If you have been paying attention this season, you have surely heard about the jaw-dropping numbers being put up on a nightly basis by unicorns like Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren.

If you’re really tapped in, you’ve probably also caught wind of the mind-numbing freakish athleticism Ausar Thompson showcased before having to miss the rest of the season.

But recently, a new rookie has been getting some buzz. GG Jackson – the 45th overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft – has scored his age (19) or more in six of his last seven games.

That’s pretty impressive, especially for such a young player. But at the end of the day, someone has to score those points. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are positively contributing to winning.

So, what is the deal with the new kid on the block? Did the Memphis Grizzlies uncover a hidden gem in the second round? Or is Jackson just providing empty calories on a lottery-bound team?

Top Rookie Scorers Chart 2

The Good

Last time, we did a mini-biomechanics lesson on gait (a person’s manner of walking) using Bilal Coulibaly as our subject of analysis. In keeping with that emphasis, Jackson navigates a basketball court like no player I’ve ever seen before.

This isn’t intended as a compliment or an insult. It’s merely an observation. Jackson’s movement patterns are unorthodox. For our anime people out there, he looks like Rock Lee when he’s under the influence of the Drunken Fist.

On second thought, the unpredictability of his actions may be a notch on his belt. When he drives, defenders have a hard time keeping him contained because they’ve never seen anything like him.

He maintains solid efficiency (45th percentile in true shooting on drives, per NBA.com) on above average volume (59th percentile in drives per 36 minutes) despite his inexperience and the Grizzlies’ shortcomings in terms of spacing (bad spacing can make it harder to finish around the rim). This suggests that his unconventional style is both funky and functional.

Another thing we’ve talked about with Thompson and Coulibaly is whether or not they can ever develop into passable shooters/spacers. That isn’t a concern for Jackson.

GG Jackson shooting zones
(Through March 21)

Jackson meets all three of the factors for being a good perimeter spacer. He’s efficient (54th percentile in 3-point percentage). He can handle a high volume (89th percentile in 3-point attempts per 100 possessions). And he’s got a speedy release (see clip below).

(Sidebar: As a general rule, when it comes to spacing, shooting volume and release speed are more important than a player’s actual 3-point percentage.)

Jackson may be unorthodox, but he can run. And he often leverages this speed in transition situations, where he can create easy scoring chances for himself simply by outpacing his defenders. Remember, basketball isn’t futbol. There are no offsides calls.

Jackson’s combination of unusual gait, straight-line speed, and outside shooting make him a dynamic play finisher on offense. Meanwhile, his defense is headlined by his length and lateral agility.

Jackson uses the former (length) to provide plus rim protection from the forward spot. As it stands, his block rate (2.0%) is in the 63rd percentile in the entire league (despite not being a center). And he combines the former with the latter attribute (lateral agility) to provide meaningful on-ball repetitions.

In three of his last four games (against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Sacramento Kings, and Golden State Warriors), he’s been tasked with defending the likes of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, De’Aaron Fox and Stephen Curry.

The Bad

Words are powerful. With that sentiment in mind, notice how I called Jackson a dynamic “play finisher.” That was a calculated description. Jackson has the makings of a great play finisher, but his prospects as a play creator aren’t nearly as promising.

As is the case with most players who struggle to create for themselves, most of Jackson’s issues stem from his subpar handle. We said that his movements are different. Well, so is the way the ball moves with him, and that isn’t always for the best.

Jackson’s handle leaves the basketball vulnerable (as seen in the clips above). It also makes it harder for him to prolong his dribble, operate in a high volume of pick-and-rolls, and flow into pull-up jumpers.

But most importantly, it affects his vision as a passer (19th percentile in assist percentage). When your handle is shaky, it makes it so much harder to identify passing windows because you are more focused on not losing control of the ball than you are on surveying the landscape of the court.

However, I don’t think Jackson’s passing can be completely chalked up to his shortcomings as a ball handler. Jackson also struggles to map the court in his mind.

Great passers often have strong steal rates because the same mental skills that make them good at identifying open teammates also make them good at anticipating passes their opponent might try to make.

Jackson has all the physical tools of a great defensive playmaker (6-foot-9 with a 7-0 wingspan), yet his steal rate is only in the 15th percentile in the NBA. That’s a telltale sign that his feel for the rhythm of the game isn’t quite there yet.

The Bottom Line

An empty-calorie player is someone who puts up gaudy numbers on a bad team but then fails to fit in on good teams with high-level talent. And in a game in which the ultimate goal is to create a good team and compete for championships, those kinds of players aren’t very useful.

Since the Grizzlies have had such bad injury luck this year, we don’t have too much of a sample for how Jackson looks next to their heavy hitters. With that said, the early returns are promising.

According to PBP Stats, when Jackson shares the court with Desmond Bane (only 69 minutes so far), his true shooting percentage improves by 17%, and his usage rate goes down by 4.8%. That means he demands fewer touches and is more efficient with the ones he gets. That’s exactly the type of statistical footprint you want to see from a play finisher (and the exact opposite of what you’d see from an empty-calorie player).

Given his athleticism and how well-developed his off-ball scoring already is, I’m actually more confident that Jackson develops into a strong role player than I am about lottery guys like Coulibaly and Thompson. However, his limitations in ball handling, court awareness, and general feel make it difficult for me to ever envision a world where he’s an All-Star.

But that’s okay because with Bane, Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., the Grizzlies already have three All-Star caliber players. They just need strong two-way wings/forwards to flank them. And if Jackson keeps improving at his current rate, that is exactly what he will be.

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