The Portland Trail Blazers need to sign a forward in free agency. They should take this opportunity to sign Josh Jackson of the Memphis Grizzlies.
As the Blazers review their 2019/20 season, their defense is the biggest place of concern. Ranking 27th as a team, they had issues with three-point defense, forcing turnovers, and allowing penetration.
The return of Jusuf Nurkic will make a big difference on that end, but the only other defensive pieces on guaranteed contracts are Gary Trent Jr. and Zach Collins. Collins is under an injury cloud, and Trent is just 21. The Blazers are in desperate need of back up at the three and four.
Josh Jackson, a free agent from the Memphis Grizzlies, could provide defensive punch off the bench. He is a six-foot-eight combo forward.
Jackson has had an up and down start to his fledgling NBA career, but as a free agent this season, he will have a chance to sign a new deal at just 23-years-old.
Jackson was drafted by the Phoenix Suns as the fourth pick in the 2017 NBA Draft., after being the top college recruit in 2016 and having a dominant next year at Kansas. Though he was a top-five pick, the regime that he was drafted into was an absolute mess. Jackson averaged decent numbers in his two years with the Suns, but they unceremoniously dumped him after his second season though.
Although he has had struggles off the court in his three years in the NBA, his time in a dysfunctional Suns team probably didn’t help. The Suns have been in the lottery since 2011, but only have Devin Booker and De’Andre Ayton left from all these picks, Jackson was better off elsewhere.
After they dumped him to the Grizzlies, he was relegated to their G-League team to work on his game. He had a very impressive 26 games where he showcased his full range of skills though.
He shot 38 percent from three on great volume of 6.5 attempts a game. Overall his stats were 20 points a game, with 7.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.6 blocks.
Though this is just the G-League, these numbers show his varied skill set and abilities on both sides of the ball.
Jackson is still raw, but imagine if the Blazers could bring him in. He is a plus NBA defender with a developing offensive game. Jackson can put the ball on the floor, he can attack the rim, and he can pass. He shoots the three at around league average in the NBA games he’s played, and he has a developing body at just 23.
Though it was just 355 minutes, Jackson showed significant improvement in the games he played for the Grizzlies in the 2019/20 season. He finished better at the rim, he took and made more threes, and he was a more efficient player overall.
On the other end, he is already a good NBA defender, and he has a six-foot-ten wingspan. In his G-League highlights, Jackson showed some great defensive instincts. He protected the rim in help positions, jumped passing lanes, and used his length and speed to disrupt the ball.
He is also a developing passer who could potentially initiate out of the pick and roll in the future.
Jackson is raw, but his defensive nous combined with an improving offensive game means he may be one of the best upside candidates in this free-agent class.
I would give Jackson a significant chunk of the Blazers midlevel exception. Though this may seem risky because of some of his off-court issues, the Blazers culture and player development will mean he has the best chance to reach his ceiling. He could play the backup three and four, being a defensive option who could either play in bench units or with the starters. If he was to develop more he could defend some of the better forwards in the league too.
This would be around $7 – $8 million a year, and dependent on their view of temperament and skill level, it could be anywhere up to four years.
Jackson has the physical tools and athleticism to be a plus wing in the NBA, and the Blazers could be the team to unlock him.