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Jaren Jackson Jr. has legit chance to go down as Tom Izzo’s best ever

Jaren Jackson Jr. is going to go down as one of the best.



Jaren Jackson
© Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

After winning the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, Jaren Jackson Jr. seems to be on an elite trajectory.

NBA Playoffs are in full swing and there are several Michigan State basketball alums competing. One of those former Spartans is Jaren Jackson Jr., the 2022-23 NBA Defensive Player of the Year.

The Memphis Grizzlies, who are matched up with Max Christie, LeBron, and the rest of the Lakers, have two former Spartans. Xavier Tillman and JJJ are big contributors for the Grizzlies and the latter is the team’s only other All-Star next to Ja Morant. Jackson Jr, at only 23, made his first All-Star game in 2023 and I’m here to tell you that it won’t be his last.

In fact, I’m predicting more for Jackson’s career than just that.

Draymond Green has been one of the best defenders in the NBA since entering the league, along with four rings, and along with 4 All-Star appearances of his own, has solidified his spot as Izzo’s best and most successful NBA player so far. You could argue for Zach Randolph, Shannon Brown, or Jason Richardson, who all had nice careers, although it’s hard to compete with Draymond’s accolades. But could Jaren Jackson Jr. dethrone them all for Izzo’s best NBA player when his career is all said and done? I think so.

It’s hard to give Izzo a lot of credit for JJJ’s early NBA success because he’s the second-highest-rated recruit in the era of recruiting rankings, and he only spent a season in East Lansing. But I think we got a very good look at the future NBA Defensive Player of the Year in the green and white. Jaren broke MSU’s single-season blocks record in his lone year — by 29. And, as a true freshman, averaged nearly 11 points and 6.0 rebounds on 51 percent shooting and almost 40 percent 3-point shooting in a lineup with Cassius Winston, Miles Bridges, and Nick Ward. 

To clarify, it’s hard to overstate how great Jaren Jackson Jr. has been so far in his NBA career, specifically this season. In a league where a shooting big thrives and it’s nearly impossible to play defense, with players shot making abilities, JJJ is a prototype for an elite player.

He is best known as a prominent NBA defender. The 2023 NBA Defensive Player of the Year isn’t a bad title, especially after coming off a first-team All-Defense season in 2022. These accolades are due to the two straight seasons as the NBA’s blocks leader, and a defensive impact that the Grizzlies lean on him for. From, JJJ held opponents to 51.2 percent shooting inside six feet and 49.5 percent inside 10 feet. He forced his opponents to shoot 13 and 11 percent worse than what they averaged.

Jackson is the Grizzlies’ biggest contributor to their third-place defensive rating. Jaren’s blocks numbers at 3.0 a game and 189 in total, were so outrageous, that it had NBA fans wondering if his stats were being inflated. News flash: they weren’t. He’s just that good.

Although Jaren is in year five of his NBA career, he’s only 23. And in year five, he cracked the top 50 in scoring averaging almost 18.6 points a game on 50 percent shooting which ranks him 36th. Furthermore, he ranks third in the NBA for 3-point percentage among all power forwards or centers.

As a rebounder, Jackson Jr.’s numbers are growing by the season. His offensive “unicorn” ability is what sets him apart from a guy like Draymond, or the other NBA DPOY candidates Evan Mobley and Brook Lopez. Eleventh in rebounding among players at his position and top 40 among all players isn’t a bad place to be either. I always knew Jaren was special, but I’m not sure anyone saw this kind of career coming. 

I don’t think this is Jaren Jackson’s last season winning an NBA DPOY award. I also think he has even more in front of him to achieve. Could an MVP race even be in his future? That’s definitely up for debate, and so is his legacy for the rest of his career, but what’s sure right now is that the former Michigan State big man is on pace to be one of Izzo’s best NBA players of all time. I think he will end up being the best.

Once again, it’s hard to neglect the trajectory of a 23-year-old who is putting up the numbers JJJ is putting up. That and a light NBA DPOY trophy.