Jaren Jackson Jr.’s mastery of painting. he has made the Memphis defense a work of art

Jaren Jackson Jr.’s mastery of painting. he has made the Memphis defense a work of art

Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. block a shot from Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox (5) in the first half of an NBA game on Nov. 22, 2022 in Memphis, Tennessee. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

Let the Grizzlies enter on Friday tied for fifth in points allowed per possession it is not this shocking After all, Memphis finished with the NBA’s No. 7 defense two seasons ago, when head coach Taylor Jenkins’ team went over .500 and made the playoffs for the first time in And Morant was Morant and Co. they led the way last season, finishing fifth, the franchise’s first top-five finish. since 2014-15 — as part of a 56-game tour de force captivated basketball fans before finishing with a hard-fought second-round postseason loss to the eventual champion warriors.

What is However, it’s remarkable how they’ve landed back in that familiar top 10 territory. After opening the season a half 17th in defensive efficiencyMemphis has resumed suffocating opponents, bragging about the NBA fourth best defense since November 15; According to Cleaning the Glass , the Grizz are allowing 3.2 fewer points per 100 possessions that aren’t in garbage time than before the campaign.

In a related story, November 15th marked the return of Jaren Jackson Jr. after surgery in the summer to repair a stress fracture in right foot. And the first-team defensive big man has wasted absolutely no time brushing off concerns about himself another the lower leg procedure would slow him down as if they were gentle attempts at placing naively high on the edge in his presence:

After getting five more sacks in Memphis’ win over the pistons As of Wednesday, Jackson now has 28 blocks in 236 minutes in nine games. His average per game (3.1) and his overall rate (block 11% of opponents’ 2-point shots when he’s on the floor) both would direct the League if he had met the minimum number of minutes.

Even when Jackson doesn’t get the lock, he threatens to deploy it 7-foot-5 wingspan clearing a try still wreaks havoc on would-be scorers. Opponents are shooting an insignificant 44.6% on the edge when Jackson is the closest defender, according to Second Spectrum tracking, the second-most streaky mark of 169 men who have faced 50 shots.

And he doesn’t just stand in front of the basket and wait to raise his arms, either. Jackson also calls screens and directs traffic to help teammates stick to off-ball cutters. He’s coming out at the top of the floor to help push back ball-handlers, closing hard on the perimeter to make shooters think twice before breaking free and getting into the help position to extinguish offensive sparks before they can catch fire. It is making a difference everywhere the floor, and it’s reflected in both the eye test and the numbers.

Without Jackson, only Memphis held on an opponent (the lowly Hornets) under one point per possession in 14 tries; since he came back, the Grizz have done this three times in 11 games. (This one of these performances: Monday’s Victory 101-93 Over the Heat – came with JJJ i Resting already underscores the impressive depth of Memphis’ roster … and thus how complicated things seem in miami these days.) An initial training that last season they didn’t connect for a single minute together —Jackson, Morant, Dillon Brooks, Steven Adams and swingman plug Joan Konchar — has been sensational, almost attacking opponents 19 points per 100 possessionswhich is almost twice as much as the dominant one Celtics‘leader of the league net assessment.

The results look familiar: JJJ uses his length, quickness, strength and timing to block or change a ton of shots; Memphis holding back Best league levels whenever it hides in the paint; and point guard Brooks (who ranks first in the NBA in medium difficulty of confrontationas tracked by The BBall Index) is threatening to the upside, etc. The production process has been different, but in an interesting way, which is, um, not as interesting as it usually is.

The Grizzlies of recent era have thrived on chaos, with increased ball pressure intended to create live ball turnovers that allow them to push the tempo and get into the open court to attack lopsided, off-balance defenses. Two seasons ago, Memphis finished eighth opponent’s turnover percentagethird in points outside the billing and second in points added per play after a steal; last season, they finished fourth all three categories. Since Jackson’s return, though? Not more 21 St when forcing billing, 20th in points outside those coughs and 13th in added points per play after a steal.

But while blocks and steals are the strongest ways to end a possession, they aren’t the only ones. The quietest driver of Memphis’ defensive rotation is the best they’ve been on the defensive glass, and while Jackson himself has long been profiled as great below-average defensive reboundinghis presence has helped.

The Grizzlies are grabbing over 81% of available defensive rebounds when Adams and Jackson are in the front court, a league-leading rate. After the rim deterrent, Jackson and road grader Adams (one of the league’s most prominent box-out artists) clears the way, one of Memphis’ many perimeter players: Morant, Desmond Bane and Konchar all take a above-average defensive rebounding percentage for their positions: they sprint to catch the fault and hit the gas.

Play with enough purpose and pace, and you can still blow the other team’s doors off on the break without needing a turnover to give you a lead. The Grizzlies have come into their own of late, getting into transition after that almost 31% of his defensive rebounds since Jackson came back and scored almost 1.4 points per play in those pushes, many of which start with JJJ disrupting a driver’s shot at the rim, shading from the weakside to get someone to pull up from midrange instead of trying it in the lane, or showing the agility that allows him to pick up a pick. -and roll the top and still back to protect the paint:

Overall, Memphis posted a 75.7% defensive rebounding rate. since Jackson’s debutthe third best in the NBA in that span, beyond 71.1%, 16th in the league, with him on the shelf. And as useful as those rebounds are in igniting Memphis’ transition offense, they also serve a much simpler and even more beneficial purpose: preventing other guys from getting more opportunities to score you. The Grizzlies have given up 4.4 less second chance points per game since Jackson returned from what they were at the beginning of the season. Combine that with better floor balance and better attention to get back to D after missed shots. through 14 games, Memphis was giving up 1.15 points per possession after an opponent grabbed a defensive rebound, 22nd in the NBA, according to Unpredictable; that’s down to 1.07, third-best in the NBA, since JJJ came back – and you have a recipe for suppression that doesn’t necessarily rely on fireworks.

Limit runouts, communicate and compete, and go get the ball off the rim: This is the kind of defense that carries into the postseason, when the game slows down and the pressure mounts. With Jackson back in the backcourt, that’s the kind of defense these Grizzlies have. In the short term, it’s helped them keep winning and stay within reach of the top seed in the West even after losing Bane, their second-leading scorer, to what could end up being. more than two months. In the longer view, it’s enough to make you salivate over what Memphis might look like once it finally gets its full set of guys back on the court, and to wonder if this year’s model could have what it takes to get past the second round, to the franchise’s first conference finals in a decade … and, perhaps, even beyond that.

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