The Philadelphia 76ers need perimeter defense. The Phoenix Suns could use a point guard. A Markelle Fultz-Josh Jackson trade makes sense for both sides.
The first and fourth overall picks in the 2017 NBA Draft have not panned out for their teams at all. Markelle Fultz has battled a shoulder injury and mental health issues during his time the Philadelphia 76ers, and Josh Jackson‘s game has not translated from college to the NBA with the Phoenix Suns. Both players need a change of scenery, so the two teams exchanging the two players for each other could benefit everyone involved.
Perimeter defense has cost the Sixers wins: they lack depth in the backcourt already, and aside from Jimmy Butler, they have no one capable of defending decent guards. Josh Jackson would add a good balance of length, athleticism, and raw defensive ability to a team struggling to stop anyone.
Using Devin Booker as a point guard has worked well statistically, but the Suns still have a long way to go until they will start to win games. Book has averaged an impressive seven assists per game with a much less impressive 4.3 turnovers, and while Elie Okobo and Isaiah Canaan have had their moments this gloomy season, the reality is that the Suns are 4-19 and should jump at the chance to take the 2017 first overall pick to see what they can make of him.
Neither Fultz nor Jackson has done much at the professional level at this point in their careers, but in college, the former Kansas standout played lockdown D. He finished the season with a 96.1 defensive rating, good for ninth-best in the Big 12, 2.2 defensive win shares, the fifth-most in his conference, and the sixth-best average for steals per game with 1.7.
As a professional, the 2017 fourth-overall pick has had a defensive rating of 112 over his first two seasons. For both him and Fultz, if they move teams, they will lose the expectations that came with their draft positions. They will switch from having fans see them as failed future franchise cornerstones to their fans seeing them simply as projects with small roles to fill.
In different ways, a trade sees both players move into low-pressure situations. It’s clear for Fultz: he would join a 4-19 team counting down the days until the draft. Jackson would not have much pressure on him since he would take minutes from Mike Muscala, Wilson Chandler, and Amir Johnson, and regardless of his struggles at the NBA level, it would be hard for Jackson to play worse defense than those three guys. Throwing the 21-year-old wing into a winning team’s rotation might shock him a little, but if things click for him with Philly, the risk will definitely pay off.
Swapping these two players straight up is a low-risk, high-reward deal for each team. The Sixers could end up with a serviceable perimeter defender with a three-point stroke if Josh Jackson returns to the level he played at with Kansas, and the Suns could receive the guy who runs their backcourt with Devin Booker for the foreseeable future.
Things might finally click for both prospects, but all indications say that they won’t click while they play for their current teams. Josh Jackson and Markelle Fultz need a change of scenery, and swapping them might end up helping the Sixers’ perimeter defense, and a deal certainly would not hurt their chances of winning now.