Is Jaren Jackson Jr a Viable Front-Court Option for the Miami Heat?

There’s going to come a period of time where free agency options will become the main discussion involving the Miami Heat. Who will they retain? Will they get a deal done with Kyle Lowry? Are there cheaper options that intrigue them?

But for now, let’s take a look at one trade option that I believe can “heat” up as time goes on: Jaren Jackson Jr.

Now, the first thing that comes to mind is his level of attainability. There were some recent reports about the Memphis front office possibly being worried about his long term sustainability, which makes you think something could occur after only playing 11 games this past season.

Another way of looking at it is the common theme across the league. The team has their young star that they will continue to build around, and decisions must be made about the second or third options. It feels like Jackson Jr is rapidly approaching that category.

The other side of things is if Miami will have enough to entice the Grizzlies to get him, but it just seems like the Heat have to at least make that call.

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Either way, let’s take a look at his fit in a Miami front-court alongside Bam Adebayo, as the search for a fellow big man continues…

Defensive Versatilities

When talking about the defensive side of the ball, most of the possible options haven’t fit the description of Jackson Jr. True bigs are looked at as interior forces for Adebayo to play the perimeter, while guys like John Collins are weak side helpers who allow Adebayo to control the action.

The difference with Jackson Jr is that he can also control the action, and he does it pretty consistently on smaller guys out on the perimeter.

As we know, the Miami Heat’s defensive scheme includes a ton of switching, ending in one of two ways: a swarming Adebayo forcing a miss or a turnover, or the guard feeding the ball inside to the big with a mismatch. The reason for that is due to Miami’s versatile front-court mate always being a guy that can play the small forward position.

The 6 foot 11 Jackson Jr wouldn’t fit that description, as his combination of length and quickness gives Adebayo a ton of freedom on the floor, and a natural sigh of relief when he’s off the floor. A continued issue has been the lack of an Adebayo filler when he needs a breather, and Jackson Jr can easily be shifted into different spots.

In the clip above, that defensive flexibility is perfectly shown. As Norman Powell slips the screen, he switches onto him immediately on the wing, and forces a tough shot which leads to a block. The Grizzlies get the ball in the open floor for an easy bucket.

You might think, well, that’s only one stop, what is his level of consistency on that end? Yet, the answer follows that first clip above.

Less than a minute later, he finds himself pressuring the ball as Jusuf Nurkic probes, flowing into a switch on the DHO to Damian Lillard. As Dillon Brooks leaps, the Blazers have clear numbers as soon as Lillard makes that pass inside, but the thing is that Jackson Jr doesn’t allow it to get to that point.

Once again, length dominates as he tips the pass, leading to yet another transition bucket. Now, take a second to imagine that next to one of the league’s best big man perimeter defenders, in Adebayo. Yeah, it just seems like Miami has to at least make that call.

Inside Positioning

When discussing possible Heat acquisitions in the front-court, it’s always important to examine the spots on the floor that are taken up compared to Adebayo. He usually stations himself at the elbow or free throw line extended, but as he mentioned on Thursday afternoon, a three-point line expansion could be coming soon, which changes a lot of this.

But as for the mid-range spacing, Jackson Jr has not shown much of a scoring ability in that area. He can shoot from deep, which I’ll touch on later, and he can score at the rim.

Scoring at the rim can be a cliche phrase at times due to the fact that 7 footers with athleticism should be able to finish at the basket, but it’s more than that with him. It’s more about the process before his scoring down low.

Take a look through the clips above, which gives an idea of the different ways he positions himself to start a possession. In the first two plays, it’s about his confidence and set-up with his back to the basket. After receiving the ball late on the short roll, he gets to his comfort spot and rises up for the bucket with his off-hand.

Next, we see some more of that interior positioning, after he gets the ball in the deep post, turning into a short fade-away jumper for a bucket. The Heat haven’t done much of that offensively, but that’s mostly due to them not having anybody who plays out of the post or with their back to the basket.

The last two clips displayed his finishing as a roller, which is a crucial element for Miami. I touched on this in my Collins piece, since a strong roller frees Adebayo’s offensive game up so much more.

There’s nothing too complicated in the clips above as a roller in the PnR, but that’s what the Heat need: simplicity. Obviously both of those plays were set up by an elite point guard, which opens up another conversation regarding Miami.

If they were to make a move like this one, the only way for it to be effective is to find a trusted point guard at the head of the snake. Yes, Adebayo and Jimmy Butler are solid play-makers, but that can’t be their primary role if this team wants to contend.

Offensive Operation

After hitting on some of his favorite spots on the floor to operate as a scorer, let’s expand on that notion. For starters, take a look at the first clip above. Does it look familiar?

Yeah, I’m sure it does after many observers began to think of the dribble hand-off as a negative thing whenever Bam Adebayo overly examined the offense in that fashion. But this ability that Jackson Jr has grown to become very comfortable with, looks to be pretty enticing from a Heat building perspective.

The current talks have been finding the addition of a point guard to blend Adebayo into different spots, but a front-court pairing that is more than capable of running these sets effectively opens things up for him as well.

While we’re diving into his fits in many of the Heat’s base sets, take a look at the second clip to finish off this topic. A simple PnR getting blitzed is a very common thing when Duncan Robinson has the ball in his hands on the wing, which is exactly what occurs above.

In a Heat setting, it usually leaves Robinson with the pocket pass to get Adebayo flowing downhill on a 4 on 3. Similarly, the quick dish to the wing following the blitz eliminates the wing defender from dropping on the rolling Jackson Jr. Instead of the usual 4 on 3 that we see on a regular basis, it creates a 3 on 2, as he takes advantage of the smaller defender for a tough finish at the basket.

These small things that are seen from players in needed Heat positions won’t look as small if they were inserted into the lineup. Players like Jackson Jr allow some openings in certain spots of the floor, which just don’t happen when using a slow big or a small four next to Adebayo.

Shooting = Diversity

The outside shooting is what entices most people when watching him play on a regular basis. He struggled a bit this past season after returning from injury, but it doesn’t feel like that’ll be much of a worry moving forward.

Looking at the year prior, he shot pretty close to 40% from beyond the arc on 6.5 attempts a game. Clearly, that’s an intriguing tool for the Heat to utilize.

As I mentioned in this headliner, his shooting translates to diversity. Memphis was able to display that in their base double drag sets, that Miami also loves to use, using their two bigs as the screeners into the pop and roll. Why is that a big deal? Well, it opens up the offense.

When Miami runs this action, Robinson is usually the guy who pops out and Adebayo is the one that is rolling. Putting the key three-point shooter in that set leads to the weak-side help being fully invested in tagging the roller or coming for the double.

But if that’s Adebayo and Jackson Jr in that action, that weak-side help isn’t coming as the defender would be glued to the key shooter in the opposite corner. This may not seem like an essential thing to highlight, but it absolutely is.

We can talk about him knocking down spot-up threes all day, which can space the floor and create good things, but Coach Spo giving them different half-court looks is the real selling point. If I’m Miami, there’s no way I’m allowing my offense to get shut down the way it did in the previous post-season, and well, the reason it got to that point was the lack of diversity.

Going Fully Athletic

There’s a specific point in this piece that I’ve touched on a few times about Jackson’s build being a mixture of a small ball four’s skill-set and a true big’s length. Much like Adebayo, they’re going to have to find a way to allow those type of guys to utilize it.


I’ve mentioned getting Adebayo downhill with back-screens and individual sets a bunch of times, but they would basically be forced to use it when adding a player like Jackson Jr. Sometimes it feels like the thing that must be said to them is: go be the athletically gifted players that you are.

You see a couple of flashes within their game, where you say to yourself, why don’t I see this more? In the clip above, Jackson Jr slowly turns until he’s facing the basket, where he looks at the defense and just goes. It leads to a blow-by as the help comes over, but it’s too late as he goes up for the athletic finish.

At times, it feels like the Heat lack a ton of secondary attackers, which they do, but other times it seems like driving only occurs instinctively. Could Jackson Jr change that completely? I’m not sure, but I do know that he would be able to shift a lot of the other stuff discussed in a positive direction.

The more of these pieces that I do, the more I realize something about the Heat’s upcoming decisions: front-court fillers may need to go out the door, and fully committing to a long term guy to stick next to Adebayo seems to be the way to go about it.

 

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