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MikeCheck: Draft picks Jackson Jr. and Carter complete initial homework, now cram for Summer League debut

by Michael Wallace | Grind City Media

MEMPHIS – No-nonsense Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff isn’t one to handle young players with kid gloves or offer sliding grading scales when it comes to completing developmental tasks. 

So consider Bickerstaff genuinely impressed with how rookie draft picks Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jevon Carter completed their first homework assignments entering summer league training camp, which continues with two more practice sessions Friday at FedExForum. 

Jackson, the No. 4 overall pick in last week’s NBA Draft, was sent video footage of former NBA standout Kevin Garnett and tasked with breaking down everything from post catches to shot release points and defensive tendencies. Carter, the No. 32 pick in the second round, had a similar assignment with footage of perennial All-Star Chris Paul on offense and All-NBA defender Patrick Beverley.

The homework was handed out just after Jackson and Carter arrived in FedExForum on Friday, the night after the draft, for their introductory press conference. By Saturday, Jackson was already texting Bickerstaff with follow-up questions, detailed answers and notes he had taken. 

So he’s got the right approach. All the players I’ve ever seen that want to be great, they’ve had that approach. So far he’s shown that. He’s wide open. He’s taking everything and absorbing it like a sponge. There’s been no ‘No’s.’ There’s only been the right questions asked. That’s the way you’ve got to do it. If you come in with a ‘I know everything’ mentality, you’re going to struggle. You’re going to be frustrated. But he’s come in with eyes wide open.
-- J.B. Bickerstaff

“He texted me saying he already completed his homework, and was asking questions and telling me things he saw,” Bickerstaff said of Jackson. “So he’s got the right approach. All the players I’ve ever seen that want to be great, they’ve had that approach. So far he’s shown that. He’s wide open. He’s taking everything and absorbing it like a sponge. There’s been no ‘No’s.’ There’s only been the right questions asked. That’s the way you’ve got to do it. If you come in with a ‘I know everything’ mentality, you’re going to struggle. You’re going to be frustrated. But he’s come in with eyes wide open.” 

Jaren Jackson Jr.

Don’t confuse Jackson’s youthful enthusiasm with naïveté. The 18-year-old power forward out of Michigan State has quickly shown his new coaches and teammates he’s a true student of the game. And this three-day training camp in Memphis represents a crash course of sorts. 

The Grizzlies are scheduled to hold five practices through Saturday before departing to Salt Lake City for the first of two summer league stints. Jackson and Carter are set to make their debut in Grizzlies’ uniforms on Monday against fellow lottery pick Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks. 

Memphis plays three games in Salt Lake City and then at least another five the following two weeks in the 30-team Las Vegas Summer League. Jackson and Carter headline a roster that includes returning second or third-year players in Deyonta Davis, Ivan Rabb, Wayne Selden and Kobi Simmons.

The video assignment offered Jackson and Carter a preview of the versatility and potential the Grizzlies see both reaching if they commit to the rigorous development process. Jackson spent time with Garnett in California before the draft for a training and mentoring session that was featured in a documentary. 

So for the 6-11 Jackson, the homework from Bickerstaff reaffirmed some lessons learned directly from Garnett, the 6-11 future Hall of Famer considered one of the most fluid and versatile power forwards in NBA history. Jackson was as eager to get going in practice as he was to knock out the film.

“It was some film on the iPad,” Jackson recalled after the first session of the Grizzlies’ twice-daily workouts. “He had me watch a lot of Kevin Garnett, how he passes, where he catches it in the game, what he likes to do with the ball. I watched that on the plane and got that over with. It actually helped. It was kind of fun to watch. It was almost like highlights, so you didn’t even think of it as film.” 

For Jackson, the Naismith National Defensive Player of the Year last season at West Virginia, it was fitting the initial focus in the Grizzlies’ camp practices was entirely on defensive positioning and terms.

I’ve watched it a lot. I really like how Beverley guards on the defensive end and how he gets physical. And when (Grizzlies’ coaches) were teaching us stuff, I could see the translation of what we were watching on the film, defensive-wise. It’s hard to tell what they want us to do offensively, because we didn’t really do anything with that today.
-- Jevon Carter

“He gave me some Chris Paul stuff and some Patrick Beverley stuff,” said Carter, who is competing for the backup point guard role next season behind starter Mike Conley. “I’ve watched it a lot. I really like how Beverley guards on the defensive end and how he gets physical. And when (Grizzlies’ coaches) were teaching us stuff, I could see the translation of what we were watching on the film, defensive-wise. It’s hard to tell what they want us to do offensively, because we didn’t really do anything with that today.” 

Jevon Carter

Overall, Bickerstaff said it was a good start to what will be a challenging transition for the rookie draft picks. Conditioning and mental toughness will be key over the next couple of days as the workload intensifies. Carter believes he’s in decent shape after recently crisscrossing the country for 11 pre-draft workouts in a span of 20 or so days. Jackson wants to use this indoctrination to soak in all he can. 

Among the teammates to help Jackson through his first NBA practice was Rabb, who also plays power forward and was picked by the Grizzlies early in the second round of last year’s draft. So this process is a delicate balance of fierce competition and essential camaraderie among developing prospects.

“We’re not promising anybody minutes – you’ve got to earn it, but it’s there,” Bickerstaff said. “Once the draft happens, you kind of see where you stand, and it puts you in an extra gear from a competitive standpoint. But we’re trying to build an environment and culture where we’re supportive of one another, even though we’re competing for minutes.” 

Jackson is attacking the process as if his credentials and lottery status no longer matter. They hype and hoopla from last week’s draft celebration and media tour are over. It’s strictly about work now. 

“I don’t think it matters what I was picked or my age,” Jackson surmised. “I think that’s kind of out of the door now. Everybody in here wants to prove themselves. And I’m going to come out and show that every day. That’s what you have to bring. That’s what everybody on the court has to bring.”

Well, that and their homework.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.