Site Manager’s note- We welcome guest poster Dave DuFour to GBB. Dave is the host of the “On the NBA with Dave DuFour” podcast and has written for several sites over the years. Check him out on Twitter here.
In the modern NBA, an ideal center is a rim protecting, lob catching, switchy, three-point threat who can also create enough off the dribble to keep opposing defenses honest. Jaren Jackson Jr. might be the perfect version of that ideal. While his weaknesses exist, his strengths are so overwhelming they don’t really matter. By the end of the 2018-2019 season, Jaren Jackson Jr. may be seen as the best prospect in this draft.
We all watched on as teams went smaller and smaller as the playoffs progressed. The Warriors seemed their most vulnerable against the Rockets switching scheme, until they didn’t follow through on that advantage. Clint Capela was eschewed in favor of smaller players who could effectively switch on the perimeter. This sacrifice of rim protection ultimately cost the Rockets games when the Warriors began slipping screens toward an unprotected basket.
A player like Jackson is able to handle smaller perimeter players well, without sacrificing any rim protection. Jaren averaged over 5.5 blocks per 36 minutes in 5 games in Vegas. Right hand, left hand, both feet, either foot, JJJ was a shot blocking machine.
Notice, in many of those clips, how early Jackson is to recognize the needed rotation. The way he sees the floor on defense is extremely advanced. I feel very comfortable referring to him as a defensive savant.
If you listened to my pre-draft podcast with Cole Zwicker, you know that JJJ was expected to defend from day one. No one is surprised by how great he performed on that end this Summer. The biggest surprise was how well he shot the ball from three. In eight Summer League games between Vegas and Sacramento, Jackson shot 50% on 3.5 attempts per game. Despite his less than ideal shot form, a bit low and away from his body, and his tendency to thumb the ball, his motion is smooth and in rhythm.
Jaren Jackson Jr. in rhythm pregame. pic.twitter.com/dYfexstWLo— Dave DuFour (@DaveDuFourNBA) July 16, 2018
Jackson’s ability to finish at the rim as the roll man created a ton of wide open threes out of the pick and pop. His offensive versatility makes him a true inside/outside threat. Jackson has a soft touch around the basket and the ability to finish with either hand.
Jaren Jackson will most likely see a lot of minutes next to Marc Gasol in his rookie season. Having one of the greatest passing bigs in NBA history should help Jackson improve in that area quite a bit. While he probably won’t face many double teams this season, he will surely be asked to facilitate after attacking a closeout, something he hasn’t shown he can do to this point.
As a 19 year old rookie, he is starting with an incredibly high floor, in an environment well suited for his development. A healthy Mike Conley will be a perfect pick and roll partner for Jackson, who will provide Memphis with a versatility their offense has lacked the last few seasons. I can envision a touch of the high/low game we used to see from the Gasol/Randolph combo, but, with Jackson’s three ball, a more explosive version. New acquisition Kyle Anderson should create interesting lineup options in the front court with Jackson playing the 5. Anderson’s ability to create off the dribble could allow some big/big pick and roll scenarios.
When we revisit this draft, which will happen numerous times throughout this season and beyond, don’t be surprised if Jaren Jackson is viewed as a steal for Memphis. While the offensive predictions may be premature, it is only Summer League after all, JJJ clearly looks ready to anchor a top tier NBA defense from day one.