Jaren Jackson Jr. has been a key player for the Memphis Grizzlies for the last few seasons, but with injuries piling up, should the team trade him while his value is high?
In the 2018 draft, with the fourth overall pick, the Memphis Grizzlies selected Jaren Jackson Jr. Undoubtedly, the team was viewing him as one of the cornerstones of a new Grizzlies era, as the front office and fans alike were dealing with the fact that the Grit ‘N Grind era was well and truly over.
However, since then, Jackson Jr. has experienced many unfortunate injuries. His rookie campaign was sidelined after just 58 games due to a right quad injury. This season, Jackson Jr. saw a few minor injuries to his lower body during the regular season, but the two biggest ones that affected his sophomore season was a sprained knee which saw him miss the last 10 or so games of the pre-hiatus period and a torn meniscus in his left knee which saw his season end in the bubble. Out of Memphis’ 73 games, Jackson Jr. played just 57.
With these two seasons now behind us, Jackson Jr. is beginning to develop the reputation of being “injury prone”; a bad label for any player, but one especially damaging to someone in Jackson’s position. But it begs the question: should Memphis convert Jackson Jr. while his value is still high?
Well, it’s a more difficult question than it might seem at first. If the Grizzlies do trade Jackson Jr. and then he goes on to have a better career than his replacement, the front office is berated for years to come for making a “stupid decision”. But if Jackson Jr. can’t shake this injury bug, and the Grizzlies decide to keep him, they might not be able to trade him when they most need to. So, to answer the question, there’s really two factors: who can they get for him now, and is there a chance that Jackson Jr. can move on from these injuries?
Let’s look at that second factor here right away. Over his first two seasons, Jackson Jr. has missed 26% of his games, that’s more than Kristaps Porzingis (16%) and Yao Ming (0%), and I think it’s safe to say that those guys have a solid “injury prone” label on them. In fact, among the combined 12 seasons that those two played, they only missed more than 26% of their games in two combined seasons four times. Unfortunately for Ming, the injuries ended his career. For Porzingis, however, he and the Dallas Mavericks both seem optimistic over his hopes for a return.
Although, serious leg injuries aren’t always a death knell for NBA players. Paul George, Gordon Hayward, Russell Westbrook, and Kyle Lowry have all rebounded from serious lower body injuries and went on to have great seasons. However, none of those players play the same high impact type of play that is required from low post players. It’s also worth mentioning that none of those players were known for leg injuries before their injuries.
So, looking at things optimistically and saying that there’s a chance the young Jackson Jr. can recovery from his injury, the other factor in a trade is what packages Memphis can get for him.
The best piece that Memphis could hope to get for Jackson Jr. in a trade would be the #1 overall pick from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Memphis is without a first round pick this year, and getting the #1 overall pick to secure a pick of possibly James Wiseman or Anthony Edwards could help a young Memphis team in their development. Plus, players included in the package such as James Johnson or Josh Okogie could sweeten the deal all the more.
Looking over any probable trades that Memphis could swing for Jackson Jr., it becomes clear that Memphis should hold on to Jackson Jr., at least for one more year.
The 2020 draft pool and free agency pool are both incredible thin, and it might benefit the Grizzlies to take the long route on Jackson Jr.’s investment. If JJJ can play a regular season without any major injuries, then Memphis has a future All-Star on their hands; but if Jackson Jr. finds himself on the bench for extended periods again, they may have better luck fishing in a deeper pool.
With all this being said, it should be noted that when Jackson Jr. is healthy, he’s one of the best young bigs in the league. Memphis potentially scanning the markets for trades isn’t a sign that they’ve given up on the young stud, it’s simply the team doing their due diligence to protect their future.