The 19-year-old rookie, the guy that was the fourth overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, showed out in his home debut as a Memphis Grizzly. He was fast and he was natural as he scored 24 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and blocked two shots.
It was but the beginning. In the weeks, months and years to come it is expected there will be many more nights like this for one Jaren Jackson Jr.
The 32-year-old journeyman, the pro’s pro who was never drafted and has signed nine 10-day contracts during his NBA career, and detoured to Italy for a season, also starred in his first game as a Grizzly at FedExForum: game-high 30 points on 10-off-11 shooting, 5-of-6 from long distance, a driving force in a 131-117 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
But here’s the difference: No one will be surprised if Garrett Temple’s 30 points wind up being his high for the season. Temple’s career high is 34 points, but his career scoring average before this season, over 439 NBA games, was 5.5 points.
He is in Memphis and starting at two guard for several reasons, but going for 30 on a nightly basis is not one of them.
“He has the ability to find whatever is necessary to help the team,” said Memphis coach J.B. Bickerstaff. “Whether it’s defense, taking the other team’s best perimeter player, or tonight he came out aggressive looking to score the ball, looking to set the tone for us.
“There might be nights where he scores four points or six points, but he shuts down the other team’s best offensive player.
“He understands it’s never about him.”
Steal of a deal
The Grizzlies acquired Temple this summer in a trade that sent Ben McLemore and Deyonta Davis to the Sacramento Kings. Memphis fans viewed the deal as a success just for its addition-by-subtraction value.
Temple saw an opportunity.
“When the trade happened, I was ecstatic,” he said. “You know people say, `I’m glad to be there,’ but I really am and I want to be here for the long haul. The way the fans love hard work and people that play the right way. Literally, the grit and grind mentality that was built here – I’ve lived by it my whole career, it’s been my journey.”
The Grizzlies saw Temple as a fit on multiple levels. It wouldn’t have always been so.
Temple played four years at LSU, where his father, Collis Temple Jr., was the first African-American to play basketball for the Tigers. Garrett Temple started for LSU’s 2006 Final Four team. But as a shooter, he needed a GPS. He shot just 37.1 percent from the floor and only 27.8 percent from 3-point range.
John Hollinger, the Grizzlies’ executive vice president of basketball operations, remembers Temple for what he could do.
“He was always a good athlete,” Hollinger said. “When they were playing against J.J. Redick’s Duke team in the Elite Eight, they put him on J.J. and he shut him down and that was a big reason they won that game and went to the Final Four.”
And by shut him down, he means that Temple, as a freshman, held Redick to 11 points on 3-of-18 shooting as LSU upset Duke 62-54.
“He developed these other elements in his game to fit in the modern NBA,” said Hollinger. “It’s a tribute to his work ethic to go from being a non-shooter at LSU to be this strong long-range threat. And he’s gotten more potent every year.”
Temple is now a respectable 36.1 percent shooter for his career from 3-point range. But when he was bouncing around during his 10-day contract phase, playing for five different NBA teams in two seasons, he was still a questionable shooter.
Fast-forward to two years ago: Temple hits 37.3 percent of his shots beyond the arc for Sacramento. Last season he upped his percentage to 39.2. He’s started this season by hitting 9-of-14 threes for 64.3 percent. That’s not sustainable, but there can be occasional nights where he becomes the go-to spot-up guy and helps the offensive wheel turn.
“He played within his role, took his shots,” center Marc Gasol said after Temple’s 30-point outburst. “Obviously, he got hot so we ran a couple of plays for him.
“Me and Mike (Conley) are going to create a lot of attention on the pick-and-roll, so guys are going to have to make a decision on how they play it. If they overload or come over too early, we’re unselfish by nature so we’re gonna find whoever is open.”
A coach’s best friend
Bickerstaff wasn’t imagining Temple shooting lights out in the first home game, but after the team’s season-opening 111-83 loss at Indiana when they were out-rebounded 57-28 and never played with any vigor, he knew he could count on the veteran for one thing: to raise the temperature.
So, the night before, Bickerstaff texted Temple with a request: set the example, show the young guys – and the whole team, really – what it is to fight. For everything.
“That’s part of the reason they brought me here, for my leadership and competitiveness, toughness,” Temple said. “I was actually real upset at myself for giving up that three to Taurean Prince” at the start of the game.
He made amends. The shooting was great, of course, but he played defense all night. His one block? It came with 4:33 left in the game and the Grizzlies leading by 23 points. He also had a pretty alley-oop to that lottery pick rookie for a dunk.
Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce was impressed, too.
“He’s the guy you want on your team,” Pierce said.
One reason is because scoring 30 points won’t poison Garrett Temple. He didn’t finally arrive in the NBA, sticking with Washington in the 2012-13 season, because he was confused about his role. He knows exactly who he is and how he fits. Which makes him just about perfect on a Grizzlies team where Conley and Gasol are the focal points of the offense and the cornerstone of the culture.
“I’ve been on so many different teams where I’ve had to adapt, so I’m use to adapting,” Temple said. “I feel like I play the right way and understand the game and Marc is a guy that loves playing with guys that know what cut to make and stuff like that. Mike, same way, he can play in any type of system.”
The man of nine 10-day contracts couldn’t lie, his 30-point performance was “sweet.”
His identity, however, remains unchanged.
“At the end of the day,” said one Garrett Bartholomew Temple “I’m still that glue guy.”