After missing the majority of the 2020 – 2021 season to a knee injury, fans were ecstatic to see Jaren Jackson Jr. return to the roster just in time for a playoff push as the Grizzlies fought for the eighth seed. Jaren made his first in game appearance April 21, 2021, and played the remaining games on the schedule, logging 11 regular season games, two play in games, and five post season games in 2021.
Jaren’s junior season (if we could fairly call 18 total games played a season) had both bright spots and areas of concern. Despite JJJ seeming to grow to close to seven feet tall his rebounding stat line remained relatively the same, improving to 5.6 per game from 4.6 per game. Jaren’s three-point shot seemed to take a sharp dive as well, dropping to 28 percent from three on similar numbers of attempts from range in his two previous seasons. However, I would attribute this dive in percentage to injury and lack of in game reps and not to talent or skill level. His scoring numbers took a dip overall as well, dropping from 17.4 points per game to 14.4 points per game.
While this may seem disheartening as Jaren is notably a key piece in the Grizz Nxt Gen rebuild, recent offseason workout videos have surfaced on social media that should give Grizz fans reasons to be excited for Jaren’s return to (hopefully) an injury free 2021 – 2022 NBA season.
In some of the videos I’ve seen like a video posted by Swish Cultures and re-tweeted by the Grizzlies Twitter account on August 22, 2021, shows Jaren going hard to the basket and finishing strong at the rim with a two-handed jam. What I liked about this play is Ja Morant sees Jaren from outside the three-point line and hits Jaren with the pass in stride as Jaren coasts through the lane. JJJ takes a dribble to gather and goes up strong to finish with a dunk.
While it is only a summer pick-up game and opponents likely aren’t playing 100% on defense, Jaren looks healthy and he still had to finish through some contact, showcasing that Jaren is getting comfortable with his improved size and strength. Developing great offense inside makes Jaren a formidable scorer at multiple levels. A lot of emphasis is put on Jaren’s ability to shoot from range, stretching the floor for the rest of the team. However, I would love to see Jaren punish opponents inside as well as shoot from the perimeter. With both of those pieces in his game consistently on offense I think a 20 point per game season is highly possible for Jaren in year four.
Ball Handling and Feel in the Post
In another video from the same series of videos posted to Twitter on August 22, 2021, by Swish Cultures, Jaren finds himself one on one with his defender and begins his drive from outside the perimeter. Jaren goes between the legs and takes a hard dribble with his left to set up a spin from the high post to ditch the defender and get close to the basket, resulting in another impressive two-handed jam. Other videos in the same thread show Jaren feeling his way through the lane with his dribble and spinning his way to the basket and finishing with layups or dunks. Once again, these are only summer pick-up games that can only tell us so much. HOWEVER, I can’t help but love the confidence Jaren was showing in his dribbling and movement. As big as Jaren is he hit his dribbles in stride and stays in constant motion in his goal to get to the rim. Jaren’s moves looked smooth, and he looks impressive as he elevated to throw down dunks and finish through contact, which also gives me hope that his knee injury won’t be something that won’t be persistent. It could be possible that as Jaren ages and matures he learns what he can do at his size. He can bully smaller players with strength and with good footwork and dribble moves he can weave past bigger centers and stretch fours to finish at the rim as well.
As the season approaches, I won’t be selling stock in Jaren Jackson Jr. I expect that he’ll make a jump in year four after having another offseason to make sure he’s injury free and he will also have a training camp’s worth of time to mesh back into the team instead of being thrown in at the end of the season. If Jaren can implement what he has done over the summer to his game during the regular season I believe the Grizzlies will be a tough out by the time the playoffs or play in tournament roll around. The future gets brighter every day for the Memphis Grizzlies, and it’s time for Memphis to hop aboard the hype train.