“Why can’t we be different?”
That question by Grizzlies Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff signaled a back-to-the future answer as Memphis’ 2018 NBA Draft selections – Jaren Jackson and Jevon Carter – were introduced at FedExForum on Friday afternoon.
With much of the NBA out to copy the Golden State Warrior’s three-ball, small-ball style of play, the Grizzlies are sounding their intention to dust off a style of play branded “Grit & Grind.” It’s what the team rode to a seven-year playoff run.
“We want to flashback a little bit to the past,” Bickerstaff said. “This team has great tradition and history, and these two guys fit that mold. There is the grit, there is the grind. That’s who we are and that’s who we will be moving forward.”
In Jackson and with the fourth pick, the Grizzlies got the third youngest player in the entire NBA draft. Jackson is still only 18 years old and was known for his intimidating precedence as a shot-blocker in his one year at Michigan State.
If the first pick wasn’t enough of a sign that the Grizzlies wanted to get back to Grit & Grind, the second pick (the 32nd overall) pretty much confirmed it. Carter, a point guard, averaged over three steals per game at West Virginia on the way to winning the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year .
Jackson, who will have the opportunity to learn from Grizzlies All-Star center Marc Gasol (the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year), wasted no time contacting the veteran, reaching out to Gasol via text Thursday night.
“He’s in Spain right now probably living his best life out there,” Jackson said. “He’s a defensive guru. I’m looking forward to learning more from him.”
After Carter was drafted, he quickly heard from Memphis’ star point guard, Mike Conley, who told him that they would get in the gym and work “ASAP.”
“For me, Memphis was at the top of my radar,” Carter said. “ I feel like it just couldn’t be a more perfect fit for me.”
At Michigan State, Jackson became the second player in Big Ten history to win Big Ten Freshman and Defensive Player of the Year. His 106 blocks was a team single-season record, all while logging just under 22 minutes a game.
“He knows how to work and defend,” Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace said. “There’s just so much there to like and upside is just screaming at you in neon lights.”
Although there was much speculation about the Grizzlies interest in Michael Porter Jr., Trae Young and Luka Doncic, Jackson was the man that Wallace had keyed on the entire time.
“The top-end of the draft was pretty well stated beforehand,” said Wallace. “You know you’re getting one of these players, but we got the guy we wanted. Our preference was to get Jaren.”
Carter, 22, won the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year two straight seasons. Wallace and the Grizzlies had kept their eyes on him throughout his career, especially during West Virginia’s Sweet 16 run this past season.
“Watching him over his career at West Virginia it was obvious he was the premier defensive guard in the country,” Wallace said.
Clearly standouts on the defensive end of the court, Jackson and Carter have other parts to their games that largely have been overlooked, Wallace said.
“While both players are known as premier defenders, we feel their offensive capabilities and potential are underrated,” he said.
Jackson entered the draft as one of the best shooting big men, hitting on over 39 percent of his shots from three-point range and nearly 80 percent from the free-throw line.
Carter averaged 17-plus points and six assists per game while shooting over 39 percent from three-point range and 85 percent on free throws.
So while the Grit & Grind era accented by the play of Tony Allen and Zach Randolph is over, the next version now is in the cooker, with Jackson and Carter poised to add their seasoning.
(Damichael Cole is a rising senior at UT-Knoxville and an MPLOY Youth Summer Experience intern at The New Tri-State Defender.)