When you’re wrong, you’re wrong.
This simple Site Manager felt that the selection of Jaren Jackson Jr. was a pick for the future, a future that the Memphis Grizzlies had publicly stated they were not as concerned with as they were the present. It wasn’t that Jackson couldn’t be the best player eventually in this draft - quite the contrary. The potential was always there for him to be great.
Yet for a capped out roster designed to compete immediately, the selection of Jackson Jr. felt like an indirect slap in the face. “We want to win now...but pay no attention to the 18-year old we just took #4 overall behind the curtain.” That is how it felt.
It’s only been a couple weeks...but the early returns on that take are cold, to say the least.
Jaren Jackson Jr. set the NBA world on fire (you know aside from the DeMarcus Cousins to the Warriors news) with his shockingly explosive shooting performance in his NBA Summer League debut. 29 points, with eight made threes, put Trae Young to shame and made it seem like all those that doubted the selection of Jackson Jr. should immediately pile crow up on their plate and eat it. Then the second game happened, and while it wasn’t as offensively dominant it was more sound in terms of play in the paint and around the rim as a defender and rebounder.
In just two Summer League showings, Jackson Jr. has displayed a skill set that fans should be excited for not just two or three years from now, but immediately.
Does that mean he’s going to drop 29 points on anyone’s head starting in October? Probably not - the competition gets a bit tougher come the fall. While Summer League takes are risky to develop to begin with, especially after two games, you can combine the athleticism and defensive dominance he displayed at Michigan State with tangible current visual evidence and see that this kid isn’t just a “wait and see” type of prospect...
He’s the “don’t believe me, just watch” type.
Here is how.
Two fours, two fives, three bigs
The Memphis Grizzlies have a problem with positional versatility. Nowhere is that more evident than in their two best front court players, Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green. Marc is pretty clearly a five, a center that can clean up rotation mistakes at the rim but can be exploited outside of the lane due to a lack of foot speed. JaMychal is a four who can hedge and switch out on the perimeter depending on the match-up, yet is not much for protection in the paint against shot attempts off of cuts and penetration.
Enter Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jaren Jackson Jr. perimeter defense, very good out there, good feet pic.twitter.com/YN7MT0BF32— Liam Doyle (@LiamDoyleNBA) June 20, 2018
Jaren Jackson Jr. is a MONSTER on defense!— SB Nation (@SBNation) May 16, 2018
Where do you have him going in the draft? pic.twitter.com/SEcROxjtbg
The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year being a good NBA defender isn’t exactly earth shattering news. It was widely accepted, even by skeptics (ducks), that Jackson could be a force on this end of the floor from day one. However, there is something to be said for seeing his athleticism and movement defensively in action at this level of play. His length and lateral quickness allows for him to switch and essentially flow through an opposing offensive set, throwing off angles and timing of passes and shot attempts. His size along other Grizzlies (Andrew Harrison, for example) could make the pick and roll, a modern NBA staple, much more difficult to run against Memphis than it has been in years past.
He even has shown beyond the physical aspect of the game that he can be cerebral and see things coming from an opposing offense before they happen.
Pretty good for 18.
That’s just defensively. On offense, imagine sets where both Jaren Jackson Jr. and Marc Gasol are on the perimeter conducting pick and pops with Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons. Think of the cutting lanes that will be provided to the likes of Dillon Brooks, MarShon Brooks, and Andrew Harrison with multiple bigs that have to be respected on the perimeter. Ponder this - A Mike Conley/Andrew Harrison/Chandler Parsons/JaMychal Green/Jaren Jackson Jr. lineup could mean Mike Conley coming off of screens and taking passes from multiple facilitators, while Jackson rim runs or pops out to the perimeter off of screens and Green crashed the lane, or vice versa.
The possibilities really may be endless...a lot sooner than we thought.
In just two outings, this skill set is evident - and this ability to do it all on both ends of the floor (especially defensively) will make his role malleable alongside Green and Gasol. The concern that Green may start over Jackson stated by some of those same skeptics (ducks again) seems silly just two weeks later. Who cares? When Marc is in with Jaren, he’s a four. When JaMychal is playing alongside Jackson, JJJ is a five. He can be everything and anything to anyone he is partnered with.
Marc is a five. JaMychal is a four. Jaren is both...and that can change the game for Memphis schematically in a terrific way.
Helping Dillon Grow
Dillon Brooks has been quite busy this summer playing for the Canadian national team. He may or may not join Memphis in Las Vegas for summer league, and to be honest whether he plays there or not is irrelevant. The Grizzlies front office and fans alike know what they have in Dillon, and while him being there to practice, support, and even play would be welcome, do we really need the (arguably) best bargain pick in the 2017 NBA Draft overdoing it in the summer?
No. We do not.
One selfish reason it would be fun to see, though, would be Dillon’s interactions with Jackson. Brooks is an almost accidental key component of the future of the Grizzlies, while Jackson is a clear cornerstone of the next era for Memphis. The fact remains that these two need each other, though, and how their games mix and mingle will be a major storyline to watch moving forward.
What are some ways that Jackson’s arrival can make Memphis’ favorite Duck (outside of the Peabody Hotel) better not just in July, but moving forward?
- Shot creation for himself and others. Dillon started to show flashes of development as a facilitator last season, especially as things closed out in late March and early April. He averaged four or more assists in four of his last six games, and while some of that came out of necessity it also was a result of Brooks making better decisions with the basketball. The pick and roll with Jackson can lead to space to get a jumper off, which Dillon will like. When opponents close on Brooks, though, he can continue to grow his vision through pocket passes or alley oops to Jackson, or passes to open shooters in the corner.
- The ability to fight over the top of screens more. Usually when one goes over the top of the screen set by an opposing offensive player they are giving up room for the player on the dribble to penetrate the lane and get to the rim. That would still hold true here, and depending on the match-up perhaps it would remain better to give up the three but keep a solid base in front of the basket. Jaren Jackson Jr’s innate skill as a rim protector allows for more aggressiveness on the perimeter, and as the NBA gets more and more three-point happy it greatly benefits both individual defenders and team defensive schemes to make those shots as difficult as possible. Trust is a big part of that - it will come with reps, both in practice and scrimmages/games.
- No longer “the asset”. There was a time not long ago where Dillon Brooks was the best prospect on the Grizzlies roster. Those were not-so-good days. Thankfully that time has passed, and now the torch has been passed to a player whose skills and natural ability warrant that level of pressure. That isn’t to say that Jackson must dominate now for Dillon to get some relief - perspective is important. Summer League is Summer League, and Jackson will go through growing pains. But three years from now, Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson Jr. will almost surely still be Memphis Grizzlies. Who else can you say that about with that near level of certainty?
It is July, not October. Jaren Jackson Jr., the 18-year old wunderkind who has revitalized a fan base after a long season of discontent, is going to struggle at some point, maybe even soon. When that happens, those that doubted before may creep back up to the forefront and say “I told you so”.
Jaren Jackson Jr. has shown that he can be more than just the future. He can be a meaningful, contributing piece in the here and now, and watching that develop organically from now throughout his entire rookie campaign is going to be fun to watch,