Team USA #2: Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jaren Jackson Jr. made his first All-Star team and won Defensive Player of the Year all before he turned 24, but he still has a ways to go before he can call himself a true NBA star, and playing for Team USA can help get him there. Last season, for example, Jackson led the league in fouls, which is probably the biggest flaw in his game. It is hard to be the best defender in the league if you’re not out there to defend. Team USA will offer him a great opportunity to work on that.
First of all, FIBA rules only allow five personal fouls per game, so he will have less margin for error. Secondly, the team’s front court is thin, and there is a notable drop-off between him and the backup bigs. He cannot afford to foul out and will thus be pushed to watch his movements and hands-on defense.
At the same time, he will also be guarding big physical centers, which we barely ever see from him on the Grizzlies. In the NBA, Jackson has always been utilized as more of a roamer in the Grizzlies’ two-big lineups, but on Team USA, he will not have to leave his comfort zone. Ideally, he will adapt quickly to guarding physical post players and carry that over to the NBA.
So, Team USA will be a great chance for Jackson to expand the part of his game that he is already best at while also refining some other things. Last season, Jackson shot 35.5 percent from three, which is good for a big man. The Grizzlies were not a good three-point shooting team, however, and could use improvements from pretty much everyone on their roster.
Jackson now has the opportunity to work on that on the international stage. Since FIBA rules do not have a defensive three-second count, teams need floor-stretching bigs who can lure rim protectors out of the paint. This means that Jackson will get plenty of opportunities to work on his shot.
These are two aspects of the game Jackson is already good at, but playing for Team USA will also push him to add to his skillset. Rebounding should be the main thing he can take away from his run with the national team. Considering his size, wingspan, and athleticism, Jackson should be a much better rebounder than he is, and on Team USA, he will have no choice but to figure out how to do that.
There will be no Steven Adams who bullies other bigs and grabs every shot that happens to miss the basket. As the starting center, Jackson will be expected to act as the primary rebounder and ideally initiate fast breaks off of defensive rebounds. This could work wonders for Team USA with players like Anthony Edwards on the court, but it is also a skill that Jackson would be able to carry over to the Grizzlies. Especially when Morant is available, the Grizzlies’ best strategy is to get out and run.
All in all, Team USA could help Jackson expand his skill set, get him in top shape, and prime him for another leap on both ends of the floor. That leap would allow him to assert himself as a star on the Grizzlies while Morant is suspended, cement his status as one of the best young bigs in the game, and truly rise to the All-Star level instead of just bordering on it.