Grizzlies

Which Grizzlies Have the Most to Prove When Play Resumes?

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“They don’t wan’ see us on TV unless it’s the news
I got somethin’ to prove
Yeah, I’m young, but got somethin’ to lose”

– Lil Baby, Sum 2 Prove

After shocking the world and surging into the playoffs, some might think the Grizzlies have nothing else to prove this season. They exceeded expectations, showed no fear, and cut their rebuild short in just a matter of months. The season is far from over, though, and one holdover from the original season is that this team still has much to prove. As of March 11, when the NBA shut down, the Grizzlies had one of the most difficult remaining schedules. Their closest competitors had some of the easiest. Doubters remained confident that the Grizzlies would lose their playoff spot.

Despite the new season layout, much remains the same. The Grizzlies’ schedule is just slightly softer than before, while opponents (particularly the Kings and Pelicans) still have more appetizing routes to make up ground. It’s arguable that the Grizzlies don’t have as much pressure as they did before, and have a more considerable margin of error, but they still have to win to earn their spot.

While the expectations are high for the entire team, a few players may have even more pressure on them during this time. A while back, we posed the question on Twitter: which three Grizzlies have the most to prove when play returns? While fans offered many different answers and reasons, these three stick out to us.

 

Jaren Jackson Jr.

The Grizzlies’ resident unicorn planned to return to action a few days after the NBA closed down. Now fully healthy, he will have his first chance to prove that he can be the Grizzlies’ second option when the pressure is highest. These next eight games may be the most meaningful of Jackson’s young career. 2020 should be the first of many playoff pushes, and it could help the team decide what they need to add to the roster to compete.

JJJ has shown significant development in his two seasons. He had a better rookie season than many expected and built upon it this year. Many (including myself) wondered how he would handle the significant changes that happened during the last offseason. The team hired a new coach with a drastically different system and traded the final member of the Core Four. With Mike Conley and Marc Gasol gone, Jackson would see a significant role change. He went from the team’s third or fourth option to their second.

Growing Pains

Jackson handled the change reasonably well. He started slow, and there were obvious growing pains. Some of the areas of concern lingered. However, he blossomed into a lethal shooter, which formed a deadly combination with Ja Morant. Jackson displayed an improved off-the-dribble game and began showing how dominant he can become. Defensively, his adjustments came a bit more slowly, but Jackson still flashed his limitless potential on that end. He showed more confidence as the season went on and seemed to settle into his new role.

Despite his improvements, there are still lingering questions about Jackson’s game. Can he get his foul numbers under control? Is he the number two guy? Can he show up in crunch time? Not all of those questions will be answered this postseason, but Jackson has a tremendous opportunity to silence his doubters and establish himself as the next dominant big in Memphis.

Justise Winslow

The most hyped addition the Grizzlies made this year, Justise Winslow aimed at returning the week after the NBA’s suspension. The forward expects to be a critical piece of the team’s future. Every Grizz fan has been eagerly awaiting Winslow’s debut since his trade to Memphis. Now is the perfect time for his lineup infusion. He’ll add various elements that the Grizzlies have either been missing or could use more of: secondary playmaking, elite multi-positional defense, and three-point shooting. Winslow’s addition should elevate the team, making them an even scarier postseason opponent.

Offensively, Winslow provides a unique skill set from the small forward position. He’s able to handle the ball as a secondary playmaker, which could open avenues further for Morant and Jackson. He’s also a capable shooter, posting back-to-back seasons with a 38% three-point percentage. Winslow will also solidify the Grizzlies’ perimeter defense, and adds a level of interchangeability as he can defend across the board. He gives the Grizzlies the wing stopper they’ve needed.

Plusses and Minuses

Winslow is one of the few players on the Grizzlies’ roster with playoff experience. He was a part of the Heat’s 2016 and 2018 playoff teams. The team was also in a competitive, playoff-bound season when they traded him to Memphis. He comes from a franchise with a championship pedigree and could become a leader for the team.

Winslow’s most significant issue is health. He has to prove to fans that he can stay healthy for long periods. He has a proven impact on winning when 100%. Winslow will also have to establish how he fits in Memphis’ established system. Can he be useful as a starter beside Morant, Jackson, and Dillon Brooks? Is his best fit with the bench unit, bolstering their wing presence? Winslow will be debuting with his new team in a unique situation the NBA has ever seen. The pressure is high for him.

Josh Jackson

A feel-good story of this season, Josh Jackson had arguably his most successful campaign this year. The former number four pick was in a tight spot after Phoenix traded him. He had fallen out of favor with the Suns and had some off-court issues. He hadn’t been able to piece together a season that genuinely displayed his talents. A trade to Memphis seemed to be the spark he needed to improve.

He agreed to start the year in the G League, where he was a vital part of one of the best teams in the league. Coaches were impressed with his work ethic and maturity. He worked hard to improve, and it eventually paid off. The Grizzlies called him up in late January, and he made his impact felt almost immediately.

Second Unit Energy

Jackson’s energy and effort off the bench fit in perfectly with the second unit. He didn’t always score a lot, but he managed to find ways to impact each game. In 19 games played, he only had a negative +/- six times. He got it together during the last five games pre-hiatus, scoring 16.6 points per game on 47.5/38/60 splits. Jackson emerged as a legitimate option going forward.

Where Jackson fits in the postseason rotation is hard to gauge, though. Has he shown enough to warrant slotting him above Kyle Anderson on the depth chart? Jackson fits the Grizzlies’ style significantly better than Anderson but doesn’t have the proven career Anderson does. How will he fare in this high-pressure situation? Jackson is also up for a new contract in the offseason, which is added pressure and motivation for him to play well. Everything he does will affect his market value. Unfortunately, this unusual season may make it hard for him to truly capitalize during the free agency period, but he can still look to find a spot for the next part of his career.

Follow us on Twitter @Grizz_Lead for the latest Grizz news and insight.

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About Richmond Bailey Caldwell

Die-hard Grizzlies fan since 2009. Aspiring basketball writer and coach. University of Georgia sport management alum. Perennial first team all-defense selection.

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