When it comes to caring about fringe rotation, or even NBA, players, no fan base goes at each other quite like that of the Memphis Grizzlies. Nick Calathes, Ed Davis, Jordan Adams...the list goes on and on of names that lots of casual - or even some passionate - NBA fans would not be too familiar with. Yet still, in Memphis and around the franchise’s fans there is debate here, there, and everywhere about who, or what, these players could have been, or could be.
It makes sense that this roster, with all the overturn and change, would have multiple candidates for this year’s honor. Grayson Allen and Tyus Jones are solid early contenders for folks to argue over their long-term prospects in Memphis - both have pros and cons when it comes to their games and early returns on their ability.
But there is no greater Rorschach test for Grizzlies fans, and perhaps the organization, than Josh Jackson. And that particular ink blot had another interesting dab added to it Monday.
The Memphis Grizzlies say former No. 4 overall pick Josh Jackson will not play in G League game today due to violation of team rules.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) December 9, 2019
Former lottery pick Josh Jackson will not play for the Memphis Hustle today due to missing a team meeting, a league source tells Yahoo Sports.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) December 9, 2019
Given the nature of Josh Jackson’s NBA career to this point, this of course only added fuel to the fire of the #FreeJoshJackson conversation. The Memphis Grizzlies clearly have a plan in mind for Jackson to “earn” a spot on the active roster, and he - despite being described by Memphis Hustle coach Jason March as a model teammate and leader for the G-League leading Hustle until the missed team meeting - has not met those standards just yet. Perhaps he has, and they still have a time frame for Josh’s eventual arrival in Memphis that they will adhere to, missed meeting or no missed meeting.
But the reaction to this news is what is fascinating. Because Jackson’s perception among the fan base is skewed, in a variety of ways, and the truth - which often lies in the middle in these spots - is nowhere to be found.
In one corner - the #FreeJoshJackson truthers, like my pal Anthony Sain who talked about this with me on our latest episode of GBBLive. Sain has never seen the value of Jackson in the G-League, and from a basketball-specific standpoint he is exactly right. Maybe not in terms of Jackson being some elite basketball player - he is most certainly not that. Given his athleticism, career on the floor to this point, youth, and the makeup of the current Grizzlies?
Yeah, he probably should be in Memphis already. Are you really willing to die on the “Solomon Hill should get time instead” hill?
But it is of course not that simple. Jackson has a lot of baggage. He has done some pretty not-so-good things, some allegedly, some confirmed. To be in a situation where someone can accuse you of a “baby getting high” probably makes you at least guilty of poor judgment, one way or another, if not a crime in general. Add that on to the clear lack of professionalism and decision making elsewhere in his life through his legal issues, and you can most certainly understand why the Grizzlies are treating him the way they are.
Oh, and by the way, he was historically (analytically, especially) bad by the end of his run in Phoenix. So why, when you’re more excited about De’Anthony Melton and second round picks than the cap filler that made the trade work, force a player along that you wouldn’t give an opt-in to on his rookie deal?
Because Solomon Hill is getting meaningful minutes on your rebuilding roster.
Back and forth you can go. Jackson working on his game and being a leader, someone depended on, in Southaven has value and probably has helped him develop skills as a person he didn’t display in Phoenix. Yet how much better as a player is he getting going against guys that almost certainly will never have the opportunities that Jackson has had - and potentially will have - in terms of a role as an NBA starter in his career? His physical gifts makes him too talented to be rocking the awesome dog uniforms of the Hustle for too long...right?
The missed meeting should not be an indictment of Jackson’s character - he’s done far more that could be considered damning on that front. If you’re judging him on that and saying he should stick with the Hustle now for the foreseeable future, perhaps an honest look at your own timeliness and professionalism is in order. No one is perfect, and up to that meeting Jackson was being praised, as mentioned before. But it can certainly be a reminder that Jackson is far from a finished product, both on and off the floor. The 22 year-old is scoring 22.7 points per game while posting 49.7% shooting from the field (42.5% from three) along with 8.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He is dominant at the G-League level...and yet was really, really bad at times at the NBA one.
How much growth, as a potential NBA player, is possible when playing against people unable to compete with you on a nightly basis when other options are available?
If you’re worried about him being bad, here’s a breaking news alert - the Grizzlies are bad. They’re lottery bound, and this season isn’t about wins and losses. It is about growth, and figuring out who can play alongside Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. long term. Wins and losses will come - the backbone of the campaign is development. There is a 6’8” former lottery pick crushing inferior competition that could theoretically fit nicely next to both your young corner stones, that only turns 23 (younger than Brandon Clarke) in February. Why is he still there?
Because he hasn’t proven he can be there...or in the NBA...enough to take advantage of those gifts.
Josh Jackson clearly needs structure and a defined role. Will that come on a Grizzlies roster that is young and in flux? Maybe not - but consistency is also not something Josh will get with the Hustle. Does the instability of the Memphis NBA roster mean Jackson should remain in G-League purgatory, waiting for a chance that may never come as free agency approaches? Will he be able to continue to stay on the straight and narrow when he is not being “rewarded” for such behavior?
What Josh Jackson is, and should be, will be debated among Grizzlies fans as long as he is in Memphis. But the most interesting thing about Josh at this stage is your perspective on him says a lot about you, and your life/basketball experience. Do you value data and distinct fit/role in your basketball players, or see playing the game at the NBA level as a privilege, or view this G-League stint as a chance to regain trust and develop leadership? Or do you look at the league through the prism of athleticism and gifts, seeing the potential physically of the player and not the potential of a stint with the Hustle as a professional development opportunity?
Or are you somewhere inbetween like me - knowing he must be in control of his life on and off the floor, but wondering what Josh Jackson could be with Jaren and Ja and knowing that won’t be seen in Southaven?
Of course, what the Grizzlies and Josh see is what matters most. They’re the ones walking an uncertain path, and there are a lot of variables in play. But their perspectives will directly impact the immediate and long-term ceilings of this franchise. Nail this rebuild of Josh, both him and the team, and you have a meaningful contributor to the next great Grizzlies roster that you got for nothing and a nice new contract of guaranteed money if you’re Jackson. Botch it? If you’re Josh, you’re likely out of the league. If you’re Memphis, it’s a missed opportunity in a small market to get a great talent for nothing.
What do you see?