Before recovering J.A. Morant, the Grizzlies had set their sights on Jaren Jackson Jr in the 2018 NBA Draft, the team selected a first-round draft pick with their fourth overall pick to begin rebuilding around. A mobile winger-strong, able to move up the field ball in hand, but also to sanction 3-pointers. Three years later, the son of the former Spurs player became the No. 1 Lieutenant of Ja Morant, a starter at the All-Star Game, who asserted himself as one of the best point guards in the NBA.
Reformed for good this season after JJJ treated his knees, the tandem had something to excite Grizzlies fans, and their reunion lived up to expectations but not necessarily in the style we expected: much more offensive for Ja Morant, more defensive for Jaren Jackson Jr.
While Ja Morant is now in the Top 5 of the best scorers in the league, and elements like Dillon Brooks and Desmond Bane are also taking up more and more space offensively, Jaren Jackson Jr. indeed, he has turned into an elite defender, while maintaining his standards in attack, averaging almost 17 points per game.
The DNA of “Grit & Grind” version 2.0
In the same way as his leader, he is now the guarantor of the team’s DNA, nourished by the “Grit & Grind” of his glorious predecessors, by dominating the league in terms of counterattacks with 122 “blocks” on the clock. To the point of earning a beautiful nickname among some Memphis fans: “Block Panther”.
“His defense is amazing right now”, raved her coach, Taylor Jenkins after the impressive January of his player to 3.3 counters per game on the month. “What he does on every possession in defense with great communication, great activity and great discipline near the circle, it sets the tone for us. We hope he continues to be recognized for that, but that’s not his main motivation. What motivates him is to help us win”.
This is confirmed by the main interested party, who is now among the candidates for the best defender of the year, because his only motivation is collective: the record of the Grizzlies, currently third in the West (37v-18d).
“There is nothing else in my mind but to go on the field and do everything my team needs every night. I mean: look at each of the players, take them one by one, we show up every night with the same energy, the same mindset, the same union. It’s not just about one or two guys, it’s about all of us. I’m just part of it, but we’re all connected. All season, the players have been able to make up for each other’s absences, I’m just doing my part of the job”.
Defending without making mistakes
Having become the boss of the Grizzlies’ defense alongside Steven Adams, the interior has made progress in the way it contains its opponents, committing fewer fouls, including him turning to more than four personal fouls per game in 2020 (3.4 on average this season).
“He found a way to counter without making a mistake. He’s really developed this thing defensively and he’s very good at it, just positioning himself better.”, notably stated Brandon Clarke. “His arms are so long and he’s just a great defensive player. He understood how to put himself in the right place at the right time. It’s been a big adjustment for him, and he’s amazing this year”.
Under the leadership of its Morant-Jackson tandem, Memphis has in any case managed a turnaround as fast as effective by moving from 14th place in 2018 to a return to the playoffs last season. The team’s progress continued on this exercise with a very good third place in the West.
“Their potential has no limits”, added Taylor Jenkins about her shock duet. “These guys are striving to push the boundaries to progress, from individual development to team development. I like to take a step back and look at what they’re doing. It helps motivate me to find different ways to get more out of them. Fortunately, this is something that fuels their motivation”.
|Jaren Jackson, Jr.||Percentage||Rebound|