Following a disappointing and injury riddled 2020-2021 NBA Season in the aftermath of tearing his meniscus in the NBA bubble, Jaren Jackson Jr. bounced back in a big way. After injuries have affected the first 3 seasons for JJJ, he appeared in 78 of 82 possible regular season games for the Grizzlies and really making a name for himself.
Offensively he was a bit inconsistent, showing flashes of his immense talent but not yet putting it all together. Shooting wise, JJJ’s shooting numbers from beyond the arc weren’t what we’ve seen in his first two seasons. Where Jaren really made a name for himself was on the defensive end. JJJ led the NBA in blocks and blocks per game this season and finished 6th in Defensive Player of the Year voting this season. His season defensively was so great, Rob Mahoney of The Ringer deemed JJJ as the future of NBA defense. A hot-topic among Grizz fans was JJJ having a career-low 3.8 fouls per game. It was overall a very successful regular season for Jackson, as he’s about to enter the first year of his 4-year, $105M contract next season.
Then the postseason started and the demons of Jackson’s past came to light against the Minnesota Timberwolves. His foul trouble reared its ugly head against the Timberwolves as he averaged an absurd 7 fouls per 36 minutes. JJJ picked up 4+ fouls in every game and didn’t play 30+ minutes until the Game 6 win. His impact defensively when he was on the court was huge, as it steered the Wolves away from the rim. Overall it was a rough series for Jaren, who just couldn’t stay on the court long enough to have a major enough impact on either end.
Things changed quickly for Jaren Jackson Jr. as soon as the series flipped against the Golden State Warriors. In Game One, he was a monster. He scored 33 points on 10-18 shooting, including 6-9 from beyond the arc. Especially with Draymond Green ejected with the Flagrant 2 foul, JJJ was able to get whatever he wanted offensively. Put simply, without Draymond the Warriors don’t have anyone who can match up with his size. In Game One, Kevon Looney and Andrew Wiggins were the most common victims. JJJ shot 3-6 from the field against Looney and 3-4 against Wiggins. He was also 2-3 against the smaller Gary Payton II.
The hot 3-point shooting was cool, especially that sequence in the 3rd quarter, but it was JJJ’s decision to attack the basket that caught my eye. The efficiency was solid, shooting 4-9 inside the arc while also drawing fouls and making 7-9 from the charity stripe. In the clips below, you can see it wasn’t anything crazy Jaren was doing offensively. He simply decided he was bigger and longer than his defender and attacked the basket.
Jaren got a bunch of good looks at the rim in Game One, and showed flashes of the offensive beast he can be when he attacks the basket and once he continues to improve with his finishing around the rim.
Game Two was a different story for Jackson with Draymond Green back in action. Jaren was 3-14 from the field and 2-7 from deep, as he totaled 12 points and 8 rebounds before fouling out. The Warriors defensive gameplan as a whole limited JJJ’s action. He was 1-5 from the field when defended by Draymond Green, with the lone making being a triple. Against Jonathan Kuminga and Andrew Wiggins? A combined 0-6. JJJ didn’t make a field goal after scoring 10 points in the first quarter.
Part of the offensive struggles were simply JJJ missing some 3-point attempts he made last game, and then getting too reliant on the 3-point shot instead of attacking the basket. When he did attack the basket, he saw more bodies as usually another Warrior defender helped jump in front to throw him out of rhythm. Some of Jaren’s misses were just rushed putback attempts that didn’t go in. In the clip below, Jordan Poole does a good job of making JJJ go to his right. Draymond swipes at the ball and Jonathan Kuminga steps in front to make it a difficult finish for JJJ. He does a good job of collecting the offensive rebound, but rushes the putback as his momentum carries him out of bounds.
Jaren also just simply missed good looks. Finishing around the rim will likely to continue to be an offseason focus for JJJ. Below, he does a good job of tacking Kuminga to the rim but Brandon Clarke’s roll allows for Otto Porter Jr. to swipe at the ball and affect JJJ’s hook shot. This is also an area of growth for Jaren, as Damion Lee helps defend Brandon Clarke, Tyus is wide open in the corner for a triple.
Jaren has been inconsistent offensively in the series against Golden State, but unsurprisingly it’s been his defense that’s stood out the most. JJJ has only racked up 3 blocks in the first two games, a relatively low number by his standards, but he has the Warriors extremely timid attacking the basket when he’s on the floor. JJJ has held opponents to 8-24 shooting from the field, and 2-10 from beyond the arc.
Defenders have rarely attacked the rim with JJJ patrolling the paint, and as you can see below he makes them pay when they think they have an open lane to the hoop.
The Warriors get the offensive rebound, but you can see Green doesn’t even make an effort to attack JJJ at the rim, instead opting to pass the ball to an admittedly wide-open Andrew Wiggins.
The Warriors are a jump shooting team, so it’s only natural they look to drive and kick out to a 3-point shooter, but they’ve continuously passed up open looks when JJJ is patrolling around the rim. The end of Game 2 was a pretty good example of that. JJJ fouled out with 3:59 remaining in the game. The Warriors then proceeded to attack the basket. Over the next 3 minutes, the Warriors attempted 4 layups and three 3-pointers, with one of those attempts from deep following an offensive rebound off the monster Melton block. It was probably the most aggressive Golden State had been attacking the basket all night, until Ja Morant made it a 3-point game with 30 seconds left to basically force the Warriors hand in shooting 3-pointers.
The opportunity is there this series for Jaren Jackson Jr. to really make a name for himself and the Memphis Grizzlies. Outside of Draymond Green, nobody on the Warriors roster can really defend him. With Andrew Wiggins likely seeing more time guarding Ja Morant, that’s one less theoretically capable defender of slowing JJJ down. It’s great when Jaren gets hot from beyond the arc, but he needs to realize his size advantage like he did in Game One and attack the smaller Warriors defenders.
Defensively, Jaren just needs to stay out of foul trouble. He has been open about the difficulties and points out it’s the silly fouls that hurt him the most. It’s the extra hustle that sometimes comes to bite him. Things like fighting for the extra possession when the rebound is already out of reach or swiping his hands down on drives to the basket have been what’s plagued JJJ when he does get in foul trouble.
A smarter Jaren Jackson Jr. keeps him on the floor more, and really impacts what the Warriors can do. If JJJ can piece it together offensively, while staying on the floor defensively, he’ll have the opportunity to prove he’s a matchup nightmare for the Golden State Warriors.