Many say that international basketball takes physicality to another level and on the opening possession between Puerto Rico and USA, Jaren Jackson Jr. seemed to have taken well note of that on his first touch.

Jackson Jr. tried to set the tone with that power move and even if Team USA could not score for nearly three minutes, he was all over the court doing a little bit of everything on both ends of the floor. His screens gave his teammates driving lanes and open 3-pointers, while his relentless effort on defense certainly made Puerto Rico think twice about driving to the lane.

While Jackson Jr. scored eight of his 12 points in the opening quarter, his seven rebounds and two blocks were instrumental to the Americans’ 117-74 victory over Puerto Rico.

There’s a reason Jackson Jr. was viewed by his teammates as the best player in Team USA’s training camp for the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup and the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year may very well be the most important player on the team. In recent international competitions, the Americans’ biggest challenges have come from the paint, largely due to the big men leading the likes of France, Spain, and Australia. Some of these squads have paraded stars against Team USA, while others have taken advantage of their familiarity with international basketball and caused problems from the Americans by platoon.

However, a part of it has come from the USA not having a big man as talented as the likes of Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Also, the current reality for USA Basketball is that American players don’t view the FIBA World Cup on the same level as the Olympics, and given the latter’s historical significance, who can blame them?

While Jackson Jr. may not be at the level of Jokic, Embiid, and Antetokounmpo just yet, he does possess similar skills that have helped him inch closer. The 2023 NBA All-Star’s range extends to behind the 3-point line and he continues to put his body on the line despite his colorful injury history.

Bam Adebayo was certainly an athletic, two-way specimen, but we could go as far back as DeMarcus Cousins’ time on Team USA to find a moment when the Amercians boasted a big man who drew similarities to Jackson Jr.

As great as he is, Jackson Jr. may have to manage his fouls not only because he averaged 3.6 fouls per game in the NBA last season, but also because players only need five fouls to foul out in FIBA international play. Team USA head coach Steve Kerr and his staff wouldn’t want to curtail his aggression, but would prefer that the former Michigan State Spartan plays smarter and chooses his battles wisely.

Against Puerto Rico, Jackson Jr. had two fouls at halftime and committed his third foul with not even two minutes having gone by into the third quarter. Thankfully, the outcome of the game had no implications and Jackson Jr.’s teammates followed his lead and used a 20-0 run in the second half to stamp their class and put the game out of reach. Paolo Banchero, Bobby Portis, and Walker Kessler were able to strut their stuff, but at this point, none of them provide the two-way impact that Jackson Jr. brings to the table.

Moreover, Jackson Jr. will have to be cautious given his injury history. As Cade Cunningham put it, there’s no load management in FIBA competitions. Team USA can’t afford to have the 23-year old sit out too many games if they want to secure wins and the Naismith Trophy.

Jaren Jackson Jr. made quite the statement against Puerto Rico, showing everyone that Team USA won’t be pushed around easily in the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Current circumstances deem Jackson Jr. indispensable and if he breaks out in the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup then he too could become indispensable for the Americans when they defend their Olympic gold medal in Paris, France next year.