Eight glorified scrimmages. Three days by the lake. 10 days in the desert. Less than one month into his professional career.
That’s how long it took for the Jaren Jackson Jr. hype train to pick up full steam and haul ass into hindsight-is-20/20 station.
Color me not all that surprised.
For starters, as popular a sport as basketball is, there’s still a Mason-Dixon Line-esque divide between those that follow the collegiate game and those that gravitate towards the NBA.
So for many rocking Association horse blinders, save for a weekend or two come late March, Jackson’s NBA summer league performance became their first real look at the 6-foot-11 former Spartan.
And seeing as Jackson’s NCAA Tournament appearance resulted in a whopping two points over 15 minutes of game action, any casual observer probably didn’t walk away uber impressed with the 18-year-olds performance.
This led to Jackson being an afterthought inside NBA draft circles. Don’t get me wrong, everyone still pegged Jackson to be a top five pick, however, he didn’t quite garner the palpable buzz of players like Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Luka Doncic, and Trae Young.
But if he had fallen off anyone’s NBA radar, Jackson quickly flipped that narrative with a monster coming out party in his first summer league game. The second generation NBAer scored 29 points while going 8-for-13 from three and quickly had many in the NBA circle calling the No. 3 overall pick one of the bigger steals of the 2018 draft.
The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks and Kevin O’Connor, for example, moved the 18-year-old up two spots to the top overall selection in their way-too-early post-summer league redraft recap. Tjarks cited Jackson’s impressive form from beyond the arc (he went 14-for-28 during the Grizzlies run in Utah and Nevada) while O’Connor pointed out that the lanky forward looked to be further along in his development than originally expected.
One would only need to look so far as the box score to lend credence to the former point by Tjarks or the latter point by O’Connor.
Following Jackson’s aforementioned debut against the Atlanta Hawks, which, by the way, involved him scoring more than any single outing during his lone year in East Lansing, he went on to average nearly a double-double during Memphis’ remaining run in Sin City.
And if you happen to be more of a visual learner, well, the inter-webs got you covered too. Just click play and enjoy five joy-filled minutes of Jaren Jackson Jr. doing freakishly awesome things with his freakishly long wingspan:
That highlight package alone should be causing fits of unbridled optimism and excessive drooling in southwestern Tennessee.
What’s unique about the Jackson hubbub and hindsight revelation is that it doesn’t just apply to the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings — the two teams who passed on the big man before the Grizzlies scooped him up third overall; but to Tom Izzo and his underachieving 2017-’18 Michigan State Spartans as well.
After racking up 28 wins and a regular season Big ten crown, the Spartans had a lackluster exit from the conferences post season tournament before failing to crack the Rubik Cube that is Jim Boeheim’s zone defense in an embarrassing first round loss in the NCAAs.
And while falling victim to March’s madness isn’t anything to get too worked up about, it’s worth noting that Izzo had not one, but two future lottery picks in his starting lineup.
To make matters worse, of the three programs to have two lottery picks in this summer’s NBA draft (Kentucky and Villanova being the other two), Michigan State’s combo of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges were the only ones not to reach the Sweet Sixteen.
So what’s this all mean?
Well for starters, second-guessing the NBA draft and overreacting to summer league results has become a staple of the sports starved July and August landscape. With that in mind, I’d caution anyone putting the Jaren Jackson Jr. cart in front of the horse to pump the breaks just a tiny bit.
Yes, he is an incredibly talented, young basketball player. And while he might be the savior Grizzle Nation has been waiting for, he shouldn’t be counted on quite yet to lead Memphis to the NBA’s Promised Land.
That said, it’s also fair to question how a team as talented as last season’s Michigan State group failed to capitalize on its enormous potential.
Anyone looking for the answer to that question, however, might need look no further than Bridges playing out of position all year and Jackson only attempting an average of 2.7 3-pointers per game.
Jaren Jackson’s NBA career is just getting started. He’s got a long, long, long way to go to prove that the fanfare that’s encompassed his first eight professional games wasn’t misplaced.
But luckily he’s still got plenty of time to live of to that hype and reach his full potential - something both he and Michigan State couldn’t quite cash in on last year.