Why I'm OK With Being OK With Jaren Jackson Jr.
A week ago today I wasn't a fan of the Grizzlies taking Jaren Jackson Jr as the number 4 pick of the NBA draft. I wasn't a fan of it Wednesday, the day before the draft either. I didn't even consider it as a real possibility. His camp said that he didn't want to play here and I had just finished a podcast with Gary Parrish in which I amen'd every word from his mouth as he preached that with Jaren Jackson you are basically banking on him being something that he's never been. We all know the common refrain. 10.9 ppg. 5.8 rebounds. 22 minutes per game. Foul trouble. Wonky shot that finds a way to go in. But since last Thursday when the Grizzlies took Jackson at number 4, I've grown more and more optimistic with the selection.
When Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted his projections for the draft earlier Thursday I still was in denial. I assumed that since he "mysteriously" omitted the Grizzles name and only had the number 4 beside Jackson's name that he, like myself was in the belief that the Grizzlies were ultimately going to trade the pick and come away with either Kevin Knox, Wendell Carter Jr. or Michael Porter Jr. - three names that were all linked to the Grizzlies and that I had received intel on. Woj had the Bulls taking Carter at 7 which didn't sway me away from this possibility either. Even had me looking down the board at who I wanted at 22 from the Bulls. The last possibilty that I imagined was the Grizz drafting Jackson and actually keeping him. And then it happened...
The Grizzlies selected Jackson with no trade announcement as the prelude. No tweets. No rumors. No murmurs. No rumblings. Nothing. I checked with one of my plugs close to the team. Nothing. He was ours. So I had to immediately look at the bright side as well as try to go back in time a la Dr. Strange and change some of my twitter trash talk that I had said about him.
I get it. I saw everything that every national media member and draft analyst saw in Jackson leading up to the draft. I also willingly ignored it because I was banking on Michael Porter Jr.'s back eliminating Jackson as a possibility one way or another. I was rooting for Atlanta to take Jackson at 3, which is what was rumored to be the choice of their actual basketball people. It felt like either Marvin Bagley or Luka Doncic would fall into our laps at 4, but like most things in life, the draft played out with the original most likely scenario of the Grizz taking Jackson as the majority of mocks suggested after the lottery.
So I started back pedaling and looking for Crow Seasonings. Maybe I should have bought a bottle of the house seasoning from The Wing Guru, where we had our watch party?
I chose to look at the bright side of the pick because oddly enough I actually trusted the guys making the decision this time around. I know that sounds crazy but I did. And I still do. I actually trusted the Grizz draft process. (What are you saying Anthony?)
I had alluded to this the entire #TankEmDown901 campaign when fans were mostly in the "what's the point of tanking when they are just gonna f**k up the pick anyway?" mode. The "they" was different this year. It wasn't the GM carousel. It wasn't Pera overstepping the decision of basketball ops of the team or even Pera having a final say at all. It wasn't Joe Abadi swooping in or Wallace with absolute control with a crappy scouting team. It was an actual collective effort from what I deem as the best assembled Grizz team as far as talent evaluation is concerned coming into a draft.
It was Chris Wallace, the 30 plus years experienced GM, Chris Makris the grinding up and comer with a nose for player evaluation, John Hollinger, the stats nerd and analytics savant and Tayshaun Prince, a super intelligent former player who has knowledge as a pro and what this marker needs. I'll share my thoughts more on what I liked about this team and their process in a future article but for now just know that I liked how they went about things as opposed to seasons past.
Jackson represents a ton of pro-activeness by the Grizzlies. Not only is he a big for today's NBA but for tomorrow's NBA. He's a possible unicorn big that can defend on the perimeter at a high level. block shots, get to the basket and make three-pointers. He is a versatile defender with crazy natural instinct. He has a desire to make a game winning, possession ending play every time he's on defense - which is possibly the reason why he had foul trouble most of last season. He is 6'11" and scarily still young enough to still grow. He's put on muscle since high school and his frame seems to be fit to add more weight.
In a recent video produced by Players Only Films before the draft, Kevin Garnett heaped praise on him calling him the "Kawhi of bigs" saying that he had the skills to carry his team offensively at a high level as well as the make a stop on defense when his team needs it down the stretch. Garnett has taking a liking to Jackson as well as Orlando big man rookie Mo Bamba, two players that have been compared to Garnett. KG seems to welcome the comps and also said that Jackson reminds him of Chris Bosh with his ability to get his jumpshot off with confidence.
It's hard to sell a fanbase on a player who's main NBA skill is defense, especially when the player is also someone that appears to be as much as a work in progress as Jackson more than likely is. He doesn't come with the on the court production that Marvin Bagley had, the international star power that comes with Luka Doncic or the Sportscenter highlights that someone like Trae Young but Jackson has the potential to be as good or better as them all in my opinion. But don't get it twisted. It will take patience. Will you see Jackson struggle on the court trying to find his way as a rookie while Bagley, Doncic, and Young look closer to form? Maybe. But I don't think it will be as cut and dry as many suggest.
One advantage that Jackson will have over other players drafted in the top 5 is that he will play with an organization and more importantly players like Marc Gasol and Mike Conley that are accustomed to winning and will push him as he develops. Marc's biggest frustration with young players is lack of basketball IQ and effort on defense. I think Jackson is a player that even though he's raw is also a blank canvas and super pliable. I look forward to seeing Marc molding him until Jackson ultimately replaces him.
I also look forward to Coach JB Bickerstaff and his new coaching staff that is also known for player development including Chad Forcier from the Spurs and Magic, Jerry Stackhouse from the Raptors and G-League and Vitaly Potapenko from the Cavs, all getting their paws on Jaren. The Grizzlies have their highest selected draft pick since Hasheem Thabeet and also a ton of reasons why he will have a better outcome. He's raw, he doesn't have the college numbers to suggest that he will tear up the league but neither did Karl Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid or Andre Drummond. I'm not a charts guy so I'll let you all go research their college stats on your own but I will tell you that they all averaged less than 12 points and 8 rebounds per game and two of them averaged less points than Jackson.
Will Jackson be KG 2.0 or just another athletic big that didn't pan out? Only time will tell but as for now I am more than willing to give him time. As a matter of fact I think the kid is gonna be just fine. And I'm OK with that.