Jackson Taking the Leap in Memphis


The story of Jaren Jackson Jr. so far has been quite a roller coaster ride for Memphis fans.  

Traditionally with highly drafted, young big men, it takes a few years for those players to fully adjust to the NBA game. The physicality of the league is usually too much for the slimmer rookies, and they need time to put on muscle and practice defending quicker guards.

Jaren Jackson Jr.’s story is no different. 

Career History

His first year, he showed flashes of his unicorn-esque talent. Fans will remember the 6’11” rookie knocking down a dagger three in the face of LeBron James in Los Angeles en route to a 27 point outing from the then-teenager. But with Jackson Jr. in his first year, he also struggled with foul trouble (3.8 a game), something he is still improving upon.  

Jackson Jr.’s second year was the year of the bubble, where the season was shortened due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The lowlight of this seasonoutside of the global pandemicfor Grizzlies fans was when JJJ tore his meniscus in the bubble, which left him out of much of the following season. 

Losing an entire summer and all but eleven games of the following season led to more questions regarding Jaren Jackson Jr.

Despite all the flashes, could Grizz fans ever rely on him to remain healthy for a whole season? How much can he add to his game if he’s always injured? 

JJJ’s Turning Point

Then came the 2021-2022 season, Jackson Jr.’s healthiest and most productive season of his young career. That season, Jackson Jr. registered a career high in games played (78) and rebounds (5.8) while leading the NBA in blocks per game (2.3). Jackson also posted his career low in fouls per game (3.5). He was a constant for the Grizzlies last year and a key piece of the great Memphis defense. 

The “Block Panther” was awarded with All-NBA first team honors in 2021-2022 for his effort on that side of the ball and received votes for Defensive Player of the Year. The low of that season for JJJ was a dip in shooting efficiency, registering career lows in field goal percentage (41.5%) and effective field goal percentage (47.7%). 

In the offseason this year, news that the Block Panther had suffered a stress fracture and would undergo surgery rattled fans who were hoping for a productive offseason following a good playoff run. Fans were further concerned when no hard timelines were set and JJJ was unavailable at the beginning of the NBA season.

But after a few cryptic tweets and too much jumping around before games, the Block Panther made his return on November 15, 2022. 

Putting the Pieces Together

Jackson Jr. is putting together all the tools that Grizzlies fans have been teased with in his short career so far. Since returning from injury, the Block Panther is playing like a stronger, more confident version of himself than fans have ever seenand the stats are confirming it. 

So far this season, JJJ is averaging more points (18.6), rebounds (6.2), and blocks (3.1) than he has for any other season. On top of that, his field goal percentages have climbed up to 49.1% from the field and 34.8% from three (last year 41.5% and 31.9%, respectively). More great news for Grizz fans is that the Block Panther is committing fewer fouls per game than he ever has (3.0), as well! 

The eye-test is another area where this recent version of Jackson Jr. shines. This year, he has looked to be in the best form of his career.  

Defensively, he’s blocking shots all over the floor – jumpers, floaters, layups, and dunks. To be that versatile a defender at a high-level in the NBA today is no easy feat, but you wouldn’t know from watching the Block Panther roam around the court. 

Offensively, he looks not only looks physically bigger, but his handle appears tighter than it was in his previous years. He appears to be much more under control with the ball, whether it be attacking the rim from the perimeter or when posted up down low. The added muscle combined with the improved handle and balance make for a true unicorn type of basketball player.

What This Can Mean for Memphis

Being able to grow alongside an All-star caliber player in Ja Morant allows Jackson Jr. to focus on his game and know that Morant will continue to put him in positions to be successful. The two of them, along with Desmond Bane, make up one of the most talented young trios in the NBA and will have the Memphis Grizzlies among the toughest teams to play in the West for years to come. 

With the Block Panther anchoring the defense and Morant running the offense, Memphis is not a team that anyone wants to see in the playoffs. The versatility of Jackson Jr. on both sides of the ball makes him a matchup nightmare, and there are very few players in the entire NBA that have the tools to lock down Jackson Jr. in the post and on the perimeter. Combine that with the attention that Morant draws offensively, and that is an extremely potent combination.

Now, just for fun, here’s the Block Panther meeting Joel Embiid at the rim in clutch-time. 


Check out this week’s Recap by Andrew Hanissian (@AndrewHanissian), Grizzlies Continue Winning Ways With Victories Over Thunder, Pistons, Hawks. And be sure to check out the Grizz 901 Podcast, where the Grizz Lead guys get on to discuss the most recent games and much, much more!

About Jesse Elsea

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