As we get ever closer to the 2018-2019 season, one interesting story line for the Memphis Grizzlies will be how the youth and the veterans will gel. On one hand, the roster could come together quickly and generate a surprise playoff run. On the other, the roster could struggle to find chemistry and another losing season could occur.
Regardless of how the season plays out, one critical component to a successful season will be the performance of rookies Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jevon Carter.
When the Grizzlies drafted Jackson Jr. and Carter, they showed their focus for a successful future was centered on defense. Memphis probably expects significant contributions from both players, especially Jackson. For most rookies, immediate defensive contributions is uncommon. However, there has rarely been a rookie duo with a better defensive pedigree.
Carter is arguably one of the most productive and decorated defensive players in NCAA History. He is a two time Big 12 and NABC National Defensive Player of the Year, and won the inaugural Naismith Defensive Player of the Year. Jaren Jackson Jr. is one of only 3 true freshman to record more than 100 blocks in less than 800 minutes played. He also led the nation with 5.5 blocks per 40 min played last year. As can be seen, in terms of a perimeter and post defensive duo, the Grizzlies could have an historic draft class.
The one downside for both rookies will be limited playing time. Their natural positions are the same as franchise cornerstones Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. Furthermore, there are veteran reserves who also expect to see time on the court. As a result, neither will likely be posting historical statistical totals. However, when they do play, both players could perform at rare levels for Grizzlies rookies.
Both rookies come into the league with specific defensive specialities as their calling card. For Carter it is steals, and for Jackson it is blocks. In the case of Jevon Carter, his performance should be judged by when he plays versus how much he plays. Carter is very unlikely to come close to Shane Battier’s franchise rookie record of 121 steals. A more appropriate measure to judge Carter by this season is through the statistic known as steal percentage. It basically measures how many times a certain player produces a steal per 100 possessions. Nick Calathes holds the Grizzlies rookie record for steal percentage at 3%. This came by totaling 66 steals in 1,173 minutes played. While Carter will likely play significantly less minutes, he has the potential to produce steals at a similar rate. And just as Calathes did his rookie season, that production will provide a welcome and needed boost to the Grizzlies success.
For Jaren Jackson, the opportunity is certainly there for him to be the best defensive rookie big man in franchise history. Pau Gasol holds the Grizzlies rookie record for total rebounds with 730 and blocks with 169. While it is unlikely he challenges the rebound mark, he reasonably could target the blocks total. To get to 170 blocks, Jackson Jr. would need to average 2.2 blocks per game. If his college and summer league performances were any indication, Jackson shows the ability to achieve that mark.
The expectation is that in his first season, Jackson will average 20-25 minutes per games. If he were to achieve 170 blocks, he would likely exceed the franchise rookie block percentage record of 6.7% set by Roy Rogers in the 1996-1997 season. Furthermore, he would potentially set a top five mark for block percentage by a rookie in NBA history. It is unlikely that Jackson will have the counting stats to contend for Rookie of the Year. However, there is a good chance he could become one of the best defensive rookies in NBA history.
As can be seen, the performance of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jevon Carter will have a big impact on the Grizzlies season. Obviously, productive play from both propelling the Grizzlies to playoff contention is a best case scenario. However, even if the season does not go as planned, productive play from both could give many Grizzlies fans a solid base of hope for the future. As mentioned before, the Grizzlies current franchise cornerstones could establish themselves as one of the best duos in NBA history. Every Grizzlies official, coach, and fan hopes Jaren Jackson Jr and Jevon Carter will be begin to establish themselves as the cornerstones for the future.