Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, NBA, Sacramento Kings

Three young players who should play more down the stretch

The trade deadline, for many NBA teams, represents a pivot point at which to declare their intentions for the rest of the season. Those with hopes of chasing a playoff spot or contending for a championship can use it as a means of fortifying their roster before the home stretch. Less urgent franchises can unload players for assets and shift toward developing its youth. For young players on sinking teams, the back half of the season serves as a chance to find more time in the rotation, grow into larger roles or simply prove themselves in a cutthroat league. Among many candidates set to take advantage of those opportunities, these three stand out:

Jaren Jackson Jr.

In trading two rotation big men at the deadline — including two-way cornerstone Marc Gasol — Memphis declared its intention to run more through Jackson, a natural transition point between the Grit-and-Grind era and whatever version of the Grizzlies succeeds it. Through the first 58 games of his career, Jackson has done nearly everything that could have been expected of him — scoring at an efficient rate, showcasing defensive versatility and filling in gaps as necessary.

Gasol’s absence gives Jackson and the Grizzlies room to expand his abilities by placing the ball in his hands, involving him more directly in the team’s offense, and more rigorously testing his mettle as a defender. He won’t step into Gasol’s place and serve the exact functions the 11-year veteran did, but Memphis should allow him to stretch his offensive game as much as is healthy over the final six weeks of the season.

Jackson has been one of the stingiest rim protectors in the league but defends fewer than five shots per game within six feet of the basket. He has all the makings of a five-position defensive anchor, yet the Grizzlies struggled mightily on both ends of the floor when he played without Gasol. That is to be expected of a rookie who, despite unusual polish and instincts for his age, is still figuring out the NBA. Jackson will have the opportunity to prove himself as he becomes a more central pillar of a top-10 defense.

Though Jonas Valanciunas’ place in the Grizzlies’ plans may be temporary, Jackson’s versatility and JaMychal Green’s departure allows Memphis to play its two young big men together, if only to make room for Valanciunas in the rotation. Still, expect to see Jackson spend more time at center, where he’ll usher in a long-awaited new era.

Harry Giles

For much of the season, Giles was caught between Sacramento’s competing endeavors of earning a playoff bid this year and the developing its young talent for the long term — expendable in the former pursuit yet vital to the latter. Now, however, he belongs in the Kings’ rotation, regardless of how they proceed for the rest of the season. Giles has established a steadier role as he continues to feel out the NBA game, even if opponents badly outscore the Kings with him on the floor.

In lacking a single elite skill to this point in his career, Giles’ versatility pops on both ends. He can play out of any spot inside the 3-point arc and fills a wide variety of functions within the Kings’ up-tempo offense, acting as a roll man in pick-and-rolls or simply stationing himself along the baseline, where he can finish around the rim. He facilitates out of the high post with surprising aptitude and slips sly big-to-big passes through tight spaces. That, along with his intellect, effort and versatility on defense, allows him to play either frontcourt spot with virtually equal proficiency. Occasionally that effort borders on recklessness and part of what has limited Giles’ minutes is his own lack of defensive discipline; no one in the league commits more fouls per 100 possessions.

Giles has taken only five 3-pointers all season, and the combined shooting of he and Marvin Bagley will determine how viable that duo can be moving forward. Sacramento has fallen apart in the 322 minutes that pair have played together, but that combination offers an intriguing mix of skill and athleticism that could make for a dynamic, modernized frontcourt in the future. Should the team hang around in the playoff race until the final days of the season, Dave Joerger might not be able to afford to keep Giles on the court for long. But the Kings finally have a pair of big men worth investing in, and Giles has earned all the developmental minutes he can get.

Dorian Finney-Smith

The Mavericks, while raising their ceiling in the long-term, effectively used the trade deadline to punt on making the playoffs this season. With Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews out of the way, Finney-Smith should be a leading candidate to fill a significant void on the wing. He’s started every game since Matthews was dealt, providing vital energy and defensive support next to Luka Dončić and filling whichever duties are required of him on a given night.

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He’s just good enough as a shooter to punish his man for leaving him wide-open and savvy about cutting through defenses that lose track of him. Finney-Smith doesn’t need the ball to be effective, and no competent offense would ask him to act as a playmaker (his usage and assist rates are some of the lowest among rotation players this season). But he can finish possessions when asked and stay out of the way the rest of the time. He’s at his best when catching and shooting, moving the ball from one station to the next or taking one or two decisive dribbles toward the rim. That makes him an easy fit with more ball-dominant wings like Dončić (or even Tim Hardaway Jr., for now). He’s canning a career-high 34.7 percent of his 3-pointers and, at 6-foot-8, can defend any position the Mavs would prefer Dončić didn’t.

How Finney-Smith figures into Dallas’ long-term plans remains to be seen. He’s 25 — a few years ahead of the Dončić-Porzingis timeline — but would be exactly the sort of wing the Mavericks need to place around their two stars, provided he hits shots at a passable rate.

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