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MikeCheck: Jackson's enormous potential restores Grizzlies' reloaded power rotation rooted in versatility

by Michael Wallace | Grind City Media

MEMPHIS – The Grizzlies’ offseason is winding down and training camp opens in a month.

The roster has been in transition, with eight new players and six departures amid a supporting cast makeover that’s taking shape. As August reaches its stretch run, Grind City Media continues its look at who’s in, who’s out and what impact the transition will have at various spots on the Grizzlies’ roster.

Jaren Jackson Jr.

IN: Jaren Jackson Jr., 6-11 PF/C

Deal: 4 years/$29.3 million rookie scale contract

NBA Summer Leagues: 13.5ppg. (41.5%FG), 6.6rpg, 3.1bpg in eight games


Deyonta Davis

Out: Deyonta Davis, 6-11, C

Deal: Traded on July 17 with Ben McLemore to Sacramento for Garrett Temple

Last season: 5.8ppg. (60.8%FG), 4.0rpg., 0.6bpg in 62 games

WHAT’S LOST

It would be an understatement to say the Grizzlies held extremely high hopes for Davis. First, Memphis general manager Chris Wallace traded a first-round pick in a package to acquire Davis out of Michigan State after he slipped into the second round of the 2016 draft. Then, the Grizzlies doubled down and signed Davis to a three-year, $4 million guaranteed contract, believed at the time to be the richest for an American-born rookie second-round pick.

Davis entered the NBA at 18 with the raw tools and physical gifts of a big man destined to make a significant mark in the league. But somewhere, apparently, there was a disconnect between his promise and passion for greatness. Through two seasons, including all of the playing time he could want during last season’s 22-60 disappointment, Davis was given every opportunity to show consistent evidence he could be the heir apparent to Marc Gasol. Again, he barely showed much more than a pulse and only proved it was time for the Grizzlies to move on, especially entering a lottery ripe with talented big men.

In the process, the Grizzlies have overhauled their power rotation behind Gasol. The last straw for Davis was a lackluster performance in those Utah and Las Vegas summer league stints. He was traded hours after a loss in Memphis’ final game in Vegas. Fourth-year power forward Jarell Martin was also dealt last month and, back in February, the Grizzlies released veteran backup center Brandan Wright.

So, in a span of five months, the Grizzlies parted with a group of underperforming bigs, all of whom would have never met expectations in Memphis. Davis showed little progress despite hours of direct tutelage on and off the court from Gasol and former teammate Vince Carter. Martin never found a comfortable role on the court. And Wright had trouble staying healthy long enough to be reliable.

WHAT’S GAINED

The Grizzlies drafted perhaps the big man with the highest ceiling on the court and most infectious personality off it. Jackson immediately dazzled both skeptics and supporters with a summer league debut in Utah that featured eight made threes. He then followed that offensive tease from those games in the Utah league by leading the Las Vegas league in blocked shots, including tying a summer league single-game record with seven rejections.

I still have so much to learn. But we’ve got some great guys to learn from. I want to be an impact player from Day One and help this team get back to making the playoffs every year.
-- Jaren Jackson

Jackson made at least one thing crystal clear after his summer league performance: He’s indeed no project, but every bit of a fast-track priority. The Grizzlies, who will use his condor-like wingspan, massive hands, defensive dominance in the paint and three-point shooting touch all over the court this season. It remains to be seen if Jackson will beat out veteran power forward JaMychal Green for the starting job by the Oct. 17 season opener against Indiana. But Jackson will certainly log huge minutes.

“This just gave me a taste of some of the adjustments I’ll have to make to be a good player at this level,” Jackson said of his summer as he shifted focus toward his first NBA training camp next month. “I still have so much to learn. But we’ve got some great guys to learn from. I want to be an impact player from Day One and help this team get back to making the playoffs every year.”

With Jackson joining Gasol and Green, the Grizzlies have three big men who can shoot from distance, handle from the mid-post to initiate offense, post up on either block, rim protect and switch defensively. That level of versatility should space the court for perimeter slashers and wings who are better at creating three-point looks as facilitators. In other words, the Grizzlies still preach Grit and Grind basketball but they’ll be practicing a non-traditional approach to the center position. The ultimate goal is to improve a team that finished 29th in the NBA in rebounding last season and 14th in blocked shots.

The Grizzlies also acquired 7-footer Dakari Johnson from Orlando in the trade for Martin. Johnson could be a roster casualty with the team holding 16 full or partially guaranteed traditional contracts, one above the regular-season limit. But he may also be spot-duty insurance as a big who averaged 23 points and 10 boards with the NBA G League’s Oklahoma City Blue. Johnson also made six starts for the Thunder.

WHAT MATTERS

Jackson and Davis have plenty in common. They’re both centers who turned pro after one season at Michigan State. They both set the school’s freshman record for blocked shots. They both landed with the Grizzlies with major endorsements from legendary coach Tom Izzo. But that’s essentially where the comparisons end. Gasol once said Davis had “all the tools to carry this franchise one day.”

Turns out, that lofty declaration may come to fruition for the other former Spartans center. The Grizzlies' hopes for Davis are absolute expectations for Jackson as the franchise’s future catalyst. The team couldn’t have landed a better fit for their immediate and long-term needs. And Jackson couldn’t have arrived in a better situation with Gasol and Mike Conley to help him reach all that enormous potential.

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.

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