Why Grizzlies' Jaren Jackson Jr. isn't worried about his early shooting slump

Evan Barnes
Memphis Commercial Appeal
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For Grizzlies fans wondering why Jaren Jackson Jr. has struggled as a shooter  to start the season, you're not alone. Jackson can't figure it out either.

He's talked with teammates and met with coach Taylor Jenkins, who've all been encouraging. He's even talked to his father who's echoed what Jenkins and others have advised.

"You just got to review film and get better. There's really nothing else to do," Jackson said Tuesday. "Either way you're going to play, just depends what shoes you want to wear, how you want to feel, what music you want to listen to and what vibe you want to be in when you go out there."

Entering Wednesday's game against the Denver Nuggets, Jackson is averaging just 12.4 points while shooting 32.5% from the field. Among the 145 players averaging at least 26.0 minutes - Jackson's total - he's 139th in field goal shooting.

He's shooting just 31.3% on 3-pointers but its inside the arc where he's been on a steep decline. Jackson's shooting just 34.3% on two-pointers after hitting 54.7% in his first three seasons. Per Cleaning the Glass - an NBA analytics site - Jackson is shooting 47% at the rim, well below the  71% last season.

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The only consistent stat? His 3.9 fouls per game, which is second in the NBA and a problem since his rookie season. Monday's win over the Nuggets was another reminder as he played just 3:45 in the second half after picking up his fourth foul in the third quarter and his fifth just 15 seconds into the fourth.

As he walked to the bench, Jackson patted his face several times in frustration. It hasn't hindered the Grizzlies' strong start but it's a concern given the expectations for a breakout season.

At times, he hasn't looked comfortable getting to the rim whether its off the dribble or scoring off post moves. His teammates have kept his spirits up and even guard Ja Morant even took responsibility for needing to get Jackson get better looks on the court.

Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. (13) plays in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets Monday, Nov. 1, 2021, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

"You just got to put him in his spots where he excels on the floor and make him more comfortable. Just to make his job easier," Morant said. "Now he's having to create more so I've just got to get him more actions, pick-and-pop, to have him limit his dribble."

The Grizzlies aren't worried even if it puts some early pressure on Jackson after signing his four-year, $105 million extension last month. Through preseason, the talk centered around how much better the Grizzlies could be with a healthy Jackson returning to 2019-20 levels.

Jackson increased his scoring in each preseason game but in the regular season, it's been Desmond Bane and De'Anthony Melton helping Morant carry the scoring load. Jackson admitted part of his struggles could be from adjusting to Bane, Melton and Steven Adams as starters.

Adams felt the same so he didn't think Jackson's shooting woes were a big deal.

"That just comes with the nature of it. Everyone's still trying to find their groove, I'm still trying to figure out different things, especially what the defense throws at us," Adams said. "It's not not just him, it's everyone. Nothing different, I don't think we have to focus on one particular person."

Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. dunks the ball against the Miami Heat during their game at the FedExForum on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021.

There's still been bright spots this season. Jackson's late 3-pointer sealed the Grizzlies' win over the Clippers and his defense at center against the Golden State Warriors was critical in the overtime win.

Monday added another positive sign with Jackson making his first three shots, all 3-pointers. But signs, glimpses and being the team's fourth-leading scorer aren't what was expected a player general manager Zach Kleiman called a franchise cornerstone.

Of course, should Jackson hit his stride as he did in January 2020, his slow start will be a footnote like slumps tend to be. Perhaps it's why Jackson trusted things would eventually work out.

For him, it's a good problems to have after playing just 11 games last season. Instead of overthinking, he's having fun even if he knows he needs to get right soon.

"It's as hard as you want it to be. If you just go out there and play free, trust your teammates and everything that's going on, it's not hard," Jackson said. "If you're tense all the time, you're not making the right read, it's going to be difficult.

"Trust me, I'm always going to be out flowing, I'm always going to out there playing ... either  way, get tickets to the next game."

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You can reach Evan Barnes on Twitter (@Evan_B) or by email at [email protected]

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