Why Jaren Jackson Jr is the key to deep Memphis Grizzlies playoff run

Jaren Jackson, Memphis Grizzlies (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
Jaren Jackson, Memphis Grizzlies (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images) /

Jaren Jackson put on a show in the Grizzlies’ 123-115 win against the Magic on Thursday night. Here is why his continued improvement is the key to a Grizzlies playoff run.

Jaren Jackson Jr has always been a bit of a what-if player since being selected fourth overall by the Grizzlies in 2018. Heralded as an elite defender and potential knock-down shooter coming out of Michigan State, his upside has always been great. Unfortunately, a combination of injuries, shooting woes, and committing too many fouls has limited his impact.

After finally playing the majority of the team’s games last season, he looked to at least be getting his body right. Then came offseason surgery for a stress fracture in his foot, delaying his 2022 debut until November 15th. Luckily for Memphis, he has been having his best overall season since returning to the lineup. That includes one of the best games of his career in their 123-115 win Thursday night.

Grizzlies Jackson Jr dominated the Magic

Jackson Jr’s performance against the Magic Thursday night was a showcase of how dominant he is capable of being. His stat line speaks for itself: 31 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks on 12 of 14 shooting. That may not seem that impressive with the wave of unreal performances recently, but this tweet shows how rare his game was.

When the last player to do what you did for the Grizzlies was Pau Gasol, you know it was a huge game. He truly had every part of his game working last night — attacking the rim, hitting his threes, and defending the rim. If he can be even 90% of the player he was against the Magic moving forward, the Grizzlies could be looking at a deep playoff run.

It is important to note that usual secondary scorer Desmond Bane had the night off as he continues to recover from his toe injury. When he returns to full strength, it’s unlikely we’ll see many 30+ point games from Jackson Jr. Still, if he can remain efficient with the touches he does get, this offense will be one of the best in basketball.

Can Jackson Jr keep this up?

As well as Jackson Jr has played so far this season, it is fair to wonder if he can maintain it. He has failed to put it all together for an entire season so far in his career, and he has played just 22 games this year. If he can stay mostly healthy, I do believe he can keep this level of play going. His month of December especially and thus far in January has been a clinic of efficiency and defensive energy.

That has been hard to expect from him, but he has worked hard on his body and seems more prepared to handle the grind. I also want to see him get closer to playing 30 minutes a game, something he has failed to do so far in his career. With his foul trouble becoming less of an issue, that is definitely a possibility.

Overall, Jackson Jr is the X-factor for the Grizzlies as they try to establish themselves as a contender. As great as Ja Morant and Desmond Bane are, he is the defensive catalyst and adds a different dimension to the offense. Fans should be more hopeful than ever about the Grizzlies’ chances, and Jackson Jr is a huge reason why.