The Memphis Grizzlies have earned their fair share of accolades and admiration over the past 2+ years, both as a team and individually. However, the frequency of both has certainly increased this season, and rightfully so. From a Coach of the Month honor for Taylor Jenkins to back-to-back Player of the Week Honors and a likely All-Star nod (potentially as a starter) for Ja Morant, the level of attention continues to reach new heights.
And, like the the Grizzlies, that ascension is far from its peak.
The Memphis Grizzlies have the 3rd best record in the NBA. They have a legitimate MVP Candidate in Ja Morant. A DPOY and All-Defensive Team Candidate in Jaren Jackson Jr. a MIP frontrunner in Desmond Bane. The deepest bench in the NBA.— Brandon Abraham (@bcabraham) January 22, 2022
This team is fun and legit as hell
This assessment from fellow GBBer Brandon Abraham is absolutely spot on. And there is not even enough room to recognize both Jenkins and Zach Kleiman for Coach and Executive of the year. Kleiman, Jenkins, and Morant deserve all of the recognition that is coming their way. Desmond Bane’s play is more than deserving to be in the Most Improved Player conversation. While Jaren Jackson Jr. is certainly being talked about plenty for his overall improvements this year, especially on defense, the time has come to change to a perspective that truly recognizes the impact he is making.
Jackson Jr. is not just one of the most improved defenders or best young defenders in the league. He is one of the most impactful defenders in the league period, and is putting together a resume that should put him in the conversation for All-Defensive honors. With the numbers he is putting up, especially in terms of defensive activity, history is on his side.
If Jaren Jackson Jr. were to reach 50 steals by Wednesday (he is at 48 currently) against the Spurs, Jackson Jr. would become the first player other than Anthony Davis to have at least 100 blocks and 50 steals in a season through his team’s first 50 games since Josh Smith did it during the 2012-2013 season. Since 2000, an NBA player has accomplished this feat 27 different times in a single season. In 16 of those 27 occurrences, the player earned All-Defensive First or Second Team honors (injuries prevented the number from being higher.) Even if Jaren does not reach 50 steals, its clear recent NBA history frequently recognizes those players who have shown his level of defensive activity.
Of course, while it is important to know where Jackson Jr. is now when it comes to his All-Defensive resume, its also important to know where he needs to wind up. With a third of the season left, Jackson Jr. needs 46 more blocks and 27 over 33 games more steals to produce 150 blocks and 75 steals in a season. Since 2000, this standard has been reached 35 different times. Out of those 35 occurrences, a player has received all defensive honors 22 times and Defensive Player of the Year honors eight times. The only players to reach this plateau over the past decade are Davis, DeAndre Jordan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Dwight Howard. The company that Jackson Jr. could potentially become a part of this season may be even more impressive than his numbers themselves (especially considering his age).
Without a doubt, the entire body of work is what matters most when it comes to an All-Defensive Award. However, not all bodies of works are created equal. The peak performance of some campaigns certainly standout compared to others.
Jaren Jackson Jr has 25 blocks and 9 steals in his last 6 games.— Fastbreak Breakfast (@fastbreakbreak) January 19, 2022
Players to do that in the last 20 seasons:
*made an all-defensive team
Not only has Jaren Jackson Jr.’s defensive activity been impressive the entire season, it continues to improve, as Keith Parrish of Fastbreak Breakfast and Grind City Media shows above. As impressive as this six game stretch from earlier in January was, Jackson Jr.’s production for the entire month may be even more stunning. In December, Jackson Jr. averaged 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. In January, Jackson Jr. has averaged 3.5 blocks and 1.1 steals per game (as of Sunday morning.)
Even if Jackson Jr.’s per game numbers regress a bit, he only needs seven blocks and two steals over his next four games to reach 45 blocks and 15 steals in January. Over the past decade, only Anthony Davis, Larry Sanders, and Javale McGee have accomplished that. Since 2000, a player has produced at least 45 blocks and 15 steals 35 times in a calendar month. In 25 of these 35 cases, the player would go on to be make either the All-Defensive First or Second Team in that season. Beyond Jackson Jr.’s body of work as a whole, the peak of his campaign also certainly correlates well with recent history in terms of being worthy of All-Defensive Honors.
Of course, Jackson Jr.’s production in terms of counting statistics could be a result of quantity just as much as it is quality. However, a closer look at his production in terms of per possession and advanced rates also suggests Jackson Jr.’s defensive activity is consistently reaching a rare level of quality. Since 2000, only five players have produced these per possession and advanced production rates while playing at least 1750 minutes in a single season:
3.5 Blocks per 100 possessions
1.5 Steals per 100 possessions
6.5% or better Block Rate
1.5% or better Steal Rate
For comparison, here are Jaren Jackson Jr.’s numbers in those same categories through 1,294 minutes played this season as of Sunday morning:
3.9 Blocks per 100 possessions
1.8 Steals per 100 possessions
7.3% Block Rate
1.8% Steal Rate
The five aforementioned players who have achieved this level of production a total of seven times since 2000 are Ben Wallace, Marcus Camby, Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert and Andrei Kirilenko. Each of these five players could easily be considered among the best 10-15 defenders in the NBA over the past quarter century. They have also combined to earn 21 All-Defensive team honors and eight Defensive Player of the Year awards since 2000. Jaren Jackson Jr. joining this elite company may be his biggest source of support to earn some level of All-Defensive recognition.
As can be seen on many different levels, Jaren Jackson Jr.’s consistent level of defensive activity highly correlates with being worthy of All-Defensive honors compared to recent NBA History. Moreover, if the statistical support above seems to overlap or be a bit redundant, it is intentional. The reason being is that no matter what perspective you choose, Jackson Jr. is having a historical season. Whether it be where he is now vs. where he projects to be, the whole body of work vs. its peak, or counting stats vs. per possession/advanced metrics, Jackson Jr. lands among elite company and is a more than worthy candidate for All-Defensive honors.
Of course, with every new season, the criteria for All-Defensive honors continues to evolve. A big part of the equation remains defensive activity numbers. However, overall impact in many areas and reputation also factor into the equation. In terms of activity and impact, Jackson Jr.’s resume speaks for itself. In terms of reputation, Jackson Jr.’s candidacy naturally remains a work in progress since he is at the beginning of his career. This likely makes All-Defensive team honors much more of a reality for Jackson Jr. than NBA Defensive Player of the Year this season.
Even though that may be true, if Jackson Jr.’s production remains at this level, the end result should be Jackson Jr. earning All-Defensive team honors and establishing himself as one of the NBA’s premier defenders now and moving forward. The fact that Jackson Jr. is doing this at 22 years of age is one of the most important developments this season for the Grizzlies present and future.