What makes a basketball player great?
When many people think of basketball greatness, they often think of “killers” like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant—players who often coldly and ruthlessly won games based off what seemed to be their own raw talent and mentality.
Bryant in particular was a different breed. He was someone who not only wanted to beat you but also humiliate you in the process. As he said through a young kid in his “Musecage” on Kawhi Leonard, he wanted to destroy his competition not only physically, but spiritually. He wanted to destroy them so completely, so utterly, on both ends of the court that they would never want their loved ones to come watch them play ever again.
He was almost sociopathic in nature in how he approached the game of basketball. But it was what made him great. And even as a fan of an opposing team, you could just feel his greatness whenever he stepped on the court.
It was an aura, an unshakable sense of almost divine purpose that permeated him. It’s an aura of greatness that all of the greatest players in NBA history share.
It’s an aura that the Memphis Grizzlies and the rest of the NBA can already see flashes of in Jaren Jackson Jr.
Now make no mistake: Jackson is certainly no Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, or Kevin Garnett. Those players were merciless machines in a way that Jackson’s personality will likely never allow him to be.
He’s also not a unicorn like Kristaps Porzingis or Karl-Anthony Towns. No, he’s more of a freaking behemoth.
So who exactly is Jaren Jackson Jr., and what makes him so great at such a young age?
To put it simply, his greatness is found in his uniqueness. There is essentially no player like him in NBA history.
Of course, enough has already been said about his almost unprecedented versatility at the age of 19. He’s currently 5th in the NBA in blocks at 2.2 per game, and he’s shooting 35% from three. His per-36 minute numbers are also generally superior to both those of Anthony Davis and Kevin Garnett during their rookie years in their rookie campaigns (and he is months younger than both of them were).
He’s a player who not only will be able to dominate the game on both ends of the court, but he is also capable of it now. There have been times where he has looked like an immaculate monster on the defensive end of the court, such as when he blocked four shots in in just over a four-minute span against the New York Knicks. There have also been times where he has overwhelmed his opponents inside the paint offensively, such as when he scored an easy 27 points against the Sacramento Kings.
And when those two areas of his game come together, he has all the makings of a player that could quickly become the best big man in the NBA.
However, his uniqueness is found in more than just his skill set.
Jaren Jackson Jr. is the modern example of what Kobe Bryant envisions a great player to be. He has the ability to dominate and demoralize on both ends of the court with God-given ability that few others on the planet possess. But he does so in a way that is entirely his own.
Jackson does not possess the authoritarian, ruthless demeanor of Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. He doesn’t dominate with the machine-like veneer of Kawhi Leonard or the calm, collected countenance of Tim Duncan. He isn’t a finger-wagging eater of worlds like Dikembe Mutombo.
At his core, he is who he is. He’s an outgoing player who loves the game of basketball and plays the game with sincere joy. He will dominate the game on both ends of the court, smiling the whole time that he does it. It’s almost like watching a kid in a candy store, if the kid was collecting his opponent’s souls instead of lollipops.
There is an innocence to his potential greatness, and it makes it all the more special.
The best part? The Memphis Grizzlies have never really had a player like Jaren Jackson Jr. The Grizzlies have certainly had great players over the years, but they’ve certainly never had one who so easily excels at such a young age. They have never had a player who may really win an MVP one day.
They have never had a player who could be among the greatest to ever play when their career is over.
Of course, it is still very early in Jackson’s career, and as we have seen with Derrick Rose, many things can go awry over the course of a long career. There are many reasons why he may never live up to his seemingly limitless potential. Yet there is one thing that is absolutely true about Jaren Jackson Jr.
I have never seen anything quite like him.
The Memphis Grizzlies have someone who is special and has a potential greatness that is entirely his own. And for a franchise that is often overlooked, that is worth celebrating.