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Report Card: Jaren Jackson Jr. makes the grade

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NBA: Denver Nuggets at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Players need to be held accountable when they are underperforming.

Of course this happens within the organization/franchise itself more than it does from a blog on on Twitter. But someone wanting to critique a struggling athlete making millions of dollars playing a child’s game is well within their rights to do so. Jaren Jackson Jr. of the Memphis Grizzlies knows this to be true - for a fan base that loves to scapegoat (somewhere Rudy Gay, Ed Davis, Nick Calathes, Jeff Green, and others are nodding) it seems that the Memphis Unicorn is well on his way to joining a long, but distinguished, list.

What makes Jaren different from those players, however, is his lack of NBA experience and his age. Yes, he is now in year four of his NBA career. And yes, he just signed a 4-year, $105 million extension fitting of someone that you expect high-level production from. But he’s 22-years-old and has just recently eclipsed the 130 games played mark. He has yet to play a full two season’s worth of NBA basketball due to injury (and pandemics) and there is, quite literally, no NBA player like him in the league right now. His blend of size, athleticism, and potential as a creator off the dribble and defensive force is unique among the NBA’s unicorns.

So when he struggles, you take the lumps with the criticism and you keep feeding him minutes and opportunity. Because when he plays like he did last night against Denver alongside this version of Ja Morant, the Memphis Grizzlies are a top-10 team in the NBA. And that’s what you invested in as a Grizzlies front office.

Jaren gets an A. On to the other grades.

Desmond Bane: 16 points (6-14 shooting, 3-7 from three), 3 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steal, +5 in 29 minutes

Jackson Jr. was fantastic against Denver Wednesday night, and Ja Morant’s “pedestrian” 18 point/6 rebound/6 assist/3 steal game being average for him at this stage is All-NBA level production. But an under-reported development to this point in the Grizzlies season is the fact that Desmond Bane is much improved eight games in to his sophomore campaign, and he has started every game. He remains a phenomenal three point shooter (41.1% is in line with career averages, so while it may not go up much it almost surely won’t fall much either) but other areas of his game are developing as well. He is becoming much more comfortable off the dribble (his run as a point guard at Summer League is partially to thank for that) and he is finding himself as a pull-up shooter as well as a passer. Defensively he will always be limited by his length, but his strength and understanding of leverage and positioning help him negate that to an extent.

He’s evolving as a player, and if he is indeed the choice to remain a starter upon Dillon Brooks’ return to the lineup in the next week or so (so we hope/assume) that will only continue to shine through. He’s a tremendous role player to have for this next era of Grizzlies basketball.

Grade - B+

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Anderson: 16 points (7-11 shooting, 2-3 from three) 3 rebounds, 1 assist, -6 in 23 minutes

Kyle Anderson’s shot has been the subject of debate over the last couple of weeks, as Jaren is not the only front court player that has struggled of late. Videos like this aren’t helping.

It appears the hitch in his jumper/release has returned somewhat, which leads to speculation about his shoulder and its health. Which...of course would be bad for both the team (they need Anderson’s steady hand for production on both ends) and for Kyle himself (as he enters free agency this summer). But for one night at least, Anderson squashed those concerns as he looked more like himself - at least the “himself” from last season that was so valuable for the Grizzlies when Ja Morant went down. As a reserve he is still finding his footing, but once Brooks returns and Anderson has more opportunity to play with someone like Bane or De’Anthony Melton in that reserve unit (and Brooks himself in mixed lineups) Kyle should see his numbers improve.

If Memphis wants this strong start to be the rule and not the exception, they need Kyle to produce. Last night was a good sign.

GRADE: B+

Quick Grades

  • Ziaire Williams played the best game of his career. He LOVES the corner three, and he can defend multiple wing positions. As long as he keeps that energy, he is going to remain in the rotation even when the whole roster is healthy. And that’s huge for the future of the Grizzlies. Remember - Williams was an upside selection. Anything good-to-great he does now is icing on the cake. He’s having success in a smaller role that will build confidence when his work load increases. GRADE - A
  • Steven Adams led the team in +/- at +9 over 30 minutes. Jonas Valanciunas is putting up monster numbers on arguably the NBA’s worst team right now in the New Orleans Pelicans. Steven Adams is rebounding, passing, defending (he had Nikola Jokic as his assignment for a large part of the last two games and had some success, a plus against the reigning MVP), and allowing for the offensive growth of Morant, Bane, and others to occur because he doesn’t need to score to be effective. Sometimes, trades benefit both franchises. It’s looking like this is the case in this instance - but especially for Memphis at the moment. GRADE - B+

The Memphis Grizzlies are in the Nation’s Capital for their next game as they take on the surprisingly strong Washington Wizards on Friday night.

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