NBA basketball preseason game in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017.  Steve Dykes/APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 47 Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic drives to the basket past Phoenix Suns forward Dragan Bender during the first half of an NBA basketball preseason game in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017.  Steve Dykes/APis-josh-jackson-forcing-his-way-into-suns-starting-lineup photo 48

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