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Doc Rivers praises rookie Jaren Jackson Jr.

Doc Rivers, Jaren Jackson Jr.

The L.A. Clippers are preparing to take on the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night, their final game of a week-long, four-game road trip. For Doc Rivers’ team, it’s the toughest matchup on the trip going up against Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Jaren Jackson Jr.

These two teams met a few weeks ago the day after Thanksgiving in an afternoon affair which the Clippers won 112-107 in overtime. Montrezl Harrell led the way for the Clippers 22 points, 11 rebounds, and two blocks off the bench. Gasol finished with 27 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists while Conley put up 19 points and 11 assists before fouling out late in the fourth quarter. What Gasol and Conley bring to the Grizzlies is no surprise to anyone. It’s the play of fourth overall pick Jaren Jackson Jr. that caught a lot of people’s eyes.

Jackson Jr. finished the game with 20 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and three blocked shots in 35 minutes of action. In the first quarter of the 2018-19 season, he’s arguably been the most impressive rookie and is certainly in the running for Rookie of the Year.

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers had nothing but praise for Jackson Jr. before the game, admitting that he was higher on L.A.’s draft boards than most other teams in the NBA.

“He’s going to be a terrific player,” said Rivers before the Clippers-Grizzlies game on Black Friday. “He was even higher on our board than most. We really liked him. We liked his length, his ability to shoot, his ability to rebound. He’s gonna be a good player for a long time.”

While Dallas Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic has drawn most of the national media attention, Jackson Jr. is quietly having one of the better season among this rookie class averaging 13.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steal, and 2.0 blocks per game on 52 percent shooting from the field and 35.3 percent from beyond the arc. Prior to their matchup in Memphis on Wednesday night, Rivers said Jackson Jr. is among the best rookies he’s seen.

“I don’t know what he is, but he’s going to be a great player,” added Rivers. “It’s funny, we liked him a lot. Lawrence was really high on him going into the draft. But you don’t see him play a lot. Then when you get a chance the first time we saw him, I was like, ‘Wow.’

“He’s right there as the best rookie I’ve seen. That doesn’t mean he’s the Rookie of the Year because he’s had a good year. But he’s going to be special. Like really special. And you can see it. I was saying after, I don’t know at his position if you can play on a more perfect team to learn how to do certain things than with Gasol and how they play. So he’s not only going to be a great player, but he’s also got a great teacher where he can watch and that’s going to help him as well.”

Entering their second matchup of the year, the Clippers (16-7) lead the Grizzlies (13-9) by two and a half games in the Western Conference standings. The way this season is shaping up, every single game against an opponent in the West is going to count. A three-game winning streak can vault a team up only one or two spots while a three-game losing streak could send a team plummeting down the standings.

The Clippers and Grizzlies are set to play one another at 5PM PST on Wednesday night.