Free Agency Preview – Josh Jackson

By Matt Esposito

Here’s the scenario: The Memphis Grizzlies’ front office is prime Pedro Martinez. They’ve struck out their last four batters—guys named Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke and De’Anthony Melton. Up comes batter number five: Josh Jackson. The Grizzlies strike him out on a 3–2 count using a nasty slider, but the catcher can’t hold on, and Jackson scoots down to first base safely.

Did I butcher this intersport metaphor? Would it have been less confusing to use a “Memphis has really knocked their latest acquisitions out of the park” baseball analogy? Absolutely. It’s too late now, however. The ink is dry, unlike the ink on what should have been Jackson’s rookie option deal from the Grizzlies.

After pumping oxygen into the former lottery pick’s nearly lifeless career, Memphis felt comfortable letting him test free agency. In fact, the Grizz also surrendered their matching rights on Jackson, making him an unrestricted free agent. Although Jackson has not yet shown the promise of a top-five selection, Memphis was able to make better use of his talents than the Suns did, and they took a positive step forward in their reclamation project. 

Finishing At The Rim

Standing at 6-foot-8 with some explosion in his game, Jackson was not supposed to struggle as much at the rim as he did during his first two years in the Association. In his rookie year, Jackson finished in the 16th percentile for at-rim finishing and regressed to the 14th percentile in his second season (shout out to Cleaning the Glass for giving me dry-heaves while reading those stats.)

But like a proud, carefree college student at their first rave, I swallowed down the puke and kept stat-digging. Turns out, Jackson improved immensely at converting his at-rim attempts. Albeit in a limited sample size of 20 games, Jackson completed a meteoric rise into the 90th percentile in this category. With the exception of perfectly spiced buffalo wings and the sound of opening a Snapple bottle, there are few things more delightful than watching someone figure out how to properly use their athleticism.

During his years with the Phoenix Suns, Jackson tended to force shots when in the paint. He hardly knew when to let his athleticism do the talking or when to deploy eurosteps and deceleration to send his defender whizzing by him. In Memphis, however, Jackson put scouts on notice that he’d learned to harness his physical gifts.

Defensive Versatility

Prior to the bubble (where head coach Taylor Jenkins opted to bury Jackson on the bench as his Grizz chased an 8th seed), Jackson was one of 28 players in NBA history to average 1.5 steals and 0.5 blocks in fewer than 20 minutes per game. That’s a mouthful, I know. But Jackson is in some good company, as that list contains names like Matisse Thybulle, Jonathan Isaac and three-time All-Defense-teamer Paul Pressey.

Although he was pegged as a wildcard coming into his draft, no one doubted Jackson’s potential to make a defensive impact. This is largely due to his active hands and overall abiltiy to just muck things up.

Even though his chances of succeeding as a super-small-ball five are about as slim as my chances of not tweeting anything political within the next 30 days, Jackson can offer some weak-side rim protection. His awareness and springiness give him a high defensive ceiling.

Jackson is no slouch as an on-ball defender either. When playing at his peak, he can be relied upon to stay in front of most speedy guards and shifty wings. This possession against Paul George is a strong representation of his potential.

3-Point Shooting

The jury is still out on Jackson’s three-point shooting, although he has shown some promise. For instance, he sank 38.2 percent of the 6.5 three-point attempts per game he took while in the G-League. Yet, streaky is the only word that can be used to accurately describe his career performance from beyond the arc. The graph below shows his three-point shooting percentage trend from when he was a member of the Suns in 2018.

Courtesy of Cleaning the Glass

Statistically, Jackson sank only 31.9 percent of his triples for Memphis. Yet, the eye-test shows a shot that surely isn’t pretty, but is not entirely broken either. During his college days, it was clear that Jackson often held the ball too far away from his body before his release. Some slight adjustments in both form and approach seem to have done him good, however.

Sure, his lower-body mechanics look awkward and his elbows look clunky, but Jackson’s form has become marginally better. Plus, you can see for yourself how he has adjusted his shot selection to fit the mold of a modern day three-and-D forward. Whoever signs Jackson next year can/should expect him to hit somewhere between 32-35 percent of his threes.

Courtesy of Cleaning the Glass
Fits & Potential Contract

This is a good time to admit that I have no clue how much Jackson will earn in his next NBA contract. Would I be surprised if a team offered him a two-year deal with a team option for a total of $6 million? Nope. I also wouldn’t be shocked if he signed a two-way G-League deal. Yet, we can be sure teams will do their due diligence. Jackson’s draft pedigree commands it. What’s more, his ceiling is still attractive, and some middling or bottom dwelling team will likely take a chance on him, hoping that he has outgrown his off-court issues.

The Boston Celtics can make room for a Jackson gamble by waiving an expendable player. They need wing depth and have a history of player development. Despite turning down his option, Memphis still makes sense. Cap-strapped, middle-of-the-pack teams with few routes of acquiring meaningful talent could inquire, such as Portland, Oklahoma City, and Washington.

Personally, I think playing a defensive role in Dallas while Luka Doncic gets him easy buckets could be just what Jackson needs. The Mavericks have a strong enough culture for Jackson to thrive as well. Regardless, as an inaugural member of The Playgrounder’s All “Be Patient” Team, we’re rooting for the young man.

Published by Matt Esposito

Founder/Writer for Theplaygrounder.com and contributor to Red’s Army Twitter: @Mattesposito_

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