On Tuesday, the Grizzlies reported that Justise Winslow will be out for the rest of this season, seemingly creating a playmaking void for the Grizzlies as prepare to resume play in Orlando. It’s especially tragic that this had to happen right before Winslow was set to make his debut as a member of the Grizzlies, and it does lead you to wonder how much an impact he could have made after a full training camp with the team.
However, there is plenty of truth to the old saying that you can’t miss what you never had. The Grizzlies were able to play themselves into the eighth seed without Winslow, and they will still be formidable without him, especially with the tremendous depth that they possess. And among that depth, Josh Jackson has now perhaps become the Grizzlies’ x-factor in maintaining their previous success.
To say that Josh Jackson wasn’t able to find his place in the league while in Phoenix his first two years in the league would be an understatement to say the least, with his unfortunate combination of on-court and off-court issues causing site manager Joe Mullinax to call him “broken” shortly after the Grizzlies acquired him this past summer.
Josh Jackson may have very well once been broken. But in the meta-narrative of his career, his previous brokenness has now led him to a more compelling opportunity than a Hollywood screenwriter could have ever scripted.
At the end of his time in Phoenix, he endured what it was like to fail and wonder if his dream was even a possibility for him anymore. During his time in Southhaven with the Memphis Hustle, he learned what it was like to grind and struggle out of darkness just for the chance to see the light once again. And then after he finally found his way into the Memphis Grizzlies rotation, he learned what it was like to rise from that same darkness and even lead a team like he was once envisioned to do, like when he led the Grizzlies in scoring during the month of March.
Despite the fact that he was playing so well for Memphis, it appeared that he might have been at risk of falling out of the rotation in Orlando. With the assumed insertion of Winslow into the Grizzlies’ rotation, there was at least going to be decreased opportunity for Jackson, who really found his place with the team in the 17 games that he played. Depth is always a beneficial trait for an NBA team, but the downside that it can present is that there are quality players who may not receive the number of minutes that they would in most other situations. And it appeared that Jackson would be one of those players.
Yet fate has now decided otherwise. Make no mistake: the Memphis Grizzlies are going to need Josh Jackson in the Orlando bubble. They will need him to provide steady complementary playmaking, serviceable jump-shooting, and the tenacious defense that his length and athleticism can afford him when he’s engaged. These are all traits that Justise Winslow was supposed to bring to the Grizzlies, which makes it all the more important that Jackson be who he is and who he can be in his absence.
Because when you forget his past character issues and remove him from an organization that has been putrid in the player development department, there’s one fact that is indisputably true about Josh Jackson: he’s a very talented basketball player. And only he will decide how good that he will eventually become for the rest of his career, no matter how long it may eventually be.
But in the absence of Justise Winslow, Josh Jackson now has an opportunity to show just good he is, all while providing tantalizing glimpses of the player that he was supposed to be and the player that he can still become. The beauty of this opportunity is found in the struggles he had to overcome to get to it, and the stakes that are now present for him as he rises to the challenge.
Josh Jackson may still need the Memphis Grizzlies just as he has all year long. But now, they need him as well. And the Grizzlies may not miss what they never had with Justise Winslow. But with Josh Jackson, he may just make them realize how much they were missing all along.