The Memphis Grizzlies have been a surprise team this season, in no small part thanks to the play of second-year power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. This piece will take a deeper look at the the young big man’s overall game.
The Memphis Grizzlies are currently eighth in the Western Conference and have been on a tear since the New Year, winning 11 of their 14 games so far in January. Rookie head coach Taylor Jenkins has the team playing uptempo and the young core has certainly been shining.
Part of that group is Jaren Jackson Jr., the sophomore power forward who has emerged as the team’s leading scorer this season, averaging 17.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.6 blocks per game this season.
Jackson is a unique young talent with a game that merits a deeper look. Should he capitalize on his potential, the Memphis Grizzlies could become playoff fixtures for the next decade.
Modern NBA offenses are looking to space the floor and keep the lane open for dribble drives or rolling big men. Therefore players who can shoot and keep their defender honest are at an incredible premium in the league, especially at the frontcourt positions.
Jackson is already one of the best 3-point shooting big men in the league, shooting 40.7 percent from beyond the arc this season on a whopping 6.5 attempts a game. His attempts from downtown make up nearly half of his field goal attempts.
Moreover, these shots are not of the “wait in the corner wide open” variety. In fact, Jackson shoots most of his from above the break, sometimes a couple feet beyond the line.
While his form is a bit wonky, the ball goes in. Jackson has even shown the ability to shoot accurately with little time to set his feet, a rare quality for a big man in the league.
That is a 7-foot big man running the floor, stopping on a dime, then going up on balance for a 3. You could probably count the big men in the NBA who could make that play on one hand.
Jackson’s prolific shooting helps keep the lane clear for Ja Morant‘s theatrics and allows the Memphis Grizzlies to play a traditional center in Jonas Valanciunas to run the pick-and-roll and shore up the defensive boards.
Going forward in his career as a shooter, one could envision Jackson becoming a dynamic pick-and-pop roller and launching more 3-pointers from the top of the key, similar to the way the Dallas Mavericks use Kristaps Porzingis.
While Jackson’s premier skill is his long range ability from beyond the arc, he also has a nice set of dribble drive moves in his repertoire. Notably he is able to finish with either hand in a variety of ways.
Jackson shows nice balance and touch for his size here, as well as the ability to put the ball on the floor. This will be an important adaptation in his offensive game as defenders will look to run him off the 3-point line.
Very clean drive past Mason Plumlee‘s closeout into a controlled left-handed finish. Once again, Jackson’s combination of size and coordination are on display.
While these type of attacks are not as developed as his ranged shooting, the early signs here are certainly promising. Should he continue to improve, he will become an incredibly versatile offensive player who could exploit defenders’ specific flaws both on the perimeter and in the paint.
Jackson is 6-foot-11, weighs 242 pounds and boasts a massive 7-foot-4 wingspan. Combine that physical profile with the balance and grace showcased in the above clips and the Memphis Grizzlies have a player with a high defensive ceiling.
Currently Jackson’s primary defensive skill is his shot blocking. His length and mobility allow him to be quite a nuisance to opposing offenses.
These are the type of highlights you get from him from time to time. Jackson is one of those players who can surprise other NBA players with his length.
That right there is a block of a jump shot while in drop pick-and-roll coverage; the whole point of defending the pick-and-roll in that way is to cede that exact shot. Jackson throws that logic out the window to make an absolutely fantastic block on Emmanuel Mudiay‘s pull-up attempt.
At times Jackson’s length can swallow up players when they go at him in isolation, as he did to Danilo Gallinari‘s fadeaway attempt in the first clip above. Unfortunately Jackson is a bit jumpy and prone to getting out of position or lunging when he shouldn’t on the perimeter, as he is not particularly comfortable guarding primary ball handlers.
In a perfect world Jackson would develop into a defensive nightmare, being able to protect the rim in help defense and switch onto perimeter players in isolation in the mold of an Anthony Davis. However, he must become much more disciplined on the perimeter to become that kind of versatile difference maker for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Despite being gifted with incredible physical tools, Jackson averages a measly 4.7 rebounds a game. Moreover this is not a case of Jonas Valanciunas vacuuming up every board when he shares the floor with Jackson, because Jackson’s rebounding numbers stay in the doldrums even when Valanciunas is on the bench.
What these defensive rebounding issues culminate in is that Jackson cannot currently play center effectively, the position he should theoretically be playing in the modern NBA and the position which holds the most upside for him on the court with the Memphis Grizzlies. He simply must become better on the defensive glass.
Jackson is committing a massive 4.1 fouls per game, which leads the league. He is accomplishing this “feat” despite only playing 28 minutes a game. The Memphis Grizzlies need him on the court more than that.
The primary issue Jackson has is he can be undisciplined and twitchy on defense. He is engaged and active, but this energy can often lead to some bad fouls.
This is a terrible foul by Jackson here. What he needed to do was stay on the floor and force Paul Millsap to take a contested shot over his length. Instead he bailed him out by attempting to get a shot block and preemptively jumping.
Jackson constantly makes the cardinal sin of leaving his feet before the offensive player does, routinely falling for pump fakes.
These kind of lapses in discipline must be ironed out for him to continue to develop as a player. He must become a more disciplined defender, and good defenders don’t send opponents to the free throw line on bad fouls like these.
Despite some serious flaws, Jackson’s future looks bright. His combination of size and shooting already make him a tantalizing young player which any team in the league would love to have on their roster to develop in years to come.
Moreover, many of his worst mistakes are related to the game still being fast to him at times, which will change as he grows more experienced and begins to predict actions instead of simply reacting to them.
Should the Memphis Grizzlies make the playoffs this year, it will certainly be interesting to see how this young man handles that kind of pressure.