Yesterday, the Memphis Grizzlies hosted a Zoom conference call for media members to talk to Jaren Jackson Jr. COVID-19 and his thoughts about the season potentially resuming dominated the conversation — rightfully so. He also talked about The Last Dance, his mixtape (with a demo!), Jalen Green’s decision, and Coach Ivey’s new job with Notre Dame.
As many of us are quarantined, it’s an opportunity for players like Jaren to watch film from their play, as well as others’ games. I asked Jaren about who he’s been studying during the suspension.
He gave four names: Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Anthony Davis, and Kevin Garnett.
“Yeah those guys are forces,” the Grizzlies young big man said.
He told Grizzly Bear Blues and other media on the call that he focused heavy on those four players and how they operated and positioned themselves in the post. In addition, he’s also studying film from all positions on the floor, given his role in the offense.
“You kind of look at all positions though,” Jackson said. “Just ‘cause, in our offense, I find myself in different positions on the floor, so I’m taking little things from everyone’s game.”
Jaren Jackson Jr. is taking the right approach here. While he’s focused on the positionless aspect of basketball that’s taking over, he’s studying some of the league’s great big men that transformed the game.
And soon, he may be one of those big men.
Through watching his dad’s old games, Jaren Jackson Jr. has watched a lot of Tim Duncan and David Robinson. What an excellent duo to learn from.
Duncan and Robinson are the two of the best bigs in basketball history. Jackson pointed out he observed how they positioned themselves and received the ball in the post. Those two are the best to learn from in that regard, especially from “Mr. Fundamentals.”
Duncan, in particular, always had great precision and patience in the post. He was masterful in utilizing his pivot foot and the glass for excellent post moves. Robinson was also a post force, as he was one of the most underrated scoring big men among the all-time greats.
Jackson hasn’t been used in the post quite as often, as he usually finds himself roaming around the perimeter in Jenkins’ free-flowing system. However, he has flashed promise as a post-up player, displaying excellent footwork and the ability to aggressively use his body for great positioning.
He was heavily featured in the post in his rookie season, which was easy to see in JB Bickerstaff’s more traditional 2-big system. 24.8% of his possessions came in the post last season, where he scored 0.93 points per post possession. Meanwhile, this season, he’s seen his post-up frequency nearly cut in half, down to 12.7, and he’s only scored 0.81 points per post possession.
Despite the dropoff in post possessions and points per possession, he has legitimate upside in the post. His ability to establish post position, especially early in the shot clock, has been apparent from almost the beginning.
One of the biggest steps in Jaren’s offensive game is his post game, particularly his face-up post and repertoire — or his bag, as the kids would say. Studying two greats like Duncan and Robinson, while getting feedback from his dad who played with these guys, is huge for Jaren’s development.
Kevin Garnett’s has mentored Jaren Jackson Jr. well before he was drafted. He sees a lot of promise in Jackson, and at times the Grizzlies sophomore shows flashes of a young KG.
Like Garnett, Jackson has similar versatility and skillset on both ends of the floor, but he doesn’t have that same tenacity or level of trash-talk yet. Even the stats from Jaren’s career and Garnett’s first two seasons line up:
The takeaways from Garnett’s tape overlap with Duncan and Robinson’s, as he was a defensive force with two-way versatility and a dominant post presence. Jaren studying a lot of KG is good here, because he’s on a similar trajectory and has been under his wing for a few years now.
Anthony Davis is the pinnacle of modern big men. He handles the ball like a guard, protects the rim with his gaudy reach and wingspan, and runs the floor like a gazelle. Jackson has similar tools to Davis, as his handle has improved immensely and he’s one of the league’s elite shot-blockers even at 20 years old.
Any young big man should pick apart what Davis does on both ends of the floor. Defensively, he’s an absolute force protecting the rim and switching onto the perimeter. He’s one of 3 players that averaged at least 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals. Per Cleaning the Glass, he’s also in the 88th percentile in foul percentage (fouls per team play) at 2.8%.
Offensively, he’s a wrecking ball that’s one of the better roll men in basketball, averaging 1.27 points per possession as a roll man. He’s also diversified his offensive skillset throughout the years, taking more 3s and becoming a more perimeter-oriented player while still maintaining a strong post presence.
If Jackson could establish himself more as a roll man next to Ja Morant, while keeping his fouls down on the other end, that’ll take his game — and this Grizzly team — to the next level.
Any big man that’s entering or trying to find their place in the NBA should watch Davis closely. It’s pretty cool for Jackson to study Davis — an aspiring counterpart and potential first-round matchup.
Jaren Jackson Jr. can be great. And it’s even better to see that he’s studying the great big men of the past and present, as he carves his path to stardom.
The fact that his dad played alongside Tim Duncan and David Robinson must do wonders for his development, since he gets feedback advice from his father and the big men he played with.
In addition, like Anthony Davis, Jackson can become a new prototype for the modern big man. Among all players 6’11” or taller, he shot the 4th-most 3’s per game (6.3) in NBA history. Of those players that attempted at least 3 three’s a game, this season ranks 15th-time all-time in blocks per game (1.6), finding himself among players like Kristaps Porzingis, Joel Embiid, and Karl-Anthony Towns.
This season, he transformed into a 6’11” Splash Brother. And at 20 years old, there’s even more room to expand his game to new horizons.
In yesterday’s call, he referred to Duncan, Robinson, Garnett, and Davis as “forces.” With his work ethic, hunger to study the game, and his unique skillset, it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a force in this league.