Grizz: Checking in on the Rabb/Jackson Frontcourt Duo

The Grizzlies have been out of the playoff race for a while now, but that doesn’t mean that you should discard your fandom. There is still plenty to pull for on a nightly basis. In addition to the “play to convey” mantra, two emerging frontcourt players have shown some intriguing potential and given fans a chance to look into the future. Here we will answer some big questions surrounding both Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ivan Rabb.

Is Jaren Jackson Jr. turning the corner in the absence of Marc Gasol?

From the start of the season, you likely heard Grizzlies fans and media clamouring “feed the ball to Jaren”, “let Jaren be the second option on offense”, “we need to focus on Jaren”. After Jaren’s incredible 36 point OT performance in late November against the Nets. I too was on that train. It was about that time that Marc Gasol started to slump and by default, the Grizzlies started to slump — going 7-26 over the next 33 games until deciding to sit Marc against the Timberwolves ahead of the trade deadline.

Now that Marc Gasol is now a member of the Toronto Raptors, our wish has been granted. Before the sitting of Marc Gasol, Jaren was averaging 13.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 25.8 minutes per game in 53 contests. He was taking 9.9 field goal attempts and earning a usage rate of 22.7% during that time. In the five games since Marc sat/was traded, Jaren has averaged 17 points, 4.6 rebounds, and a block in 29.9 minutes per game. His shot attempts have increased to 12.4 per game while his FG% has dropped to 46.8% on an increased usage rate of 24.9%.

The Grizzlies front office and coaching staff have made it clear that developing Jaren and putting the right cast around him is a top priority at this point. Per NBA.com, while Marc was still playing, Jaren received 24.5 passes per game. Since playing Gasol-less, Jackson is now receiving 28.4 passes per game. To put that in perspective, Marc was receiving 58.1 passes per game as a Grizzly. There is still a long way to go for Jaren to be the main focus on offense for the Grizzlies. However, foul trouble is still an issue for him. He would have played more in several games if it were not for quick early whistles against him. The “rookie” calls against him have decreased from an eye test perspective, but he needs to make an active effort to stay out of foul trouble if he wants to bump those minutes per game over 30.

It is certainly painful and kind of sad at times to see Mike Conley take a look at the high post and not have Big Spain there ready to receive a pass like old times. His immediate reaction is not usually to find Jaren to fill that void.

With Jaren, if he stays on the court and gets his reps in, then we could see that transformative “turning of the corner” this season — something that will go a long way towards a rebuild.

Can Ivan Rabb solidify his role for next season with a strong close to season?

The development of Ivan Rabb this season has been very fun to watch. Early in the season, he was only getting minutes against monster centers like Joel Embiid, who obviously made him look very small and unaccomplished.

Though his blanket stat line with the Grizzlies between last year and this year look very similar, Rabb has clearly made some large leaps in his game. He has three double-doubles since January 19th and has scored in double figures 6 times this season in 29 appearances (5 starts) while averaging only 11 minutes per game — 22.5 minutes played in his starts. Per 36 minutes, he is second on the team in rebounds among players with significant playing time — behind only Joakim Noah.

Also of note, according to Cleaning the Glass, Ivan Rabb has the highest points per 100 shot attempts on the team (127.3) and ranks in the 81st percentile in the league. For perspective, Mike Conley is in the 72nd percentile and Marc Gasol was in the 21st percentile (yikes).

Though he has shown an increased ability to score efficiently and pull down boards, Rabb is a hard guy to place in the lineup simply because he is a tweener. He is 6’10” but only weighs 220 pounds and struggles to play the center position on defense. Looking at things from a 2-man lineup perspective, Rabb has played his best alongside Noah (the pair is +19 net points in 59 minutes), while struggling to play alongside Jaren Jackson (-44 net points in 96 minutes).

The Grizzlies have a team option on Rabb this Summer and for the small amount they would have to pay him, he is definitely worth keeping on the roster. There are several things that I will be watching for in his gameplay for remainder of the season:

  1. Can he stretch his offense to the three point line. He shot 35.7% from three on 4 attempts per game in the G-League this season. Will he be able to bring that to the big leagues?
  2. How will he do defending larger players when forced to play the center position? Jackson is so foul prone he oftentimes struggles to stay in the game when matched up against true centers, forcing Rabb to cover that assignment, which may or may not be too much for him at this point.
  3. If the answer to either of these questions is positive, then I would hope to see Rabb in a Grizzlies jersey for several years to come. He probably isn’t a starter on a playoff roster, but with his skill set, any team would be happy to have him as the 1st or 2nd big off the bench.


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Zak (@BarnBurnerBro) is a native Memphian who covers the Memphis Grizzlies, Tigers, and St. Louis Cardinals for The Barn. He spends his free time exploring breweries, restaurants, and leading the Ivan Rabb stan club.


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