Over the next several weeks, we’ll be breaking down some young players and their fits next to Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant, while addressing the likelihood of them being on the next Memphis Grizzlies playoff team. We begin with the most interesting one — Josh Jackson.
Coming into the draft, there was a lot to love about Josh Jackson, as teams were vying at the opportunity to trade up for him.
He’s a wing with excellent size (6’8” and 6’10” wingspan) and elite athleticism. He had a nice motor with that “dawg” mentality. At Kansas, he oozed the potential to be a terrific two-way player, showing glimpses of becoming a go-to scorer and lockdown defender. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, Danny Chau, and Jonathan Tjarks had him at 6, 3, 5 on their big boards, respectively — while also giving the best-case scenarios of Tracy McGrady, Andre Iguodala, and Aaron Gordon.
A lot has changed over the past two years.
Despite putting up good raw numbers (12.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 1.9 APG), his production didn’t translate to winning, as he was statistically one of the most negative players in the league. Bleacher Report called “trading for Josh Jackson” the biggest offseason L for the Grizzlies. His off-court drama this summer raises some questions about his character and his presence in a locker room. He’s not a good shooter at all, shooting 41.5 percent so far for his career.
The Phoenix Suns attached the 2017 top-5 pick — along with 2 second-round picks — to De’Anthony Melton in a trade to Memphis. Given the Suns’ trade record, it’s hard to tell if this was one of those things where Jackson was that bad, or if Phoenix’s front office is that inept — something that’s nearly become common knowledge. Nonetheless, Jackson didn’t help his case.
Regardless of what he carries to Memphis, the Grizzlies’ front office has a decision to make. They must evaluate whether or not Jackson’s issues were simply because of the environment or his actual skill level. In addition, they must see whether or not he’s a good locker room fit alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant.
Based off what you see statistically or on NBA Twitter, you want Josh Jackson to stay the hell away from this team. However, it’s worth a shot.
Can Josh Jackson find his niche in Memphis?
Fit next to Jaren and Ja
Josh Jackson’s play in Phoenix drew very little optimism, if any at all. However, there are some factors to consider.
For starters, I want to see him play with a real NBA point guard. Not Devin Booker, Shaquille Harrison, or Tyler Ulis. The best “real NBA point guard” he’s played with is Tyler Johnson, who honestly projects more as a combo guard than anything.
Secondly, he needs a consistent role. In Phoenix, he was in and out of the starting lineup, starting 64 of his 156 career games. Also, he had to man playmaking and primary scoring responsibilities when Devin Booker was out, and that’s not his game.
In Memphis, alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant, there’s a chance that both of these problems are solved.
The first one is guaranteed to be fixed. Ja Morant is already better NBA point guard than anyone Jackson has ever played with. Morant is a pass-first point guard with elite playmaking instincts and a desire to set his teammates up. Jackson projects more as a slasher than an spot-up shooter, so playing alongside someone like Morant — or even Tyus Jones — will be beneficial to his offensive game.
Jackson also fits the run-and-gun style of play, sheerly based off athleticism. If Coach Jenkins and staff make it an effort to get out in the open court, with Morant leading the charge, Jackson could find himself as the beneficiary of easier opportunities than he had in Phoenix.
Alongside Jaren and Ja, there isn’t pressure for Josh Jackson to be the man. In fact, he’s not even the third or fourth on the pecking order, as he’s behind Jonas Valanciunas — and maybe even Dillon Brooks and/or Brandon Clarke. All he has to do is be a cog in the system ... but where does he fit?
They could try to use him as a “go-to scorer” off the bench, as the Grizzlies don’t possess many weapons in the second unit. Instead of being “rewarded” for taking ill-advised shots, he can pick and choose his spots within the offense, while being set up by Tyus Jones — one of the league’s most steady floor generals.
If his jumper does come along, Jackson becomes more of a fit alongside Jaren and Ja, which would be huge on both ends of the floor for Memphis. He could be a valuable cutter off Ja dribble-drive’s, or when teams double Jaren in the post. Defensively, he and Jaren could be interchangable guarding the 3 and 4 positions, or he can take the harder backcourt cover away from Ja.
If Josh Jackson could prove that his performance in Phoenix was simply a situational issue, he could be a nice two-way wing that could fit what the Grizzlies are trying to do with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant.
Can he be on the Next Great Grizzlies Team?
Of any of the players we’re going to discuss, Josh Jackson is the hardest to predict.
It’s a weird situation where he don’t really know his status with the team, as he hasn’t been introduced or anything on the team’s social media. It could be one of those things where they wanted to simply take a look at him, which is what ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski hinted at when breaking the news.
If he puts it all together, Jackson could be on the next Memphis Grizzlies playoff team. For one, if Jackson does piece it together in Memphis, this rebuild is going to be quicker than anticipated. Everything he adds to this team is simply a bonus at this point.
Then again though, he could just as easily stick to his old habits and not pan out on this team. He can remain an erratic offensive player and a lackluster defender that doesn’t contribute to positive play on the court.
Josh Jackson is simply a lottery ticket for the Grizzlies. It didn’t cost much to get him, and it could result in nothing. Or, they could hit jackpot and be the team that unearths the potential analysts were raving about in the pre-draft process.
I’m not saying he’s going to be the Josh Jackson we all thought he’d be, or that he’s good. I recognize the flaws, the horrible advanced numbers, the poor shooting mechanics, and the criticism from members of the Suns community. I understand that it may not work.
I don’t think he’s broken; at 22 years old, there’s time for him to turn it around.
He’s already at a decent start with his raw averages. The Athletic’s Peter Edmiston listed the players that averaged at least 17.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.8 assists or better per 36 minutes in their first two seasons. Of the 18 players that have done this in the past 40 seasons, Jackson joins players such as Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Grant Hill, Blake Griffin, James Worthy, and Pau Gasol on this list. That’s not bad company. The one outlier though, he’s the only one with negative win shares (-2.4).
The raw numbers, the physical tools, and the flashes of being a competent NBA player are all there. He’s also gifted a no-pressure situation with — hopefully — more structure than Phoenix.
Can he become a positive impact for the Grizzlies?
He has the chance to prove it as a supporting piece to Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant.
Stats found on basketball-reference.