How Griz­zlies de­vel­oped plan for Jack­son Jr.

The Commercial Appeal - - Sports - David Cobb Mem­phis Com­mer­cial Ap­peal USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - TEN­NESSEE

Fans look­ing to as­sign blame for why Jaren Jack­son Jr. is not con­sis­tently clos­ing games or tak­ing 15-plus shots ev­ery night may need to di­rect their frus­tra­tion in a num­ber of di­rec­tions.

While Griz­zlies coach J.B. Bick­er­staff has borne the brunt of fre­quent crit­i­cism for not fully un­leash­ing Jack­son, it was ad­vice from around the league that Bick­er­staff used to for­mu­late a plan for the Griz­zlies’ 19-year-old rookie phe­nom.

The plan he de­vel­oped that has come un­der fire in re­cent weeks as the Griz­zlies have fallen below .500 fol­low­ing a promis­ing start.

In­stead of leav­ing Jack­son on the floor to play through mis­takes, Bick­er­staff and the Griz­zlies staff have of­ten cho­sen an­other route: Pull him and teach.

“There’s mo­ments where it may look like we’re be­ing tough on him,” Bick­er­staff said. “But we have ex­pec­ta­tions of him be­ing a fran­chise player, and your fran­chise player has to hold him­self to those stan­dards. And you only get one chance to coach him as a rookie.”

That was the con­sis­tent mes­sage Bick­er­staff said he heard this sum­mer as the Griz­zlies’ staff sought the coun­sel of vet­eran NBA coaches with ex­pe­ri­ence coach­ing rookie tal­ents sim­i­lar to Jack­son: You only get one chance to coach a bud­ding star when he is a rookie.

“Time and time again, it’s this same thing,” Bick­er­staff said of his con­ver­sa­tions with other coaches. “Some guys have re­grets be­cause they didn’t do it early and they tried to do it late.”

Jack­son and the Griz­zlies front of­fice are em­brac­ing the teach­ing-first phi­los­o­phy, too. All sides are pub­licly putting forth a united front on Jack­son’s usage, even as cries from the out­side mount for Jack­son to play through mis­takes and be­come a fo­cal point of the team’s of­fense and late-game sets.

“Jaren is play­ing a tremen­dous amount for a rookie,” gen­eral man­ager Chris Wal­lace said. “Go around the league. How many rook­ies are play­ing more than Jaren?... I think his rookie year has gone quite well, and we’re happy with the pro­duc­tion and the usage of Jaren as well.”

There are eight rook­ies av­er­ag­ing more than the 25.4 min­utes per game Jack­son is play­ing. Only one, Phoenix’s Dean­dre Ay­ton, is a post player.

Even while split­ting time with Jamy­chal Green, Jack­son has es­tab­lished a dark-horse rookie of the year can­di­dacy by av­er­ag­ing 13.4 points, 4.2 re­bounds and 1.5 blocks per game.

That’s why there is a clam­or­ing for more. The Griz­zlies (19-22) are 10-8 when Jack­son takes 10 or more shots

and 7-7 when he plays more than 30 min­utes.

But re­bound­ing strug­gles, foul trou­ble and perime­ter de­fense have held the NBA’S sec­ond-youngest player back from im­me­di­ately tak­ing on the cen­ter­piece role that the fran­chise en­vi­sions for him in the fu­ture.

Bick­er­staff said it would be “short­sighted” to un­leash Jack­son en­tirely at this stage in his de­vel­op­ment.

“We ex­pect Jaren to be here for a long time, and we ex­pect Jaren to be great,” Bick­er­staff said. “If you’re go­ing to be great, you have to value all the small things. That’s just the things we’re try­ing to preach to him and try­ing to get him to buy into. And he’s done it.”

Jack­son scored 10 points in 14 min­utes dur­ing the first half of a 9686 win over the Spurs on Wed­nes­day. His vi­cious dunk on a Kyle An­der­son al­ley-oop brought more joy to the Griz­zlies’ bench than in any mo­ment in weeks.

Then he picked up his third and fourth fouls just five min­utes in to the sec­ond half.

Green en­tered. Jack­son never re­turned. Bick­er­staff stuck with the vet­eran op­tion to close out a game the Griz­zlies des­per­ately needed.

In­stead of mop­ing on the bench, Jack­son em­braced an­other role by team­ing up with fel­low rookie Jevon Carter to to cre­ate en­ergy from the bench as the Griz­zlies snapped a six-game los­ing streak.

“It was just lit on the bench, lit on the court,” Jack­son said after­ward. “Lit­ness tran­scended through ev­ery­body.”

But surely it was frus­trat­ing not to play in the fourth quar­ter, right?

“I just wanted to win the game,” Jack­son said. “It didn’t mat­ter who was out there. It never mat­ters at any point. Who­ever is out there has to get it done. I’m glad we won.”

Therein lies an­other rea­son why Bick­er­staff is stick­ing with the ap­proach to coach­ing Jack­son that he be­gan for­mu­lat­ing this sum­mer with the help of oth­ers from around the league. Jack­son gets it. “He’s not com­plained once,” Bick­er­staff said. “He un­der­stands it. We talk a ton about it, we com­mu­ni­cate back and forth about it, and he un­der­stands it. That’s why I think he’s unique and has the op­por­tu­nity to be a spe­cial player.”

Reach Griz­zlies beat writer David Cobb on Twit­ter @David­w­cobb.

Griz­zlies for­ward Jaren Jack­son Jr. blocks a shot by Spurs guard Bryn Forbes on Wed­nes­day at Fedex­fo­rum. JOE RONDONE/THE COM­MER­CIAL AP­PEAL

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