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What Phoenix Suns can expect from Frank Jackson

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
September 23, 2022

The Phoenix Suns’ 15th roster spot remains open heading into the 2022-23 campaign, but recent addition Frank Jackson will be hoping to fill it during the team’s upcoming training camp.

He may not be joining the Suns on a full-fledged contract, but Jackson — one possible candidate for the team’s final roster spot mentioned here back in late July — will reportedly get his chance to impress the front office on a non-guaranteed deal.

The 24-year-old combo guard just saw his team option declined by the Detroit Pistons, where he spent the last two seasons. Before that, he spent his first two NBA seasons with the New Orleans Pelicans. Through four years in the league, Jackson has put up 8.5 points and 1.0 assists in 18.2 minutes per game, shooting 42.2 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from 3-point range.

So what does this new arrival have to offer a Suns squad that’s hurting for guard depth? And what are his chances of actually securing that 15th and final roster spot?

Frank Jackson: The basics

In 53 appearances for a 23-win Pistons squad last year, Jackson put up a career-best 10.6 points and 1.0 assists in 22 minutes per game. As the raw numbers suggest, his role was largely to jack up a bunch of shots coming off the bench of a bad team. That Detroit cut him and spent their summer retooling to be more competitive indicates they viewed him as a guy who helped fill out the rotation, took shots because somebody had to, and little else.

That’s not to say the Pistons pigeonholed him into a score-first role, however; that’s basically been his lot since entering the league. His low assist numbers suggest he’s not much of a playmaker; the 0.76 points per possession he averaged as a pick-and-roll ball-handler last season (ranking in the 12th percentile of the league, per The Bball Index) reinforce the idea.

Unfortunately, as a 6-foot-3 combo guard, his deficiencies as either a playmaker or an efficient score-first guard limited his impact — even on a lottery team. Jackson only shot 40.2 percent from the floor and 30.8 percent from downtown, which were both career lows. He did make a career-high 40.7 percent of his triples the year prior, but he hasn’t shot better than 33 percent from long range in any of his other three NBA seasons.

The bright side? Every step of the way, he’s been effective from the corners. Jackson canned 41.1 percent of his corner 3s last season, and he’s a career 40 percent shooter from that spot. It’s also worth noting that during his down shooting year last season, only 11.4 percent of his triples were categorized as “open” by The Bball Index, which ranked in the 12th percentile.

Bearing all that in mind, what might Frank Jackson bring to the table for Phoenix?

Frank is no tank

Think of the word “tank” and the first thing that comes to mind is “big,” but the next is “slow.” Neither applies to Jackson, but his game could certainly do with a measure of patience.

For better and for worse, Jackson is operating at “full steam ahead” levels most of the time. That can help him in some instances, like on cuts: While he didn’t get to utilize that skill a ton as a reserve in Detroit, he was quite adept when he did, posting a whopping 1.47 points per possession on cuts. That figure ranked in the 99th percentile league-wide.

Unfortunately, Jackson’s game also felt a bit rushed, like every possession was his chance to prove himself on a losing team. The former 31st overall pick from the 2017 draft has always been speedy, effectively creating separation with pump fakes and a quick first step, but when he gets into the paint, the results leave something to be desired.

Jackson is slightly undersized for the off-guard role he usually occupies, attacking poor closeouts from swing passes, and in his hurry to capitalize on open real estate, he often struggles to finish over or around the trees when they slide over to protect the rim.

Jackson shot 55.6 percent on shots less than five feet away from the basket, which was well below the league-average 63.1 percent. Even his 62 percent conversion rate in the restricted area was worse than that figure.

Watching the film it’s clear how prone he was to forcing the issue when he attacked the rack, and even when he wasn’t, he just didn’t quite have the burst or finishing ability to convert:

In that off-guard role, Jackson was also misused as a guy who was constantly flying off screens. According to The Bball Index, Jackson ranked in the 95th percentile in shots off screens per 75 possessions…but he wasn’t well-suited for that kind of high usage, as his effective field goal percentage (40 percent) ranked in the 41st percentile.

The fact that he was taking so many of those looks, when he ranked in the fourth percentile in points per possession coming off screens, was borderline malpractice on the Pistons’ part, though again, his lack of size and playmaking ability left them with few other options.

It didn’t matter whether Jackson was flying around screens off the ball:

Or attacking them with the rock in his hands:

The numbers and the film agree that although he has a quick trigger, he didn’t quite have the footwork, fast release or efficiency for that kind of role. Because of a slower release that got him blocked a few times, he looked hurried, sometimes committing to what he planned to do without realizing the defense had given him enough space or time that he didn’t have to rush.

Where Jackson might help

To be frank (get it?), it’s hard to see how Jackson secures the Suns’ final roster spot unless he absolutely balls out in training camp. He’s not the facilitator or playmaker they need as Cam Payne insurance, nor is he efficient enough as a shoot-first guard to carve out minutes with the second unit as a microwave scorer. There’s a decent chance Duane Washington Jr. is a better fit for this group on a two-way contract.

However, Jackson did have flashes that would make him useful to Phoenix if he could find a way to sustain them. While he often looked rushed, when he slowed down and played at a more reasonable tempo, he was far more effective attacking the basket:

And when he wasn’t going full pedal to the metal, he proved he could read his opponents and take what they were giving him, which showed with some of the smart pull-ups he identified by probing the defense:

On a related note, when Jackson restrained himself on his drives, rather than barrel right into the trees with lofty aspirations, he hinted at an effective floater too. Though he only took 30 floaters last season, he made 17 of them, for a 56.7 percent conversion rate.

And aside from using his speed on fast breaks to rank in the 91st percentile in transition points per possession, Jackson also intrigues with a seldom-used skill the Suns need more of: individual shot creation.

Sure, it’s probably unwise to rely on a guy who didn’t always deliver in his score-first role, but Jackson did average 0.92 points per possession on isolation plays — putting him in the league’s 89th percentile. His 62.5 effective field goal percentage in those situations also ranked in the 91st percentile.

The question is whether a guy who very rarely got those opportunities — on a losing team, no less — can prove he brings something unique to the table for a contender that needs a sure thing for its final roster spot. The odds are certainly against Frank Jackson, but he’ll have a week of training camp to prove everyone wrong.

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