The Memphis Grizzlies have taken their play to another level this season and a major contributor for said success is Jaren Jackson Jr. Prior to drafting the electrifying Ja Morant, Jackson was destined to be the building block for a rebuilding Grizzlies team. That potential that Memphis along with the NBA world saw in the one-and-done product never vanished, and is now finally reaching the limits to what people envisioned he could become.
It was understandable why many Grizzlies faithful may have been disappointed with Jackson Jr. Injuries have been a continuous hindrance in his progression as an NBA player, especially last season which he played only 11 games due to a torn meniscus. From the dynamic duo of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, the new point guard and big man duo in Memphis were lined up to be Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. However, injuries made that hopeful future turn into serious doubt.
Despite all of this the Grizzlies management went all-in on their 22-year-old power forward. Before the start of the 2021-2022 season, Memphis surprised many by trading Jonas Valanciunas to the Pelicans. The Lithuanian centre was the Grizzlies’ second-best player the past season and other than Ja Morant, their main contributor on offense.
Trading him for Steven Adams was an upgrade on defense, but a major step back on the other side of the ball. Memphis’ front office was aware of this but had one thing in mind and that was creating enough space for Jaren Jackson to blossom into that co-star that they destined him to be. Five months later, Jaren has made the Grizzlies look like geniuses.
Jaren Jackson Jr. has taken his play to another level
The success of the Grizzlies hasn’t been an overnight process but has been in the works for some time. The basketball world has been enamoured with the development of Ja Morant, but under all the noise, Jaren Jackson has been a top-10 power forward this season.
The former Michigan State spartan is currently averaging 16.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game. These are career-high numbers in the rebounds and blocks categories. It’s on the defensive end where Jackson’s impact is being felt the most.
Over the past eight games, Jaren is averaging an absurd 4.1 blocks per game. He has had great defensive performances in prior seasons but he’s evolved into an elite defender for the Grizzlies. He may not be ahead of the Defensive Player of the Year race but he is definitely in contention for an All-Defensive nod.
Although his defense has improved, Jackson has come more into his own on the offensive side of the ball as well. His points per game totals don’t scream anything special but his performance while Morant was amazing, to say the least. In the 11 games that Morant was inactive and Jackson played, he averaged 19.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, along with a plus/minus average of +10.6.
Seamlessly turning into Memphis’ number one option without forcing his game into a player that he isn’t. Playing into his abilities and into the system, in the 12 games that Memphis was without Morant they went 10-2 with Jackson being a large reason.
The Memphis Grizzlies are currently sitting with the third seed in the western conference. Zach Kleiman and the front office have orchestrated instrumental pieces to this elaborate puzzle that has made this team so great, Jaren is one of the largest of them all. Their undying faith in their young player has paid off and he isn’t anywhere close to fulfilling what his full potential can be.