Jaren Jackson Jr.

Southwest Notes: Mirotic, Gasol, Spurs, Jackson Jr.

Pelicans forward Nikola Mirotic has regained his rhythm with the team, returning to the lineup this past week after missing 12 games with an ankle injury. He scored 26 combined points in his first two games back, draining a handful of threes as an off-ball threat.

“He was trying to get himself going early and I just kind of wanted to tell him to let it come to him,” Anthony Davis said of Mirotic following Wednesday’s win over Cleveland, according to Scott Kushner of The Advocate. “I think it was big for him to see his shot go in and from there he started making a bunch of shots.”

Mirotic wound up scoring 17 points against the Cavs, then scored nine points with a positive net rating against the Timberwolves on Saturday. He was acquired by the Pelicans in a trade last year, with the team bringing him on as a catch-and-shoot threat.

“AD said, ‘Take the first one. Don’t hesitate,’ ” Mirotic said. “So I said, ‘He’s right. If you have an open shot, take the open shot.’ Just play simple. That’s what I did. A couple of possessions after that, they went to double against AD and he passed it to me wide open, and I shot that corner in the second quarter. That was all. Playing simple.” 

The Pelicans are striving to make the postseason for the third time since drafting Davis. The team is reportedly active on the trade market, with the NBA’s annual deadline falling on February 7 this season.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Grizzlies center Marc Gasol has denied that there’s any rift between him and teammate Joakim Noah, David Cobb of the Memphis Commercial Appeal writes. A video of Gasol brushing by Noah after the team’s win over the Spurs circulated on social media, with Gasol calling the insinuation “f——” unbelievable.” Noah also played with Marc’s brother, Pau Gasol, for two seasons in Chicago.
  • Patty Mills expects an emotional night when longtime Spurs guard Tony Parker returns to San Antonio on Monday, tweets Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News. Parker signed a free-agent contract with the Hornets last summer, leaving the Spurs after 17 seasons. “I think he is going to get a very, very warm welcome,” Mills said. “The city loves him. They always have, and vice versa. Looking forward to a pretty cool reception from the fans.”
  • Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff explains his development plan for Jaren Jackson Jr., as relayed by Cobb in a story for the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “There’s moments where it may look like we’re being tough on him,” Bickerstaff said. “But we have expectations of him being a franchise player, and your franchise player has to hold himself to those standards. And you only get one chance to coach him as a rookie.” Jackson Jr., the No. 4 pick in 2018, has averaged 13.4 points in 25.5 minutes per game this season, starting in 40 of 42 contests.

Southwest Notes: J. Green, J. Jackson, Bickerstaff, Payton

Trading JaMychal Green is the easiest way to open more playing time for rookie Jaren Jackson Jr., writes David Cobb of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. Jackson has played well in his first season, but his fourth-quarter minutes have been limited. Green, whose broken jaw early in the season opened the way for Jackson to enter the starting lineup, has quietly accepted a reserve role since returning and is among the most respected veterans in the Grizzlies‘ locker room.

However, Green has an expiring $7.87MM contract and doesn’t seem likely to stay in Memphis as a free agent, Cobb states. With Jackson clearly the team’s power forward of the future, the Grizzlies could pick up at least a draft pick in exchange for Green before the February 7 trade deadline.

Cobb offers a few other suggestions for expanding Jackson’s minutes if they decide to keep Green, including cutting back on playing time for Joakim Noah, who has a negative plus-minus rating in seven of his last eight games, and giving more rest to Marc Gasol, who is averaging 34.6 minutes per night.

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • The GrizzliesJ.B. Bickerstaff came to Houston as a head coach tonight for the first time since serving as the Rockets‘ interim coach in 2015/16, notes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Bickerstaff led the team to a 37-34 record that season, but wasn’t retained. “I was here for five years, was a part of some really good teams, got to work with a great coach and friend in Kevin McHale, learned from him every single day, was thrown in the fire a little bit at the interim,” Bickerstaff said. “There’s no experience like the experience of being in that seat. My time here, though it ended kind of bumpy, was great for my career, great for me as a coach in learning. And I had some really good times with the people here as well.”
  • The Pelicans had Elfrid Payton in their starting lineup tonight for the first time in more than six weeks. The free agent addition broke his left pinky finger last month and hasn’t played since November 16. Coach Alvin Gentry plans to limit his minutes until he gets back into game shape, tweets Jim Eichenhofer of Pelicans.com.
  • Jordan Greer of The Sporting News looks at six potential targets for the Rockets in their pursuit of wing depth.

Southwest Notes: Davis, Paul, Parsons, Brooks, Smith

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry believes LeBron James‘ comment that it would be “amazing” to play with Anthony Davis constitutes tampering, William Guillory of The Athletic tweets. An NBA statement on Friday indicated the James’ statement did not rise to the level of tampering. Gentry vehemently disagreed. “It’s tampering,” Gentry said. “Should we have AD say, ‘Why don’t we trade for LeBron?'” Gentry went on further to say, “I thought if you talked about a player under contract, it’s tampering. That’s just me. I’ve only been in the league for 31 years, so what would I know?”

We have more from around the Southwest Division:

  • Rockets All-Star guard Chris Paul has a Grade 2 hamstring strain and will be reevaluated in two weeks, according to a team press release. Paul suffered the injury against Miami on Thursday.
  • The Grizzlies are hopeful that forwards Chandler Parsons and Dillon Brooks will return to action soon, David Cobb of the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports. Parsons hasn’t played since the third game this season due to knee and back soreness but has ramped up his workouts lately. Brooks, who has not played since November 10th due to a Grade II MCL sprain, should return before the New Year. They could boost an offense that has reached 100 points just once the past 10 games, Cobb adds.
  • On that same topic, Michael Wallace of the team’s website notes that rookie forward Jaren Jackson Jr. and veteran combo guard Shelvin Mack have slumped recently. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff believes confidence is a factor for the team in general. “We can come up with schemes and tricks and all that, but on the offensive end of the floor, we’ve got to take the shots that are available to us,” he said. “We’ve got to believe the shots are going in. Guys are working their tails off, taking their reps. We’ve got to get them those shots, and when they get them, they’ve got to take them and knock them down.”
  • Mavericks guard Dennis Smith Jr. probably won’t play again until after Christmas, Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News reports.  Smith has missed six of the last seven games due to a wrist injury. He’s unlikely to return until after the team’s road trip, which concludes Sunday.  Their next home game is Wednesday against the Pelicans.
  • Davis’ decision whether to sign a Designated Veteran extension with the Pelicans looms as one of this summer’s biggest stories, as Danny Leroux of The Athletic notes. Davis has no financial incentive to wait until potential free agency the following summer, so if he doesn’t sign it, that probably means he wants out of New Orleans, as Leroux details.

Grizzlies Owner Talks JJJ, Gasol, Bickerstaff, More

Due to an unusual agreement with a pair of minority stakeholders in the Grizzlies, Robert Pera‘s position as the franchise’s controlling owner was tenuous up until April of this year. At that point, Pera reached a deal to buy out those minority owners – Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus – to retain control of the team and to cement his status as the Grizzlies’ owner going forward.

As a result of his newly stable position, Pera became more involved with the team during the 2018 offseason, as he tells Geoff Calkins of The Daily Memphian in a wide-ranging Q&A. According to Pera, he was personally involved in “pretty much every single one” of Memphis’ offseason transactions, which included signing Kyle Anderson and drafting Jaren Jackson Jr.

Pera weighed in on the decision to draft Jackson and several other subjects, including whether Memphis fans should be worried about the threat of relocation. Let’s dive in and round up some of the highlights from the Grizzlies owner…

On drafting Jaren Jackson Jr.:

“One of the biggest reasons we drafted Jaren and also Jevon (Carter) is we did a really in-depth character background and he comes from very good upbringing. His mother is head of the Players Association of the WNBA. When you have players that have the physical attributes, a feel for the game, and they have solid character and solid upbringing, those are all characteristics of players who are some of the most special players in the league, like a Steph Curry.

On whether he’s confident Marc Gasol, who can reach free agency in 2019, will remain with the Grizzlies long-term:

“I can’t read his mind, but if it were up to me I certainly want him to retire as a Grizzly.”

On giving interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff the permanent coaching job instead of conducting a full-fledged search in the spring:

“One of the things I preached to the front office, I wanted continuity. I always say to the front office, if you want to build a high-performance team, the guys in the locker room can’t see a new face every other week. Right? You need to build a continuity and a familiarity where people can depend on each other, they know who’s in the room and they know they are going to war with the same people every night. A lot of the players knew J.B., so there’s continuity. But on top of that, we have this selfless style of basketball and culture and he’s a very selfless guy. He has the team’s best interest in mind. He fits perfectly with the team.”

On his ongoing confidence in GM Chris Wallace:

“I obviously had my hands in a lot of the moves this offseason, but the way I look at it is, collectively you make some bad decisions, and we made some good decisions, but we don’t like to point at certain people. It’s a collective effort. Chris and the front office, I think this offseason we really surpassed a lot of expectations.”

On whether Memphis basketball fans should be at all worried about him moving the franchise somewhere like Seattle:

“I don’t want any part in relocation. I have my own career, I’m trying to focus on it, I want to keep distractions and chaos to the minimum. I’m committed to Memphis for the long term. And in the world today, it’s so virtual. I have 15 research and development offices around the world, I probably only spend a third of my time in the U.S. When I’m in the U.S., I’m in a bunch of different cities. My employees are in a bunch of different time zones. I keep track of everything virtually. To me it doesn’t matter where the team is located. Memphis is as convenient a place as any. So, yeah, there should be no concern.”

Southwest Notes: Chriss, Okafor, Grizzlies, Mavs

The Rockets hope Marquese Chriss will develop into the type of backup center they thought they acquired when they signed Brandan Wright late last season, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Wright got hurt quickly and only played one game for Houston, but the team sees Chriss as the same style of player, a mobile big man who can attack the rim on pick-and-rolls.

Chriss was acquired from the Suns at the end of August in the trade that sent Ryan Anderson to Phoenix. The former eighth overall pick had a solid debut for the Rockets on Tuesday with 11 points and four rebounds and welcomes a more defined role.

“The difference is they know what they want me to do,” Chriss said of the Rockets. “They’re asking me to do a specific job. I’m trying to do it to the best of my ability. There really is no question about what they want my role to be. They made it straightforward to me when I first got traded here. I embraced it, and I’m working to do it as best as I can. Being on the Suns, it was kind of touch and go what we were capable of doing or I was able to show.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Jahlil Okafor‘s ankle injury won’t prevent him from making the Pelicans‘ roster, tweets Scott Kushner of The Advocate. Okafor is expected to miss a week or two after spraining his right ankle late in Sunday’s game, but coach Alvin Gentry said that won’t affect his decision on Okafor’s status.
  • The Grizzlies should have plenty of minutes for both rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. and JaMychal Green, the returning starter at power forward, writes Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian. Jackson attracted more attention at media day, but Green is entering the final year of his contract at nearly $7.7MM and has incentive to put up big numbers heading into free agency.
  • Mavericks‘ forward Ding Yanyuhang hasn’t practiced yet because of knee tendinitis, but may be able to make his preseason debut in his home nation of China, tweets Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Coach Rick Carlisle said Ding has been ruled out for the team’s game in Shanghai, but he may practice and play in Shenzhen. Carlisle also said the next update on Dirk Nowitzki‘s condition will come October 12 (Twitter link).

Southwest Notes: Grizzlies, Nowitzki, Gentile

The Grizzlies will hold their annual media day on Monday and Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian is looking at six key questions that loom over the team’s upcoming campaign. Among them are how much Mike Conley and Marc Gasol can still contribute, what rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. can provide and how the rotation will play out in the backcourt and on the wing.

After a disappointing, injury-riddled 2017/18 season that saw the Grizzlies win just 22 games, the team added Jackson, Kyle Anderson and Garrett Temple (among others) in the offseason in hopes of returning to the playoffs. All of Memphis’ offseason additions point to a return to “grit and grind,” the style of play that brought the Grizzlies a lot of success over the past decade, including four playoff series victories.

Conley will play a deciding role in the team’s success. Back in 2016/17, he was a borderline All-Star averaging 20.5 points and 6.3 assists per game while knocking down over 40 percent of his 3-pointers. He’s on the wrong side of 30 and coming off a significant foot injury, but if Conley can produce at that level this season the Grizzlies will be competitive.

The same can also be said for Gasol, the 33-year-old center who looked disengaged throughout most of last season as the team shifted its focus on developing young players and maximizing its draft pick. With the addition of several veterans in the offseason and the return of his point guard, Gasol should bounce back and continue to be a force in the middle for the Grizzlies.

Despite all of their additions and a clean bill of health, it will be very tough for the Grizzlies to make it back to the postseason given the improvements that several teams in the Western Conference made, including Denver, Dallas, and the Lakers.

There’s more from the Southwest division:

  • While Mavericks big man Dirk Nowitzki has made no clear indications that this upcoming season will be his last, Rick Carlisle told Dwain Price of Mavs.com (Twitter link) that he believes there’s a real chance Nowitzki will call it quits after this campaign. If Nowitzki does indeed retire after the 2018/19 season, he will join another future Hall-of-Famer in Dwyane Wade, who announced that this upcoming season will be his last.
  • Speaking of Nowitzki, Carlisle also revealed that the 40-year-old will likely come off the bench, according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN (Twitter link). This would pave the way for Carlisle to start Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Luka Doncic, Harrison Barnes and DeAndre Jordan, and would allow Nowitzki to be an offensive focal point for the Mavericks‘ bench units.
  • With the Rockets starting training camp on Tuesday, the team released the roster of players participating in camp this season. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter) pointed out that Alessandro Gentile is not on that roster, despite previous expectations and wishes for him to join the team and try to make the jump to the NBA this season. Gentile, who was drafted in the second round of the 2014 draft, has been recovering from hand surgery and will likely have to wait another year in his attempt to make it to the NBA.

Grizzlies In Limbo Between Contention And Rebuild

The Grizzlies are an interesting franchise to keep an eye on moving forward this season and beyond, as they are somewhat in a state of limbo – not quite rebuilding but not close to being a serious contender either – writes Mark Giannotto of The Commercial Appeal.

To be sure, Memphis had a relatively nice offseason. They drafted a potential future franchise cornerstone in Jaren Jackson, they signed Kyle Anderson to the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception, and traded for veteran guard Garrett Temple. By midseason, all three could possibly join Mike Conley and Marc Gasol in the Grizzlies’ starting lineup.

Yet, as Conley says, because of the new pieces learning to fit in and difficulty of the Western Conference, it may turn out to be an “awkward” year in Memphis.

“This season, expectations are still try to be that playoff team, that team that comes out and really makes it tough on everybody. But it is an awkward year with so many teams getting so much better [with] different acquisitions they made in the offseason.”

In addition to adding Jackson, Anderson, and Temple, the Grizzlies also traded away relative disappointments Ben McLemore, Deyonta Davis and Jarell Martin, while adding rookie Jevon Carter, a potential throwback-type player to the Grit ‘N’ Grind era.

Ultimately, it’s probably still going to be difficult for Memphis to make the playoffs in the West, even assuming a 22-win improvement from last year that would see Memphis literally double the amount of victories from a season ago. As such, a rebuild is probably closer to fruition than title contention.

As Giannotto notes, only seven players (not including Gasol’s player option) are signed beyond this season, and only rookie Dillon Brooks had a meaningful role on last year’s team. Accordingly, one would think that most teams would begin rebuilding this season. Only time will tell if the Grizzlies choosing to do otherwise was the right call.

Grizzlies Sign Jaren Jackson To Rookie Contract

The Grizzlies became the latest team to formally lock up their first-round pick to his rookie scale contract on Sunday, announcing in a press release that they’ve signed Jaren Jackson Jr.

Jackson, the fourth overall pick in the 2018 draft, elected to go pro after spending just one season at Michigan State. As a freshman, the 6’11” forward/center averaged 10.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and an impressive 3.0 BPG in just 21.8 minutes per contest. He also showed an ability to make outside shots, with a .396 3PT%.

As the No. 4 overall pick, Jackson figures to earn a first-year salary of approximately $5.9MM. That’s the maximum allowable 120% of the rookie scale amount for the fourth overall pick. His deal will feature two guaranteed years, with team options on the third and fourth seasons.

Three of this year’s top-five picks have now officially signed their rookie scale contracts, with Jackson joining Marvin Bagley III (Kings) and Trae Young (Hawks).

Draft Updates: Porter, Jackson, Knicks, Doncic

There are conflicting views among lottery teams over the medical report on Michael Porter Jr., tweets ESPN’s Jeff Goodman. Doctors from some teams advised staying away from Porter entirely, but medical staffs from other organizations don’t believe the risk is all that high. Concerns about the long-term condition of Porter’s back have caused ESPN’s Jonathan Givony to drop him to 12th in his latest mock draft.

Porter’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, provided newer and more detailed medical information to lottery teams today, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). Bartelstein hopes the updated info will help ease concerns about Porter’s condition.

There are a few more draft notes to pass along:

  • Jaren Jackson Jr. has softened his stance on going to Memphis now that it appears the Grizzlies might select him at No. 4, relays Wojnarowski. (Twitter link). Jackson, who refused to work out for Memphis, has given team officials all the personal information they asked for. Wojnarowski adds that coach J.B. Bickerstaff helped to sell Jackson on his future with the organization.
  • The Knicks have narrowed their focus to Kevin Knox and Miles Bridges if they hang on to their No. 9 pick, reports TNT’s David Aldridge (Twitter link). It’s possible that Aldridge meant to type Mikal Bridges, who has been projected as a possible lottery pick.
  • Luka Doncic confirmed on ESPN’s draft telecast that he plans to play in the NBA next season. That had been widely anticipated, but Doncic’s comments removed any doubt before the draft began.
  • With the draft about to begin, the Jazz are still open to moving up, down or keeping their first-round pick, tweets Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune. Utah holds selections No. 21 and 52.

Draft Rumors: Top 6, Bulls, Kings, Sixers, Suns

The Mavericks, Bulls, Cavaliers, and Clippers are among the teams still exploring the possibility of moving up in the draft lottery, league sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). Wojnarowski adds that the Sixers‘ pick (No. 10) is in play for teams targeting Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Wojnarowski currently believes that Deandre Ayton (Suns), Marvin Bagley III (Kings), Luka Doncic (Hawks), Jaren Jackson Jr., Mohamed Bamba (Mavericks), and Trae Young (Magic) are the most likely selections (Twitter link). Interestingly, the Grizzlies are the only team Wojnarowski doesn’t mention in his rundown, suggesting the No. 4 pick is still the most likely selection at the top to be traded.

If the top six plays out like that and Chicago doesn’t trade up, the Bulls would likely opt for Wendell Carter Jr. over Michael Porter Jr., tweets K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune.

Here are several more rumors worth passing along as draft night nears…

  • Kings beat reporter James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area (Twitter link) is also getting the vibe out of Sacramento that Marvin Bagley III is the club’s likely choice at No. 2.
  • Sam Amick of USA Today (Twitter link) is hearing some buzz linking Zhaire Smith to the Sixers at No. 10.
  • Although the Heat are exploring opportunities to trade into the first round of tonight’s draft, it’s hard to imagine the club completing a deal for a first-round pick unless it can shed a veteran salary, tweets Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald.
  • The Suns, who hold Miami’s pick at No. 16, are eyeing Donte DiVincenzo, Zhaire Smith, Jalen Brunson, Aaron Holiday, Lonnie Walker, Troy Brown, Elie Okobo, and Landry Shamet at that spot, per John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 (Twitter link).
  • NBA teams have been impressed with Michael Porter Jr. in interviews, but the club that picks him will have to be “ultra-cautious” with his health, according to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, who suggests (via Twitter) that sitting Porter for a good chunk of 2018/19 is a real possibility.