If Zach Randolph leaving the Memphis Grizzlies for the Sacramento Kings during the summer of 2017 did not signal the official end of the Grit ‘n Grind era, then the Grizzlies’ trade of Marc Gasol at the Thursday deadline certainly did.
After 10-and-a-half seasons in Memphis, Gasol was dealt to the Toronto Raptors at the trade deadline, putting an end to what was a very successful run of basketball in Tennessee.
Now, Mike Conley is the only player left from that famed ballclub, and it seems like it’s only a matter of time before he is playing elsewhere, too.
That means that a rebuild in Memphis has officially begun, and at the center of that rebuild is big man Jaren Jackson Jr.
The Grizzlies selected Jackson with the fourth overall pick of the NBA Draft back in June, and the 19-year-old has obliged by having a very impressive rookie campaign, averaging 13.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks over 26.1 minutes per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor, 34.8 percent from three-point range and 76.9 percent from the free-throw line.
Jackson is everything you want in the modern day big man. He is athletic, he can spread the floor, he can knock down shots from all over the court and he is a defensive anchor who can both protect the rim and guard multiple positions.
Basically, Jackson has “perennial All-Star” written all over him, and with Gasol now out of the picture, the rookie should receive even more touches and more of a focal point within Memphis’ offense as the season progresses.
Of course, losing Gasol also hurts Jackson in the sense that he no longer has that security blanket on both ends of the floor, as Gasol unquestionably helped Jackson defensively and took some pressure off of him on the offensive side.
But now, Jackson is essentially on his own up front and will get a chance to how the Grizzlies—and the rest of the NBA—what he is made of.
Other than Jackson, Memphis does not exactly have a whole lot of young talent.
Dillon Brooks looks like he could develop into a nice role player on the wing, and there was a time when Ivan Rabb was considered one of the top prospects in college basketball, so he might be able to assist Jackson up front in the future.
However, Jackson appears to be the only young player the Grizzlies have with star potential, which means Memphis needs to hope he is the real deal.
The good news for the Grizzlies is that it looks like he is.
Jackson has been amazingly consistent for a first-year player, and recently, he is showing serious progress, like in his 27-point performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night, for example.
But it’s not like Jackson has just suddenly broken out, as he is been putting forth big outings like that intermittently throughout the season.
Back on Nov. 30, Jackson dropped 36 points in a win over the Brooklyn Nets, making 13 of his 22 shots and draining three triples and all seven of his free throws.
It is incredible how efficient Jackson is, so much so that he looks to be 25 or 26 years old at times rather than a mere teenager.
In a 2018 NBA Draft that was loaded with talent ranging from Deandre Ayton to Luka Doncic, some actually felt that Jackson was the best talent in the class.
Now, it’s a bit too early to make that type of proclamation, especially given the rookie campaigns that guys like Ayton and Doncic are having, but it would not be surprising if Jackson does, in fact, end up being the diamond of the group.
Jackson also represents a dramatic shift in what the Grizzlies are known for.
While Gasol and Randolph were slow, plodding bigs who mucked up the game and relied purely on their fundamentals and smarts to win games, Jackson is a versatile athletic freak who will force head coach J.B. Bickerstaff to push the pace, something Memphis fans are simply not used to.
Something tells me they are going to acclimate to that type of style fairly quickly, as Jackson does remind one of a young Kevin Garnett, who took the league by storm and really changed the game during his days with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
When you have a big who is that athletic, you need to adapt to him, and that is exactly what the Grizzlies should do. They need to build their team with versatile athletes who can play both ends of the floor and be able to go to work in transition, which is where Jackson truly excels.
Just imagine how good Jackson is going to be in a couple of years with more seasoning under his belt.
Memphis may be in rough shape at the moment, but it hit a home run with Jackson.