The power forward and center positions in basketball have evolved tremendously over the past few decades. Not too long ago, a majority of the big men in the NBA were one dimensional. Their job was to defend the paint and grab rebounds, any offensive production beyond finishing at the rim was not expected. Players almost seven feet tall with the ability to knock down jumpers and switch defensively onto perimeter players were basically unheard of. These skills were viewed as unnecessary for bigs to possess at the time. However, as the game has evolved and players begin to become more and more versatile and talented, giants who can bury triples and defend beyond the painted area have become a hot commodity. Leading the way in this new era of extremely talented frontcourt players is Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jaren Jackson Jr. came into the league with high expectations, as he was drafted fourth overall in the 2018 NBA Draft. After displaying his talent in 58 games with the Grizz as a rookie, it is clear that he has lived up to the lofty expectations placed upon him thus far. The nineteen-year-old finished the year with averages of 13.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in just 26.1 minutes of play. His numbers are not spectacular, but when diving deeper it becomes clear that the big man displayed an impressive level of versatility on both ends of the floor.
The Michigan State product showed immense offensive growth during his first season in the NBA. Jackson Jr. impressively averaged more points per game in Memphis than with Michigan State, as he put up just 10.9 points a night for the Spartans. Despite receiving criticism from some prior to the NBA Draft regarding his strength or lack thereof, he has proven to possess the needed power and skill to be successful in the post. Jaren still certainly would benefit from continuing to build muscle, but his undefined physique has not seemed to limit his effectiveness down low.
Offensively, Jackson Jr. has a feathery touch which allows him to use floaters and hook shots to finish over the defense with ease. Also, the 6’11” forward has established himself as a threat from beyond the arc. In 2.4 attempts per game from deep, Jackson Jr. netted 0.9 triples which equates to a solid 35.9 percent clip. Defenses will have to respect his shot and close out to the line to contest Jackson Jr. This will help to open up driving lanes for the young man which will allow him to use his impressive mobility to attack the basket and finish at the rim.
Jaren Jackson Jr. has already proven himself to be an elite defender in the NBA. He averaged a staggering three blocks per game in his only season at Michigan State, so the fact that he has been dominant on the defensive end does not come as a surprise. Jackson Jr. possesses an enormous 7’5” wingspan along with the quickness to stay with most guards on the perimeter. His elite physical tools are partly responsible for him being able to put up solid numbers on the defensive side of the floor. Jackson Jr. averaged 1.4 blocks along with 0.9 steals per game this year, numbers that also point to his unique defensive instincts. Along with ideal size and speed, he has an excellent basketball IQ, something which is paramount to being a great defender. The nineteen-year-old has an uncanny ability to perfectly time the moment in which he needs to leave his feet in order to block a shot. It is one of the few aspects of his game that makes Jackson Jr. a special talent.
Jaren Jackson Jr. is already a very good player in this league, and due to the fact that he just finished his rookie season, one would be foolish to not expect him to improve drastically over the next few years. He has all of the tools needed to be an all-star in this league if he continues to refine his game. Expect his name to be mentioned among the best big men in the world sooner rather than later.