It would be an understatement to say that Josh Jackson’s career hasn’t gone quite the way he imagined it would. After being selected 4th overall in the 2017 NBA Draft, Josh Jackson had two disappointing season in Phoenix, on and off the court. His career averages, 12.3 points and 4.5 rebounds, aren’t terrible but also quite underwhelming for a top 5 pick. The stats along with Jackson’s many off the court issues prompted the Suns to ship him to Memphis in a trade that many viewed Jackson as a salary dump for the Suns.
Memphis also seemingly viewed Jackson as a salary filler to complete the trade, with De’Anthony Melton and the second round picks as the prize of the deal. Instead of just waiving Jackson, exiling him or having him simply ride pine on the Grizzlies bench, the front office decided to go with an unconventional approach relegating Jackson to the G-League to repair his image.
Jackson’s assignment hasn’t been like most players when they are assigned to the G-League. Typically, a player will be called up and down numerous times allowing them to practice and play with both the NBA squad and the G-League affiliate. Jackson, however, has essentially been a $7 million G-Leaguer. Jackson has spent his entire Grizzlies tenure with the Hustle. He didn’t participate in the Grizzlies training camp, nor was he a part of their media days.
Going into the 2019-2020 season, everyone was curious how Jackson would respond to all of this. Although the returns are early, I’m not sure the Grizzlies could have asked for a better response.
Through 7 games Jackson has averaged 21 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.9 steals for the Hustle. Jackson has also been efficient scoring the ball, shooting 54.5% from beyond the arc, and 48.4% overall entering last night’s matchup. The numbers are there, but also expected, as the Grizzlies would have bigger problems if Jackson wasn’t dominating the G-League. He has been playing his ass off, which again, is something expected of a guy who is trying to revitalize his NBA career.
Where Josh has exceeded expectations, or at least my expectations, is how engaged he has been from day one. He seems to genuinely care about the Hustle, his teammates and their overall success, which isn’t something you always see from guys sent down on assignment. Josh could worry about getting his numbers and call it a day, but instead he takes initiative to help coach and instruct his teammates on the court. Josh has shown a maturity most have not seen of him professionally until this season.
Off the court it is much more difficult to speak to whether or not Jackson has exceeded expectation. There haven’t been any rumors of Jackson doing anything wrong beyond basketball, but Jackson’s personal life has remained personal for his Hustle tenure. While I’m sure many are curious as to what Jackson does in his free time, I personally see Jackson’s low-profile as a good thing. It sure as hell beats seeing a TMZ article of him partying on a yacht. Everything considered, Jackson has met the expectations given to him by the Grizzlies front office which should earn him a call up to the NBA squad soon. Hustle coach Jason March had this to say about Josh, on and off the court:
“I couldn’t be more serious when I say what I’m about to say about him. I’m extremely proud of him. I think he has handled himself very well through this process. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s playing as hard as anyone in this league right now. He should be given a lot of credit for what’s going on right now with our team. He’s been a leader in the locker room and I’ve been very happy with everything he’s done. But not just on the basketball floor, on the court when you guys are watching. In practice he’s a leader, he brings it every day and I’m very proud of him.”
Although the #FreeJoshJackson movement is growing by the week, calling Jackson up isn’t quite that simple. The Grizzlies front office and coaching staff would have to make some pretty difficult decisions should they decide to call up Jackson. Taylor Jenkins already goes deep into his bench, with 10 guys getting minutes on most nights. Throwing Jackson into the rotation would either decrease or eliminate minutes for a handful of players. The Grizzlies likely want to see more of what they have in guys like Dillon Brooks, Grayson Allen, and Marko Guduric and throwing Jackson into the fold only makes that situation more complicated. Kyle Anderson also figures to be in the short-term plans of the Grizzlies, so Jackson shouldn’t cut too much into his minutes either.
The only current viable option would be to decrease Solomon Hill’s minutes and give them to Jackson. Hill is in the final year of a 4 year $48 million contract he signed back in 2016 and almost certainly won’t be back with the Grizzlies next season. Cutting his minutes and seeing what they have in Jackson could be a worthwhile experience for the Grizzlies. On the other hand, Hill brings plenty of value to the Grizzlies. He’s a solid veteran guy to have in the locker room, and has come up big in some Grizzlies wins this season, most notably stripping the ball away from Donovan Mitchell in the waning seconds of a win over the Jazz. Hill is due $12 million this season, which makes a trade involving him difficult but not impossible. Any trade value Hill has built in the first 16 games of the season will be lost if Jackson replaces him in the rotation.
Although the current Grizzlies rotation is full, that shouldn’t stop the Grizzlies from calling Josh Jackson up. Unless there are issues that the Grizzlies have kept quiet on, Jackson has passed his first test with the Hustle. Personally, I believe that the Grizzlies should call Josh up with the understanding that he likely won’t play for 2-3 weeks. This would allow Josh to actually practice with his Grizzlies teammates, travel, and legitimately feel like part of the team. Over those weeks, the Grizzlies can figure out the trade market for a guy like Solomon Hill and see if they can find a taker. Worst case, Solomon Hill can ride the Grizzlies bench and collect his pay checks, which is what the expectation was at the beginning of the season.
Giving Josh a spot in the rotation around Christmas would give the Grizzlies around 50 games before the end of the season to decide if Josh is a worthy investment. It would also give the Grizzlies about 20 games to test the trade market on Josh if they don’t plan on bringing him back next season. Personally, either of those things benefit the Grizzlies more than anything Solomon Hill brings to the table.
At this point in the season, neither the Grizzlies nor Josh figure to get much of a benefit with Jackson wasting away in Southaven (Although the Hustle will certainly take it). He doesn’t necessarily need minutes right away, but it’s time to call Josh Jackson up.