MikeCheck: Grizzlies still eyeing Jackson Jr.’s return as progress continues in recovery from knee surgery

MEMPHIS – The Grizzlies remain optimistic Jaren Jackson Jr. will return to play this season, and his status will be reevaluated in a few more weeks as the dynamic power forward progresses through rehab from knee surgery.

Team officials offered some insight into Jackson’s process Thursday on the heels of Wednesday’s home victory over the Wizards to open the second half of the NBA’s schedule. The Grizzlies are back in action at FedExForum on Friday against the Nuggets as they dig into a relentless stretch run that closes with 40 games in a span of 68 days.

Jackson is still expected to make his season debut at some point during that timeframe, and team officials indicate another update on his status will come later this month or early April.

Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant on the sideline

The fourth overall in pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Jackson has not played since he injured his knee last summer when the league season resumed in the Orlando bubble amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Jackson underwent successful meniscus surgery last August and has been methodically working his way back through rehab over the past eight months.

The coaching staff and front office have repeatedly stressed they’ve been encouraged with Jackson’s mindset and work ethic during the recovery process. They’ve also addressed the delicate nature of the procedure to repair – instead of remove – Jackson's meniscus, which requires a longer recovery and better long-term benefits than the alternative.

A team official reiterated Thursday Jackson “is making good progress, but it’s taking time” and that the organization is “pleased with everything Jaren is putting into this” recovery process.

The Grizzlies said their medical and performance staffs use “objective metrics” to gauge Jackson’s advancements in rehab, with the goal of a return when he’s “110-percent” ready. Jackson spent the All-Star break in Memphis with trainers to remain on conditioning schedule.

Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said Wednesday Jackson is not yet consistently practicing with the team, although opportunities for full workouts are rare in the midst of this season’s truncated game schedule.

“Obviously, we’re being smart with his return and making sure he’s checking off all the metrics we need,” Jenkins said before the Grizzlies’ 127-112 win over Washington. “He hasn’t been doing live contact-wise the last week or so. Talking about practice moving forward...we’re going to get him fully involved regardless of practice times. We’ve been able to do that with a lot of guys this season, even with limited practices. So, it’s not a concern for us at all.”

Despite coping with injuries all season and missing one of their young franchise cornerstones, the Grizzlies have posted a winning record and remain firmly within the Western Conference playoff mix. Memphis has had more than 150 total player games missed to injuries this season and has used nearly a dozen different starting lineups.

Jackson has maintained a visible and vocal presence with his teammates on the bench and in timeouts during huddles in games. And his teammates look forward to the boost he will provide once he’s able to get back on the court and contribute.

Jackson averaged 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks while shooting nearly 40 percent from three-point range in 57 games last season. He became the fourth player in NBA history to average at least 2.5 made threes and block at least one shot per game.

Incorporating that level of talent back into the mix could make the league’s second-youngest team even more dangerous as it loads up for one of the NBA’s toughest second-half schedules.

Jaren Jackson Jr. encouraging on the sideline

Jackson and the team have made it clear they won’t skip steps or focus on short-term measures as it relates to progress. There’s no incentive to bring Jackson back before he’s completely ready. And there’s certainly nothing to gain in holding him back once he’s able to thrive.

“I knew going into this process that it was going to take a little bit (of time),” Jackson told ESPN’s The Undefeated recently. “I have a lot better perspective over the whole thing. And I’m young. I’ve got to just make sure everything is right, because I don’t want to be having these problems later. So I’m going to make sure my body is good, my knee is good (and) I’m healthy.”

In a few more weeks, there will be another update on Jackson’s progress and health.

If all continues to go well, the Grizzlies should finally have a chance to be whole.

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