It’s easy to want to rush to the good part of something.
The climax of a series of movies that you’ve been building to for years and multiple previous films. The center of a Tootsie Pop. The punch line of a great dad joke. All this and so much more are what make this generation of folks tick - we want our information, our perfect ending, our candy, and we want it now.
The era of delayed gratification is dead. Long live the millennial, I Want it Now age.
The Memphis Grizzlies and their fans are staring at a personification of this time in our history every time they gaze at the dripping-with-potential Jaren Jackson Jr. You’ve read the articles fawning over his length, his defensive prowess, his raw athleticism and seemingly endless ceiling. It feels as if there is nothing this young man can’t do at times, and that enthusiasm is reflected in his overall demeanor. He appears to be having fun while building up what should be an excellent NBA career, and that personality only adds to the allure.
There are plenty of reason to look at the idea of JJJ and think that immediately he can not just make an impact, but be THE impact for Memphis this coming season. Yet for the sake of Jaren, and the Grizzlies, it may be best to allow for him to find his footing organically and come along at his own pace.
2017-2018 Season in Review
A player that in one way dominated the Big 10 and in another was unable to do so consistently, Jackson Jr. was always seen as a high-upside swing for the fences entering the 2018 NBA Draft. Defensively, the skills were evident - the timing, the reaction, the length and the understanding of angles both on the perimeter and in the paint - it was there. Those attributes can instantly impact the professional game as well, and teams that were high on JJJ loved that aspect of what he can do.
The parts of his game that needed more to get excited about? Offensive execution, consistency on the defensive end regarding his high foul rate, his rebounding (or lack thereof). There were reasons he was not seen as strong as Deandre Ayton or even Luka Doncic or Marvin Bagley III (KANGZ) as a prospect - the flaws in his game, while not total deal breakers, were noteworthy enough to pause.
The Grizzlies apparently didn’t pause on draft night. According to the Memphis front office, they were ecstatic to bring Jackson in to the fold.
Best Case Scenario
All those flaws mentioned above? They fade away far faster than anyone anticipated, and Jaren Jackson Jr. becomes the starter alongside Marc Gasol far sooner than anticipated. When Karl-Anthony Towns won Rookie of the Year he scored 18.3 points per game while grabbing 10.5 rebounds per contest and blocking 1.7 shots. Those rebound numbers are unlikely, even in a best case scenario, considering that wasn’t a strength of his in college. The scoring and defensive stats, however, may well be in reach.
One of the major questions surrounding this Grizzlies team, however, is who the hell is going to score the basketball? Mike Conley is surely part of that answer, as is Marc Gasol. The 3rd slot alongside those two is seemingly wide open, however. The rookie Jackson could fill that need for a third scorer, in theory, and thrive alongside so many facilitators and shooters.
16 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal per game...could that nab Jackson rookie of the year? Perhaps...but this is lofty hope to heap on a 19 year-old.
Worst Case Scenario
While he is clearly a higher level talent than former Grizzly Deyonta Davis, the questions during the draft process about motor and basketball understanding were concerning for some. In his short time in Memphis, Jackson has proven the latter incorrect - he does lots of little things that show an innate understanding of the game, like body positioning on drives for his teammates to keep the lane free - but the former may still ring true, and that comes often with maturity. So much of basketball has been easy for JJJ up to this point, and the NBA will almost surely not be simple.
Will frustration with adapting to the pro game stunt his development? Foul issues aren’t a big problem long-term when it comes to whether or not you’re a “good” basketball player, but it’s hard to get experience if you can’t get on the court. What if switching on the likes of Chris Paul and James Harden on a nightly basis take their toll, and he can’t seem to stay out of foul concerns?
Combine that with a slow start, and Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff may feel the pressure to play JaMychal Green and other “bigs” like Chandler Parsons as a 4 instead of Jaren Jackson Jr. That would limit his growth this season, which of course could put him behind over the span of his long-term development.
What should be expected of Jaren Jackson Jr.’s rookie campaign?
Mistakes. Lots of them.
And highlights. Lots of them.
Such is the life of most NBA rookies. Rarely does a player come in and make such an impact that they are viewed as one of the top 30 or so players in the entire Association. If Jaren was able to do that, it would make him better than Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, the two veteran leaders of this organization. That almost surely isn’t in the cards for him this year...
Key words - this year.
Of course this is a 2018-2019 player preview, and Jackson will be a key rotation player for this team and see success and failure in that role. There will be games where he posts double doubles and games where he fouls out in 15 minutes of play. Growing pains will be on full display, as will moments that show that JJJ was the right man to be taken #4 overall.
The end game is larger than this season, though.
For Jaren, this season’s expectation should be growth. If the Grizzlies are depending on him to be a dominant force right away, they’re doomed. That isn’t fair to the kid with the infectious smile and seemingly endless potential. We cannot force our instant gratification wishes on someone who will someday be the man, but just isn’t ready yet. We must expect for him to fail as well as succeed, to learn more from the times he falls than the times he rises to the occasion...at least to start.
The upcoming campaign isn’t about this season for Jaren Jackson Jr. It’s about the ten that follow.
We all will just have to patiently wait for the happy ending.