Josh Jackson, in his first two years in Phoenix, was one of the worst players in the entire league, one of those complete garbage fires that so often end up on draft day as dishonorable mentions for “the biggest bust ever to go No. __ overall” (in Jackson’s case, fourth to the Suns in the 2017 draft, a year after they’d drafted another candidate for “worst 4th pick ever” in Dragan Bender.)
How utterly putrid was Jackson in his first two years? Well, how about not just a negative career total for Win Shares but a catastrophically bad one, namely minus-2.4 in just under 4,000 minutes played?
That’s minus-.029 WS/48. A team full of Josh Jacksons, by that metric, breaks the fabric of spacetime and would be expected to lose 94 games in an 82-game season.
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Jackson’s other major win-related catch-all advanced stat, VORP, wasn’t any better, as he posted minus-2.4. If the Suns trotted out a completely anodyne “replacement” player they fished out of the G-League, they’d have been expected to win about four or five more games between the 2018 and 2019 seasons, or 10 to 12 percent more games than they actually won (40, 21 in 2018 and 19 last year.)
That is more than half as much of a negative impact in terms of percentage of overall team performance as Luka Doncic had in positive impact on the Dallas Mavericks during his rookie year.
And it is a lot easier for a good player to make a bad team better than it is for a bad player to make a plug-awful complete garbage fire even worse if for no other reason than it is impractical to get much worse than 20 wins no matter what you’re doing out there (the 2019 Knicks won 17 games. QED.)
But in 18 games before a Chinese bat with the sniffles scuttled his season, Jackson was starting to turn it around, given a new lease on life in Memphis after putting in a significant portion of the season in the G-League.
So let’s look at the situation, try to project that small Year 3 statistical sample size into something useful, and apply the lowest of low standards here and ask the question in this column literally.
Is Josh Jackson any good, like any good at all? Does he belong on an NBA roster at the veteran minimum, never mind the roughly $7 million he makes in the third year of his rookie contract?
The Counting Stats
Jackson’s per-game stats have actually gone down since he was a rookie. He averaged 13.1 points per game in his first season, 11.5 in his second, and 10.4 in his 18 contests this year.
His rebounds are down from 4.6 to 4.4 to 3.2.
But he’s also coming off the bench and playing only about 20 minutes a game after starting a significant minority of the games (64 out of 156) he played for the Suns.
Per 36 minutes, his 19.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.1 assists track with that 18.6/6.5/2.2 he had as a rookie, with fewer rebounds but better passing providing something of a balancing act around similar scoring numbers.
Of course, he can (sort of) actually shoot now, elevating his FG% from .415 in two years in Phoenix to .439 this year and holding the roughly 32 percent 3-point shooting from his second year (32.4 last year, 31.9 this year.)
And while nobody’s calling his shooting good, upping his 3PAR to .465 means that at least his brickwork generates more points; seemingly modest jumps in efficiency snowball to an eFG% of .452 in Phoenix and .513 in Memphis.
So far, so…well, we’re at least plausible if you set the bar low enough. But let’s get to…
The Advanced Stats
How do you make yourself look good if you’ve got .062 WS/48 and 0.9 VORP/82?
Well, you could start by comparing yourself to Lonzo Ball, but Ball seems to actually finally be crawling out of his suckage hole and sits at .068 WS/48 and 1.4 VORP in 56 games played in New Orleans this year, both career highs and trending toward finally figuring out how to basketball.
But if you’re worse than Lonzo Ball, you’re still not good.
You could compare yourself to Markelle Fultz and his…oh. .071 WS/48 and positive (0.1) VORP while being an above-average defender who shoots the ball far less often than Jackson does.
Seriously. Worse WS/48 than Markelle Fultz. Ouch.
But I asked if Jackson is “any good at all”, not if he just sucked the least out of the top picks not named Jayson Tatum in the top four of the 2017 draft.
And on that metric, let’s take a little look at those G-League stats with the Memphis Hustle this year just for fun.
He scored 20.4 points per game on 44.7 percent shooting and 38.2 percent from 3 in 26 games with the Hustle playing 31.2 minutes as a starter.
But on the other hand, dude couldn’t crack the Starter’s Mendoza Line in the G-League, posting just .091 WS/48 on a Hustle team that is 26-15.
That’s…dreadful. Like, “below average in the G-League” dreadful, which is a scary augur for an NBA player.
And given just an 18-game NBA sample size where his shooting efficiency looks closer to his NBA history than his G-League history, you have to wonder if the Memphis Hustle are, in actual fact, where Josh Jackson’s ceiling exists.
I just can’t. There is no way I can look at an NBA player with negative career Win Shares who played below starter level by advanced stats in the G-League and think he has any potential at all no matter how much better a franchise the Memphis Grizzlies are compared to the garbage fire Phoenix Suns.
Especially for $7 million. Would you want Jackson in restricted free agency? Or are there dozens of other basketball players both in the NBA and the G-League you’d rather have playing at the NBA level?
Exactly. This one’s Busted. The Grizz should decline Jackson’s fourth-year team option and go find a better occupant for that roster slot.