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Ja Morant remains out for the Memphis Grizzlies as he’s currently in health and safety protocols. But the Grizzlies have surprisingly been one of the hottest teams in the NBA in his absence. Jaren Jackson Jr. is a big reason why.

Memphis has won seven of its last eight games, surging to fourth in the Western Conference. From a historic blowout of the Oklahoma City Thunder to spoiling LeBron James’ 100th career triple-double, the Grizzlies continuously look like a team on the rise. No player better epitomizes the team’s overall growth than Jackson, who is validating the Grizzlies’ $105 million investment in him.

The Grizzlies boldly signed Jaren Jackson Jr. to a four-year, $105 extension this offseason

In terms of potential and upside, Jaren Jackson Jr.’s four-year, $105 million extension made perfect sense. He’s a gifted stretch-4 who can get to his spots offensively and protect the rim on the other end.

However, durability questions made the extension appear far riskier.

Jackson played in 58 games during his rookie season, missing the last couple of months with a thigh injury. He rebounded in 2019-20, but suffered a meniscus tear in the Orlando “bubble,” a setback that cost him nearly the entirety of the 2020-21 campaign.

Alas, the Grizzlies essentially gambled on the upside and production Jackson gave them when he was healthy. As the past couple of weeks have shown, Memphis chose wisely in rolling the dice.

Jackson is playing excellent basketball and helping the Grizzlies win without Ja Morant

The Grizzlies easily could have folded when Ja Morant first went out of the rotation with an ankle injury. Memphis’ star point guard excelled early while exuding plenty of confidence on and off the floor.

But Memphis picked up their collective efforts in Morant’s absence. That’s especially true of Jackson.

Unlike Ja, JJJ’s season got off to a pretty atrocious start. He averaged just 12.7 points in six October games, posting a -21 net rating. However, Jackson started to build momentum toward the end of November, and he’s sustained that momentum in December.

Jackson is averaging 20.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, and 1.1 steals in his past 10 games. He’s shooting better than 50% from the field and nearly 38% from beyond the arc on 6.6 attempts per contest. Per, his impact on both ends resulted in a stellar 15.7 net rating during that span.

The former Michigan State star’s ability to shoot the ball and score off the dribble allows head coach Taylor Jenkins to go with numerous rotations and give opposing teams different looks. He’s also giving the Grizzlies a necessary presence in the paint, given Memphis ranks 21st in defensive rating and doesn’t defend the 3-ball too well.

Jackson’s continued rise, along with that of Desmond Bane, is helping to bring the Grizzlies immediate success. His progression also begs the question: How good can the Grizzlies be when Morant returns?

The Grizzlies are legitimately good

Memphis Grizzlies big man Jaren Jackson Jr. warms up before a game against the Dallas Mavericks
Jaren Jackson Jr. before a game against the Dallas Mavericks on December 08, 2021 | Justin Ford/Getty Images

Teams in the Western Conference should be very wary of the Grizzlies. Their young foundation is coming together in a hurry, which is a scary prospect for the rest of the league.

Memphis ranks sixth in offensive rating despite ranking closer to the middle of the NBA in 3-point shooting. Rather than trying to be like early MVP favorite Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, the Grizzlies get out and run in transition and benefit from multiple guys who can create off the dribble and make plays in the restricted area. They also rank fifth in assists and third in offensive rebounding.

The team defense leaves something to be desired. Still, Memphis shares the ball and clears the boards. The Grizzlies should only continue to thrive when Morant returns, especially with Jaren Jackson Jr. playing well and validating his $105 million extension.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.