The 2019-2020 season for the Memphis Grizzlies has truly been a story of success on many different levels. Both for the team as a whole and for many individuals on the roster, much of that success has been defined by their production and development on the court. However, one player’s success story involves putting his troubled past behind him while also attempting to salvage an NBA career for the present and future. This is why his story stands out more than most.
By now, Josh Jackson’s struggles with the Suns are both well-known and well documented in Memphis, Phoenix, and across the NBA. Fortunately, as being apart of the Grizzlies complete franchise overhaul this off season, Jackson received the change of scenery many felt was necessary, as well as a second chance at a relevant NBA career.
Though his journey with the Grizzlies started out in the G-League, and included a bump or two in the road, Jackson and the Grizzlies remained committed to a plan. As he continued to excel with the Memphis Hustle, sounds of support for his return to the NBA grew. Even when doubts started to emerge as to whether Jackson would get his chance, he stayed focused on making the most of his opportunity. Fortunately, his time eventually arrived.
Jackson finally earned his promotion to Memphis in late January. For the Grizzlies, this transaction seemed to be made out of both need and necessity. The roster needed both depth and talent as the back end of the bench experienced injuries to Grayson Allen and Bruno Caboclo. Jackson’s performance with the Hustle arguably created the necessity for the franchise to see how he fit with the roster, and to see if his time in Memphis was just in the present or beyond.
The Grizzlies inserted Jackson into the rotation quickly, which would prove to be an astute assessment in short time. As the trade deadline and All-Star break arrived, transactions and further injuries to Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke, along with the newly acquired yet unavailable Justise Winslow, continued to test the Grizzlies’ depth. Reliable reserves such as De’Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson became starters, which meant talents such as Gorgui Dieng and Jackson would become key reserves on a nightly basis.
Fortunately, Jackson was up to the challenge. Despite playing just over five minutes in his first game back on January 29th, Jackson has played at least 15 minutes in every game except one since that time. Overall, he is averaging 10.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists on 42% shooting. However, Jackson’s added value as a player goes well beyond his counting statistics on offense. Despite significant changes to their roster over the past six weeks, Jackson’s presence has certainly helped the Grizzlies maintain their position in the playoff race.
The Grizzlies have featured one of the best benches in the NBA overall this season, and it has been a significant reason as to why they are in playoff contention. However, since Jackson joined the roster and became a featured reserve, the Grizzlies reserves have truly been an advantage for this team and one of the best benches in the league. Since January 29th, Memphis’s bench is second among NBA reserve units in points per game, eighth in FG%, fourth in rebounds per game, fourth in assists per game, second in steals per game, and fourth in blocks per game. In other words, if there is one area where Memphis has truly been elite, it has been their bench production, especially since Jackson has been inserted into the second unit.
Though the Grizzlies bench has been excellent overall, Jackson’s biggest contribution arguably has been on defense. Since January 29th, for any lineup of three players that have played 70 or more minutes together for Memphis, three of the five lineup combinations with the best Defensive Rating include Jackson. Due to the effective defense, four of the five lineup combinations with the best Net Rating for the Grizzlies include Jackson. Overall, the Grizzlies have the third best defensive rating in the NBA during this stretch. Simply put, over the past six weeks, it logically can be argued the the Grizzlies play some of their best basketball as a whole when Jackson is on the court.
Jackson’s ability to elevate the overall effectiveness of his team’s defense when he plays should not come as a surprise. Last year, for any three man lineup that played 70 or more minutes together, Jackson was part of four of the eight lineup combinations with the best defensive rating for the Phoenix Suns. A big reason why the Suns drafted Jackson with the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft was due to his ability as a two-way player. Though Jackson is still a true work in progress on offense, his length and athletic ability make him a true asset on defense.
In fact, despite his struggles off the court, Jackson’s elite pedigree on the court has shined through at times in his career. For instance, Jackson is one of only nine players since the 2017-2018 season who have played at least 4,000 minutes and produced an assist percentage of 10% or better, a steal percentage of 1.9% or better, and a block percentage of 1.9% or better. While this list includes a wide range of players in terms of overall value, they each have the potential to contribute on both ends of the court when they play.
It is no coincidence that another player on that list with Jackson is Kyle Anderson. Though their styles may be different, their contributions are fairly similar in terms of how they impact the game. When the Grizzlies front office was overhauling the roster over the summer, they knew it would be hard to find elite talents overall or at any one skill. As a result, they targeted talents such as Anderson, Jackson, Melton, and Tyus Jones as players who can make plays on both ends of the court to support the Grizzlies young core. As can be seen, this strategy has been successful beyond expectations, as when these players play, especially together, the Grizzlies play highly effective basketball that is tough to beat.
In time, Winslow, Clarke, and Jackson Jr. will return to the roster and as a result, Jackson could see a reduced role in Grizzlies rotations. With the commitments the Grizzlies already have in place and will have to make to players such as Melton beyond this year, Jackson’s future fit with this roster is still to be decided.
That uncertainty should not diminish the efforts and results Jackson has provided during his time in Memphis. Though many may want to label Jackson has a bust or write him off due to personal struggles, it should be clear that Jackson - while he will likely never reach the level of play that warrants how high he was taken as a draft pick - can be a a contributor on a competitive team. He certainly has established the fact that he can be a very valuable reserve that can elevate the overall play of his team, especially on defense.
Due to returning to the NBA and clearly establishing a role he can excel in now and into the future, Jackson’s season to this point has been a resounding success. Whether his career will continue in Memphis or elsewhere, he has certainly made the most of his second chance. In a season in which the Grizzlies have had many individuals exceeding expectations, Jackson stands out as one of the best examples of how success is once again the standard here in Memphis.