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NBA Daily: Jaren Jackson Jr. Ahead of Schedule

Jaren Jackson Jr. is showing that he is ahead of schedule and could be pivotal to the Grizzlies’ success this season, writes James Blancarte.

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Updated 10 months ago on
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There are a handful of teams that are off to a hot start to the 2018-19 NBA season. Later today, the Milwaukee Bucks (6-0) will take on the Toronto Raptors (6-0). Expectations were high for both of these teams entering the season, but it’s a bit surprising that each team is still undefeated at this point. The Denver Nuggets recently suffered their first defeat, as did the Detroit Pistons. The Nuggets are playing elite level defense, while Blake Griffin has played like a potential MVP candidate. Add the Memphis Grizzlies in that list of teams that are off to a strong start to the new season. One of the main reasons for the Grizzlies’ early success: rookie Jaren Jackson Jr.

How good the team could be this season is still in question. However, the excitement around the team’s new rookie big man is unquestioned. In Jackson, the Grizzlies saw a player that could start out playing alongside Gasol and likely taking over the center position one day as the perfect modern big man. Long, athletic, talented and with three-point range, the Grizzlies had good reason to be excited about Jackson’s skill set and upside.

In five games so far, Jackson is averaging 13 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks in 25 minutes per game. He’s also hitting free throws over an 80 percent mark, although his three-point shooting is abysmal (2-13 for the season). Last week Jackson looked comfortable against the Jazz and held his own against Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert down low, which says a lot about Jackson considering how physical Utah’s big men are. While there have been some rough moments here and there, Jackson is showing that he has the talent to be dynamic on both ends of the court.

The Grizzlies now have a winning record (3-2) after recently defeating the Phoenix Suns. The Grizzlies also beat the Atlanta Hawks, but did lose a close game to the Sacramento Kings (3-3). While that might make you question this early record, the Grizzlies did notch a win over the Utah Jazz last week.

This Grizzlies’ nice start can be attributed to a simple formula that Memphis fans are well aware of. The team has always been pretty good when both Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are playing. Conley spent nearly all of last season injured but he is healthy now, though it’s fair to wonder if he can maintain for an entire season. If both Conley and Gasol can stay healthy, Memphis has a shot to remain competitive. Unfortunately, the injury bug has already struck two important rotation players. For the second year in a row, JaMychal Green suffered an injury to start the season and will sit after being diagnosed with a broken jaw. In addition, it was just announced that oft-injured forward Chandler Parsons is out for a week or so with a knee injury. Given his recent injury history, it would not be a shock if Parsons ends up sitting out for more than a week.

Jackson, speaking after the lopsided win against the Suns, mentioned a team approach to dealing with injuries.

“Everybody contributed in their own way [in the win over Phoenix]. That’s what we need throughout the season,” Jackson stated. “That’s what we expect to do all the time. Just have a balanced attack, if one man goes, one man keeps going.”

Of course, Green’s injury made an immediate impact on Jackson as he became that one man to step up and fill the void. Green’s injury launched Jackson into the starting lineup earlier than was expected. Much of the hope and optimism for the season now rests on Jackson’s shoulders, who is arguably now the team’s third best player. The nineteen-year-old will also have his work cut out for him with he and Gasol being the only reliable traditional big men left in the rotation. So far Jackson looks up to the task, but rookies tend to go struggle with consistency. It would not be surprising if Jackson’s performance drops off around the halfway point of the season, which is where first-year players often hit the “rookie wall.”

Jackson isn’t the only new addition that moves the needle. The Grizzlies also acquired Omri Casspi and ex-Spurs forward Kyle Anderson this offseason. After that, the Grizzlies have a number of wing players who can offer serviceable play. Ivan Rabb, the lanky second-year pro, also provides the team with spot minutes as a backup big after playing for the first time this season against the Suns. The team does have a number of sturdy wings that can slot into the small-ball four role such as Casspi, Anderson and Parsons when he returns. While the Grizzlies don’t have elite talent or depth, they have more collective talent than many give them credit for. If Jackson keeps performing at this level, or even improves upon it moving forward, Memphis could put together a surprisingly competitive season.

James Blancarte is a writer for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney based in Los Angeles, California.

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