Jaren Jackson Jr. was ruled out for the season on Tuesday after suffering a torn meniscus. It’s an absolutely brutal blow for the Grizzlies and Jackson himself, who had been playing very well in Orlando. Jackson Jr. is a key piece of the Grizzlies’ future alongside Ja Morant.
With Memphis looking to hold onto the 8th seed in the west this season, how should they approach filling the void left by Jackson Jr.’s injury?
Increased Responsibilities Without Jackson Jr.
When a player as important as JJJ is lost to injury, naturally multiple players find themselves asked to do more. That will be no different for Memphis, though they do have a good head start. Brandon Clarke, a steal from this season’s NBA draft, is a very good player. Can he directly replace Jackson Jr. on his own? No, but he gives the team a good start in filling the void.
Clarke, the 21st pick in the 2019 NBA draft, should slot into the starting five for head coach Taylor Jenkins. Not the same shot-blocker as Jackson Jr., Clarke is better when asked to guard perimeter players. This will be useful in a western conference deep with scoring wings.
On the other offensive end, Clarke has proven to be a good outside shooter. That’s crucial to the Grizzlies offense, as JJJ has become a knockdown 3PT shooter for them. Stretching the floor around Jonas Valanciunas is vital in the Memphis offense. Further, Clarke is better on the boards than the man he’ll be filling in for. If there’s one criticism of Jackson Jr’s game, it is his work on the glass. With Brandon Clarke, Memphis improves in this area.
Veteran forward Anthony Tolliver will likely be asked to play more with the recent injury. While his main role with the team is as a veteran with experience, he’s still more than capable of giving them solid to good minutes. He has played in just 8 games this season, which includes appearances in each of the games played so far in Orlando.
Tolliver is a good enough perimeter shooter that defenses must respect him. His experience has turned him into a smart player who will be in the right spots. Finally, he has shown he can be a more than capable defender in bursts this season. Memphis may need to see just how long those bursts can be.
Smarter Play From Valanciunas
Starting center Jonas Valanciunas has struggled to remain on the court so far in Orlando. He is seeing just 23 minutes per game in the team’s three contests due to his fouls. In those minutes, he is averaging 5 fouls per game. If Memphis wants to make the playoffs, Valanciunas would need to pock his play up even without the loss of Jackson Jr. Now, with the loss, both minutes and production need to increase for the traditional center.
More Small Ball
While Clarke and Tolliver will see increased minutes, another thing to expect in more small ball from Memphis. Specifically, two players could see some playing time at the four spot.
Josh Jackson seems to be turning his career around in Memphis. Now, he can show the league he has an extra trick in his bag; the ability to play the 4 in small-ball lineups. Jackson is listed at 6-8 and is a very athletic player. He can hold his own against guys his size and will have to work a little harder to battle bigger match-ups. His athleticism makes Memphis capable of deploying some switch-heavy groups though, which may become useful down the stretch.
Anderson is the starting Small Forward for Memphis right now, but at 6-9 he can slide to the four when asked. His struggles as a shooter are easier to overcome when this is where he is used, so that will help workout floor spacing. When Clarke and Anderson are the forwards on the court together, you can say either one is the power forward or small forward.
It will be tough for the Grizzlies to turn things around in Orlando, where they are 0-3. That being said, it is very possible. They are hungry and talented, so ruling them out would be a mistake.
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