Jaren Jackson Jr.’s defensive leap in 2022 has been astonishing, emerging as one of the best defenders in the league — with a strong argument for being the best one. His absence and return highlight the significance of his defense. While he was sidelined, the Memphis Grizzlies were 20th in Defensive Rating (112.4). Since then, they’ve emerged into the top-5 in that category — surrendering just 109.4 points per 100 possession — while boasting a second-best 106.4 Defensive Rating since Jackson’s return on November 15th.
In the process, Jackson is creeping into the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. At the beginning of the season, he was a mere afterthought given his injury timetable — even though Robert Williams was in the same predicament, but I digress. Now, DraftKings Sportsbook gives him the second-best odds behind Brook Lopez for Defensive Player of the Year, with odds at +350 for him to win those honors.
It’s a remarkable feat for him, especially given the amount of games he’s missed. Despite that asterisk a ton of voters use, you can’t ignore his defensive impact. Despite playing in 13 of the team’s 29 games, he’s 12th in total blocks and 1st in blocks per game (2.3). Only Brook Lopez has more games of 5+ blocks this season, as Jackson has 4 games with that many swats, and that’s not accounting for the “games played” discrepancy between the two big men. In addition, his defense inside the arc is imposing — forcing opponents to 44% shooting inside the arc.
He’s been a phenom defensively, and he’s establishing a strong case for his defensive honors.
While the “games played” argument will be used against him in early agenda-pushing, a strong defensive showing against Nikola Jokic could be another bullet point to his case.
Granted, he won’t be assigned to Jokic primarily, as it’ll likely go to the more physical Steven Adams. I’ll go towards the similar blueprint the Grizzlies used against Joel Embiid. Adams took the assignment — corralling 6 stocks in a “you can’t stop him, you can only contain him” game from Embiid. In the process, Jackson’s help defense positioned him to have 4 blocks, two of those coming on Embiid — including a game-saving block on an Embiid drive:
Jaren Jackson Jr. meets Embiid at the rim to lock up the W pic.twitter.com/M9JdNiJcfe— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) December 3, 2022
Maybe a similar formula is intact against Nikola Jokic. After all, like Embiid — you can’t stop Jokic, you can only hope to contain him. It’d be nice to see Jackson guard Jokic for stretches, but it’s unlikely — for reference, he only had 2:07 matchup minutes and 9.6 partial possessions against Embiid.
However, tonight’s game provides a good opportunity to showcase his imposing paint defense with his help defense and rim protection against one of the best big men in the world. In the process, Jackson could prove that his DPOTY odds for him is one worth betting on.
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