The Grizzlies' two young big men have a prime opportunity to shine, now that a path has been cleared for them. After the dust of the NBA trade deadline settled, two of the team's veteran big men were gone: JaMychal Green and, of course, former franchise cornerstone, Marc Gasol. These two moves have freed up more playing time for rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. and second-year player Ivan Rabb, and gives them an opportunity to showcase their skill-sets.
Jackson replaced Green in the starting lineup fairly early in the season, after Green suffered a broken jaw during the team’s home opener against Atlanta. Since then, he’s flashed a plethora of talent, both offensively and defensively, while creating a conundrum for head coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who seemed to be more inclined to play Green over Jackson. This created a ton of fan frustration, since many saw Jackson as the obviously better talent — now and for the future. Bickerstaff would often describe Jackson as you would a player who is years away — or a project — when in fact, Jackson, although still developing and struggling with occasional foul trouble, has produced on a high level when given playing time.
Jaren Jackson Jr.
This was also the case with Rabb, a second-year player who received sporadic playing time as a backup center/power forward before the trades. Since he's begun starting, he has been very productive, scoring inside and rebounding well. Rabb is undersized and can still be physically overwhelmed, so he struggles defensively at times, which was evident against Lamarcus Aldridge and the Spurs two weeks ago. But he has a knack for scoring around the basket and his newfound confidence has paid dividends for him — and the team — on the court.
As a player who has been compared to Tim Duncan since high school — which was probably based on aesthetics more than anything — Rabb has finally begun to show flashes of his promise since being given more responsibility. It can be assumed that newly acquired big man Jonas Valanciunas will likely replace him in the starting lineup, but hopefully Rabb can continue to be a major part of Bickerstaff’s rotation.
Bickerstaff has spoken about how Jackson’s role will change to become more of a focus of the offense and how he plans to “give him the rope to do more” and allow him to play through the expected bumps that come with being a 19-year-old rookie. This is interesting, considering that Bickerstaff has also hinted that he's still working on how to manage Jackson’s skill-set.
There are those who think Bickerstaff has mismanaged Jackson's usage this season. The rookie has the tools to be a phenomenal player on both ends of the court and it’s been a point of frustration that Bickerstaff has under-used him, until the trade that sent Green to the Clippers basically forced his hand. The Grizzlies have struggled with rebounding all season, and a tenacious rebounder like Rabb is just now being given an opportunity.
Should it have come sooner? Will Jackson and Rabb continue to not only get more minutes but show themselves to be a formidable future front-court tandem. Hopefully that’s the outcome — and more importantly — that the opportunity will continue to be given to them to make it happen.