Friday, November 22, 2019

Don't Give Up on Jaren Jackson, Jr

Posted By on Fri, Nov 22, 2019 at 12:34 PM

Last year, Jaren Jackson, Jr. was seen as the face of the future for the Memphis Grizzlies. Fans fell in love with the Michigan State product during his rookie season. Now, as he struggles to learn a new system implemented by new head coach Taylor Jenkins, Jackson finds himself drawing the ire of some of those same fans who praised him a year ago. A group of fans on social media have even called for Jackson to be traded, this early in the season. 

click to enlarge Jaren Jackson Jr. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jaren Jackson Jr.

What a difference a year makes. Last year, fans were furious and thought the team was wasting his first season in the league with J.B. Bickerstaff as his head coach. Many said Bickerstaff didn’t know how to play Jackson to showcase his talent. Since then, the Grizzlies have had a front-office makeover and almost a complete roster overhaul.

When Jackson first came into the league, the locker room was completely different. There was a heavy veteran presence with Grizzlies mainstays Mike Conley and Marc Gasol.
He also learned from JaMychal Green, Garrett Temple, and Joakim Noah.

Now Jackson has to rely for guidance on veterans Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill, and fellow big man Jonas Valanciunas. The players have to gel and he knows it is a long season and the team can’t get too high or too low, but has to take it one game at a time. After the ugly loss against the Warriors on Tuesday night, Jackson said, “I just have to play better  —  I wasn’t good by any means. I didn’t help us out there today.”

He went on to say, “You just have to improve, keep doing the same things. You can’t really change too much.  I need to see the game first and look at it. Definitely not something I’m proud of.”

Jackson is prone to foul trouble and has fouled out of three out of the team's 13 games this season. Teams have scouted him and know that getting him in foul trouble
early in games messes with his psyche. Early foul trouble has often been an
indicator Jackson won't have a good game.

Jackson knows he has his work cut out for him to right the ship for his sophomore season.  “I have to get better offensively and work on the things that I work on, as well as playing with my teammates better and reading things better,” he said. “A lot of things I have to work on for sure.”

Jackson took responsibility after the ugly Warriors loss. He said, “We just didn’t do what we needed to do. I can’t speak on them [Golden State] and their locker room. I just know, in here, we need to be better, I need to be better. I have to bring it next game.”

Jenkins says he isn't too concerned about Jackson’s slump. Thursday after practice,
Jenkins said he would "keep encouraging him with positivity. I think if he can latch on mentally to how he could be good defensively, he can be a two-way player. He is still trying to find his way on the offensive end if he just focuses on the defense, the offense will come in time."

Jenkins said that Jackson and Ja Morant are still developing chemistry in the young season, adding that that Jackson's rookie season was cut short after playing in just 58 games last season. He also pointed out that Jackson is adjusting to a new system, a new coach, a new style of play, and a new role. 

Through 13 games played, Jackson is averaging 14 points, 4.9 rebounds, while shooting 46.5 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from the three-point line.

Among sophomore players in the league, Jackson is in the top 10 in scoring, based on traditional stats. His usage is 22.7 percent and he is ranked in the top 15th percentile for second-year players. And it's worth pointing out: Jackson's numbers aren't terrible. He's scored in double figures in 8 out of 13 games and has scored 20 or more points in four of those games.

The Grizzlies have a roster full of young players who need development. As Jackson said, they don't have time to be rookies. They're being thrown into the fire and have to learn on the fly. Building chemistry will ultimately help Jackson and his teammates compete for 48 minutes and win some more games. 

Grizzlies fans need to understand and accept the necessity of growing pains for this young team this season. There is plenty of basketball left to play. Patience is the key for Jackson, his teammates, and the coaching staff  — and for the fans.

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