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Jaren Jackson Jr. is part of a young Team USA squad that features plenty of players who seem to be on their rise to stardom. Anthony Edwards, for example, has widely been deemed the key to a successful tournament and Jalen Brunson is viewed as the team’s leader. It was Jackson, however, who was voted the most impressive player during training camp according to an informal poll by The Athletic.
That is good news for Grizzlies fans. Not only is Jackson set to have a full, healthy season but his FIBA run also means that he will be starting the season in top shape. Last season, Jackson made his first All-Star team, won Defensive Player of the Year, and had his best scoring season so far in only 63 games. Now imagine what he can do with a full season, starting out in mid-season shape. Jackson has been in the NBA since 2018 already but he is barely even 24 years old yet and still has plenty of room to grow.
If he could make another leap this coming season, it would not only cement him as one of the best young bigs in the game but also significantly help the Grizzlies. With Ja Morant suspended for the beginning of the season, the pressure on Jackson and Desmond Bane to carry the team will be high. So, Jackson’s run with Team USA is coming at a perfect time because there is plenty for him to learn from it.
His defense will for obvious reasons be at the forefront and Jackson will face many new challenges on that end of the floor. With the Grizzlies, he is rarely ever the only big on the floor and acts as more of a roamer on defense. On Team USA, he is the starting center and will have to guard physical bigs. He will be forced to adapt to a new level of physicality which he will then hopefully be able to translate to the NBA.
Jackson is one of the top rim protectors in the game today, but he has a tendency to get into foul trouble. On Team USA, he will have to figure out how to fix that. First of all, there are only five personal fouls allowed under FIBA rules, and secondly, his rim-protecting backup is Walker Kessler, who just finished his rookie season and is still rather inexperienced. In the team’s first exhibition game against Puerto Rico, Jackson was already in foul trouble early in the third quarter so it will be interesting to see how he works to change that in the coming contexts.
Playing the five will also force Jackson to work on his rebounding. For a player of his size and athleticism, he is not a good rebounder. On the Grizzlies, this is not a pressing issue if everyone is available—their guards are strong rebounders and Steven Adams grabs every ball he can get his hands on—but when Adams was out last season, they struggled mightily on the boards. With Team USA, Jackson will be expected to act as the prime rebounder. If he is a bad rebounder, the team will feel it on both ends of the floor. This squad is young and inexperienced when it comes to the international level but the one advantage, they will always have, is their athleticism. If Jackson can grab defensive rebounds and get Edwards, for example, out in transition it will be incredibly valuable to the team.
The Grizzlies play that way too because Morant and Bane are great on the run, but it is usually Adams who throws the outlet pass. It is not something that we have seen from Jackson yet so learning to do this on Team USA could work wonders for the Grizzlies, especially when Morant returns to the team. At the same time, Jackson will have an opportunity to become a better screener, which could improve his two-man game with Morant as well as Marcus Smart and Bane a lot.
While Jackson will clearly have the opportunity to extend his skill set, he will also be able to work on his existing skills. Without the defensive three seconds, he will be a menace around the rim, and on offense, he will get a chance to work on his outside shot. Since the FIBA game allows bigs to camp in the paint, teams need floor-spacing bigs who can reliably make threes and lure rim protectors out of the paint. An uptick in his three-point percentage would be great for the Grizzlies, too. They were not a good three-point shooting team last season and did not bring in any shooters over the summer either, so the improvement has to come from within and Jackson would be a great player to start with.
So, Team USA will be a great experience for Jackson and should really help him grow his game.