MikeCheck: Grizzlies Draft Files – The Case of Jaren Jackson, Jr.
MEMPHIS – The Grizzlies are closing in on the June 21 NBA Draft with their options as wide open and diverse as the talent among projected top players on the board.
As pre-draft workouts continue and potential trade scenarios are discussed regarding what the Grizzlies will do with the No. 4 overall pick, we’ll examine the case of eight potential franchise-altering players in the draft who are – or should be – under strong consideration for that selection.
Player: Jaren Jackson Jr.
Height/Weight: 6-11, 236
Team: Michigan State
2017-18 Stats: 10.9 ppg., 5.8 rpg., 3.0 bpg., 51.3 FG%, 39.6%3FG
Projected Draft Range: Picks 2-5
“I hear that a lot about my game – that it fits the modern NBA. You see where the league is going, a lot of three-point shooting and fast pace, just everything is kind of being able to switch. You have to move and be nimble on your feet and quick. You can see right now (deep in the playoffs), teams play with spacing and you have to be able to handle the ball. You can’t be a liability on defense or offense. I feel like I can be out there (in any situation), can space the floor and help my teammates.” – Jaren Jackson Jr. on his versatility and having an immediate NBA impact.
The Case For Jackson Jr.
When Michigan State coach Tom Izzo got the surprising news last spring that Miles Bridges would put off the draft and return for his sophomore season, it was a boon for the Spartans and allowed the staff to further diversify Bridges’ game within an NBA space-and-pace scheme. As much as that system benefitted Bridges, the bigger blessing was that it allowed Jackson to truly blossom.
Spreading the floor and creating lanes for Bridges to operate essentially forced Jackson to spend his freshman season developing on the wing as a NBA-in-waiting, “Stretch Four” big. It’s how Jackson morphed into what many scouts believe is the most versatile big man in the draft. Jackson, who won’t turn 19 until just before NBA training camps open in September, has yet to perfect anything with his robust talent. But there also isn’t anything he can’t do on a basketball court in an impactful way.
That’s all to be seen. I know there’s a learning curve in the NBA. There’s a lot to learn and a lot of travel. It’s going to be different because there are so many more games. But I’m just going to learn as much as I can and do the best I can with it along the way as I learn.-- Jaren Jackson Jr.
“What can I bring to a team? What is my drive? With what life is like in the NBA, how am I going to handle it?” Jackson responded when asked at last month’s NBA Draft Combine which questions he faced most from team executives. “That’s all to be seen. I know there’s a learning curve in the NBA. There’s a lot to learn and a lot of travel. It’s going to be different because there are so many more games. But I’m just going to learn as much as I can and do the best I can with it along the way as I learn.”
Standing nearly seven feet tall, with a 7-5 wingspan and the biggest hands among all players measured at the Combine, Jackson explodes with upside. He’s a rim protector who is just as comfortable shooting threes as he is switching out to defend guards on the perimeter. Advance metrics show he’s a superior defender to likely No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton as well as Marvin Bagley III and Mo Bamba. Jackson blocked nearly 15 percent of opponents’ two-point shot attempts at Michigan State. If basketball scientists went into a lab to genetically create today’s prototypical NBA big man, the final product would look a lot like Jackson, whose father spent a dozen seasons in the league and won a title with the Spurs. In Memphis, that would make Jackson an excellent fit right now in a three-big rotation with Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green. Jackson would also be a bridge to the future with Green entering the last year of his contract and Gasol, 33, on the backside of his career and in line to potentially opt out of his deal after next season.
The Case Against Jackson Jr.
The Grizzlies have sort of gone down this road before. They targeted the last freshman standout big man who left Michigan State for the draft and was considered a potentially dominant NBA-level defender. But Deyonta Davis remains a work in progress going into his third NBA season. And if the Grizzlies still believe in Davis’ potential, are encouraged by Ivan Rabb’s rookie development this past season, are comfortable with the modest breakthrough from 2015 first-round pick Jarell Martin and believe Green is the best two-way fit to start next to Gasol right now, then adding Jackson might be excessive stockpiling.
That said, if Ayton, Bagley and Luka Doncic are taken by the time the Grizzlies pick at No. 4, there’s no question in my mind Jackson would be the best available prospect on the board. Even if it means some level of momentary roster duplication, Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace likely won’t hesitate.
You have young players, and young players take time to develop. But I don’t see why the guy (drafted at No. 4) can’t pay dividends now, regardless of who it is. It’s more about a career. Can you get somebody who can be here longstanding, and has the talent to do that? I think these guys can help us next year, too, among who’s available at four.-- General Manager Chris Wallace
“You’d have to have a tremendous backlog at a spot before you jump out of the best player (available) philosophy,” Wallace said of his general draft approach. “You have young players, and young players take time to develop. But I don’t see why the guy (drafted at No. 4) can’t pay dividends now, regardless of who it is. It’s more about a career. Can you get somebody who can be here longstanding, and has the talent to do that? I think these guys can help us next year, too, among who’s available at four.”
Defensive tenacity and offensive versatility are Jackson’s strong suits – he had almost as many spot-up shot attempts outside the paint as he did inside the lane last season – but he also has shortcomings. A lack of assertiveness on offense (only seven shot attempts per game) is understandable considering Bridges was the clear go-to option on a team that had five players average double figures in scoring.
But Jackson’s relatively low rebounding numbers for his size and his foul rate (5.9 fouls per 40 minutes) registered concerns in college and may potentially cause alarm in his initial NBA adjustment. Obviously, there’s room to grow for a novice with as much to rapidly gain over his first two seasons as Jackson. But he’s a high-end project well worth the time for a team with the stability to foster his NBA maturation.
Jackson won’t enter the NBA as offensively polished or physically mature as Ayton, Doncic, Bagley or anyone else expected to round out the top five picks. But don’t be surprised to look up in three or four years and see Jackson is the most impactful player among the lot. He projects to be a lethal hoops blend of peak Theo Ratliff and pre-injury Antonio McDyess, with contemporary three-point shooting range.
He’s also armed with the Michigan State trifecta: Magic Johnson’s million-dollar smile, Draymond Green’s swagger and versatility and Zach Randolph’s grit. Word is, the Hawks prefer Jackson over Bagley if they keep the No. 3 pick. It’s also conceivable the Grizzlies, in win-now mode with Gasol and Mike Conley, want a more offensively gifted combo forward ahead of a power forward-center prospect. It’s essentially a win-win choice of instant impact/immediate fit versus upside/long-term versatility.
If Jackson is available at the No. 4 pick, you take him and sort through any roster challenges with trades and free agency. Otherwise, passing on his potential, pedigree and prowess could prove regrettable.
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.