The Memphis Grizzlies found a diamond in the rough with GG Jackson

With injuries plaguing the team, the Memphis Grizzlies have given rookie GG Jackson more playing time and he has played extremely well.

Milwaukee Bucks v Memphis Grizzlies
Milwaukee Bucks v Memphis Grizzlies / Justin Ford/GettyImages
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GG Jackson has the potential to be a really good player down the line for the Memphis Grizzlies.

Just a few years ago, GG Jackson was one of the top high school basketball players in the country. He was the highest-ranked player in the class of 2023 and he committed to North Carolina after his junior year at Ridge View High School. Later, he decommitted from UNC and changed his commitment to South Carolina. He also reclassified to the class of 2022, allowing him to graduate early.

Unfortunately, his freshman season at South Carolina was a mess. He carried a huge offensive load for a bad team and his production was quite poor across the board. He didn’t shoot well from anywhere on the floor and he wasn’t very productive as a passer. Also, his advanced metrics indicated that he would probably be better off going back to school instead of declaring for the NBA draft.

After his rough freshman season, the Memphis Grizzlies selected him in the second round of the 2023 NBA Draft, hoping that their staff could develop him and possibly get the most out of his high-level talent. Jackson didn’t play much at the start of the year, but injuries saw him get serious playing time at the beginning of January.

Since seeing his minutes increase, Jackson has played very well. He has had some nice scoring performances and he is shooting the ball at a high level. He’s also been a solid defender, which makes him even more valuable when he’s on the floor. Let’s take a closer look at his performance so far this season and see why the Grizzlies might have found a diamond in the rough.

GG Jackson is a strong off-ball scorer

GG Jackson started to gain some recognition over the last two months thanks to some big scoring nights, including a 27-point game vs. the Bulls and a 27-point game vs. the Bucks. Since becoming a bigger part of the Grizzlies’ rotation, Jackson has been fairly productive as a scorer, averaging 11 points per game on 58.1 percent TS%.

His best quality as a scorer is his ability to operate without the ball in his hands. With the Grizzlies, he hasn’t been an on-ball creator like he has in the past. He’s primarily playing off the ball and this has done wonders for his scoring efficiency.

When you look at his numbers, one thing that pops off the screen is his three-point shooting. He’s averaging around four three-point attempts per game and he’s shooting 41.2% from behind the arc. He’s been really effective shooting off the catch, hitting 43.3% of these types of three-pointers.

GG Jackson already looks like an effective off-ball scorer. His shooting numbers are obviously really good but I am extremely impressed by the way he attacks closeouts to generate open shots at the rim. If he’s able to shoot threes and attack the basket at a fairly high level, this will make him an extremely valuable offensive player.

Unfortunately, there are reasons to believe that Jackson’s red-hot three-point shooting won’t continue. His 66.7% shooting from the free throw line indicates that his shooting touch has a lot of room to grow and based on his three-point shooting numbers from high school and college, it seems likely that his NBA three-point percentage will not stay above 40% long-term.

Another area of concern with Jackson’s game is his severe lack of playmaking. This was an issue for him at South Carolina and it has continued in the NBA. This season, Jackson has an assist rate of 6.7% which is extremely low for a player with a usage rate of 23.6%. 

Perhaps this won’t be as big of a problem if he is an off-ball player for most of his career, but this indicates that he won’t be a strong on-ball creator in the near future. There’s also a chance he never becomes a strong on-ball creator who provides a ton of value as a scorer and passer. To be clear, it isn’t the end of the world if Jackson can’t operate as a primary ball handler, but it would limit his ceiling as an offensive player.

While Jackson’s recent rise in popularity has mostly been due to his scoring output, he’s also showing some good things on defense. Let’s take a look at what he does well on this end of the floor. 

GG Jackson has some serious upside on defense

GG Jackson’s potential as an off-ball scorer is obvious, but so is his ability on defense. His production on this end of the floor has been pretty good as he has a steal rate of 13 percent and a block rate of 3.3 percent. That block rate, specifically, is really strong for a wing.

On film, Jackson does a solid job of rotating to make plays as a weakside rim protector. This is a valuable skill and it shows up on the stat sheet when you look at his block rate. There’s also a chance that he can develop into a solid on-ball defender because he has great positional size and he is a plus athlete. However, he doesn’t seem to guard on the ball that much at this stage in his career.

One issue with his defense right now is there are too many plays where he falls asleep and gives up wide-open jump shots. This has happened several times over the last couple of games and it’s a big problem. This should be correctable because he’s just 19 years old, but this is something to keep your eyes on.

Statistically, Jackson has been a solid defender this year. Estimated plus-minus, which is known for being somewhat effective at measuring defensive impact, views Jackson as being a positive defender this season as he has a D-EPM of +0.2. By this metric, his defense is worth 0.2 points per 100 possessions. He is one of just three rookies age 20 or younger to have a positive D-EPM this season.

GG Jackson has the potential to be a strong 3-D wing

GG Jackson is an exciting young player. Although he is still a teenager, he is already showing that he can shoot threes, attack closeouts, and provide secondary rim protection. That's a strong foundation to build upon.

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Unfortunately, there’s little evidence that he will become a great on-ball creator, but he doesn’t need to. If his shooting production continues and he improves on defense, he will have a long career in the NBA. I guess it's unsurprising that the Grizzlies found another hidden gem through the draft.