The Memphis Grizzlies weren't able to close to deal in their tough 109-108 loss at home against the Lakers on Saturday night but the Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. were finally able to get going at the same time.
Mostly everyone knew what to expect this season. A young, rebuilding team that would be based around it's two up and coming stars, rookie phenom Ja Morant and second-year player, Jaren Jackson Jr. All of the pieces were set in place. The Grizzlies trimmed the roster by trading away their vets and acquired future assets along with manageable expiring contracts. They also hired a young, new head coach that in most cases equals someone that will develop alongside his team and lean towards his young players over his vets. One that you would assume would focus more on development than doing what it takes to maximize the team's chances of winning at all costs.
So far this has been the case in this first full rebuild season of the Grizzlies new era. Head coach Taylor Jenkins has done a great job implementing his system and getting his players to buy-in. The Grizzlies have a clear identity as a mostly five-out, motion offense, equal-opportunity, pace and space team that allows perimeter play-makers to create off of the dribble as well as creating a ton of open shots from long range. The results have mostly been satisfying, as the Grizzlies (5-10) have provided an entertaining form of basketball in spite of their record. They have also found ways to win games that they probably shouldn't have as well as play certain teams closer than they actually should have.
This was the case Saturday evening as the Grizzlies gave the Lakers all that they had in a game that Memphis lead for the majority of the contest. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. had their first games where both Ja and Jaren scored at least twenty points this season which is a head-scratcher, to say the least. We've seen Ja have a big game and Jaren struggle. We've seen Jaren go off and Ja have a bad night. We've seen both have games where they look exactly like what they are - two very young players learning not only the NBA game but the height of their respective games along with playing alongside each other.
We've seen them not be able to get on the same page at the same time for 14 games but on the one that they both brought it - they were able to toe-to-toe with one of not only one of the best teams in the NBA, but the best duos in Lebron James and Anthony Davis.
The two are legitimately best friends. Not a media or public relations forced bond. These two legit have each other's back. There was a game earlier this season - a 137-121 win at home against Minnesota, where Jaren had easily his worst game of the season. He had zero points in 15 minutes and was pulled early in the fourth quarter, never to return. Jaren also wasn't available to the media after the game but neither was Ja Morant who finished the game with 26 points. This can be frustrating to a media member who is trying to share the sights and sounds of the game to the fans, as well as something that you can easily say might point to immaturity from both players but mostly it stood out to me as a moment where the two players showed that they are down for each other - a moment of genuine brotherhood.
Their bond and chemistry haven't always translated on the court as more times than not, the two haven't played off of each other too well at all. all. This can be frustrating as you want to see the team develop around it's two young talents but whether it be from mutual struggles or coaching strategy the two just couldn't seem to be good at the same time before Saturday night. Whether you judge by the eye test or through statistics it is not hard to see that Morant and Jackson have a ways to go as far as on-court chemistry is concerned.
Like Chris Herrington of the Daily Memphian noted in his latest mailbag, Jaren Jackson Jr. seems to produce better with the reserves, especially with lineups that include Kyle Anderson. This could simply be because Jackson starts with a lineup that consists of four other players that are looking for their shot in Morant, Valanciunas, Crowder and Brooks, or because when he plays with the likes of Jones and Anderson, they are experienced playmakers that find ways to get him going. As I expressed on the Jason and John Show last Wednesday, Jackson, who has been crippled by foul trouble so far, also seems to be uncomfortable in Coach Jenkins system at times. Jenkins uses Jaren almost like a wing player in his five-out system when he starts games due to the flow of the system as well as Jackson's ability to make shots from deep.
When asked about the progression of Ja and Jaren on the court during the team's off days last week, Jenkins was honest about the role of his two young stars within his system.
"They are still developing chemistry," said Jenkins. "We are only 14 games within the season in their first season together so I even think that there are things that they can do better on the defensive end and I think that over time as that chemistry brews on both ends, everything will be better on the offensive end
"It's two guys that have never played together before," Jenkins would add. "I think that we've had good moments and moments where we can get better, but to me, the way that we are built is not just one player helping one other, it's helping all of your teammates and helping all five guys play together. That falls on Ja because he's our point guard but it's a relationship with all five guys."
This is an expected response from Jenkins but I personally would love to see more two-man action from Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. Young talented players ofter find a way to make a coach's easier as well as find a way to make a rebuild a lot easier on the fans as well.