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Film Room: Jaren Jackson Jr. emphatically helped defensively in return from injury

The Memphis Grizzlies got their rim protector back, and Jaren Jackson Jr.’s defense delivered as advertised. But his offense struggled.

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The Memphis Grizzlies needed some defensive reinforcements. Prior to Tuesday’s loss, the Grizzlies ranked 21st in Defensive Rating, after ranking 6th in this department last season.

Insert Jaren Jackson Jr.

Nicknamed “The Block Panther,” Jackson’s defensive impact was felt in his absence to start the season. The First-Team All-Defense big man covers up so much for the Grizzlies on that end of the floor with his versatility. Alongside another 7-footer in Steven Adams, he serves as a “rim roamer” — ready to slide over for help defense to force drivers to finish over the trees. He’s a mismatch when defending out on the perimeter, capable of challenging smaller 4’s and of switching in the pick-and-roll.

And now, Jackson is back in the fold after missing the first 14 games of the season. It couldn’t have come at a better time. As the Grizzlies announced Jackson’s return to the lineup, Desmond Bane — a rising star in their backcourt — entered the injury report with a sprained toe.

Bane’s absence also comes at an uneasy time for the Grizzlies, as they’re integrating Jackson back into the mix. Evident in last night’s loss, Jackson needs to shake off rust offensively — as expected. He didn’t convert on any of his 7 three-point attempts. The only gripe you could make with his shooting efforts was the volume of threes; seeking shots closer to the paint seemed like a good way to shake off some rust. However, he had clean looks, ones Taylor Jenkins wants within the system. Will he be 0-7 bad? No, but his shooting efficiency will be important over the next few weeks.

The rebounding numbers don’t necessarily pop off the screen, as he only hauled in 6 rebounds in 25 minutes. However, the aggression in that department was encouraging to see, given it’s one of the magnified flaws in his game. He scored 2 of his 3 field goals off putbacks, including this resounding slam after flying in from the perimeter:

In his return, Jackson immediately shined defensively — tallying 5 blocks, which is also the Grizzlies’ season average so far. He highlighted his defensive impact from the jump, and quickly showed why he’s one of the league’s best rim protectors in his reintroduction game.

In his shot-blocking exhibition, he excelled in his “roamer” role, corralling most of his blocks with good timing in help defense.

Jackson reads the pindown well here. Valanciunas doesn’t have much shooting gravity, nor did he exert an effort to phase out of the driving lanes by popping out to the 3-point line. Morant’s defense at the point of the attack is underrated here, as he holds his ground to halt the momentum CJ McCollum sought with the contact separation. Because Jackson can sag off his man, he slides over to swat the floater attempt.

Back to finishing in the trees, this is an advantage of having both Jackson and Adams on the floor together. I mean, look at the difficulty finishing over these two big men this far out from the basket:

Adams and Jackson contest
NBA.com | Advanced Stats

This sequence occurs because Jackson’s man, Naji Marshall, curls over to the short corner to provide more spacing for McCollum — who’s seeking an advantage against John Konchar. Since the drift happens in the midst of the driving attack, Jackson slowly creeps into a contesting position and meets McCollum at the height of the shot.

I’m not attacking CJ McCollum here; he just had a VIP ticket to the block party. Jackson covers an insane amount of ground on this block. Morant recovers to get to McCollum’s hip on the drive, though it’s a bit late as the Pelicans guard has the advantage. Jackson ditches Herb Jones — an 11% 3-point shooter before last night’s game — to swarm over to help.

The theme of Jackson’s roaming maintains. This is just more about how much I’ve missed the tandem of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke on the court together. The minutes without Morant in last night’s loss will tank their early-season numbers as a duo, but it’s still a winning formula together. A large part of their excellent pairing is their defensive versatility. They can defend out in space and switch onto guards, and they can also sky to protect the rim as a duo — spiking shot attempts like two front players on a volleyball court.

This block was probably his loudest of the game. It showcased his ability to stop the fastbreak without fouling, but his hustle to nearly go baseline-to-baseline to save the easy layup really stands out — especially in a return game.

Once Ingram got his desired mismatch out of the post, the Pelicans cleared out to generate more of an advantage with an empty corner. Jackson stays home and maintains controlled verticality to bother Ingram’s layup attempt.

Though not a block, Jackson’s size is valuable to add another shot-alterer to the Grizzlies’ frontcourt. In stretches without Steven Adams and Santi Aldama, the Grizzlies’ lack of size was often exposed, especially in the paint.

Despite the slow offensive performance, Jackson quickly provided his defensive value for a Grizzlies squad in need of a jolt on that side of the floor.


Memphis Grizzlies v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Last night’s game showed both the brilliance and the woes in Jaren Jackson Jr.’s development.

While rust will need to be shaken off, his offensive efficiency has been a sore spot for Jackson over the past year. He’ll need to round his game out and find his groove a bit earlier than ideal, with the absence of their supernova shooter.

On the other side of the floor though, Jackson helps in that regard immediately, as his return served as a reintroduction as an elite defender in this league.

In the meantime, and over the next few weeks, Jaren Jackson Jr. will need to remind everyone how important he is to this Memphis Grizzlies squad.

All clips were found on NBA.com.

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