Jonas Valanciunas and his impact on the Memphis Grizzlies

On Grizzlies Reddit, a Raptors fan made the crossover and requested an update on Jonas Valanciunas and asked how he has been for the Grizzlies this year.

As we enjoy/struggle through the dead period that is known as the All-Star break, I felt like it was a good time to take a dive into the numbers to quantify the impact that the Grizzlies starting center makes on this team.

From a counting perspective, he is averaging 14.9 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, which are both above his career averages. It is not insignificant that he is accomplishing this in just 26 minutes per game as a starter. Coach Taylor Jenkins has played a variety of lineups this year and this has allowed Valanciunas to keep his legs fresh, which has aided his production when on the court.

What is most impressive about Valanciunas’ scoring is his efficiency, which is second on the team behind rookie Brandon Clarke. JV is earning 126 points per 100 shot attempts on a 61% effective field goal percentage. He stretches the floor just enough — 37% from three on 1.4 attempts — that opposing bigs have to follow him out of the paint to contest the threat of a shot from deep. Most of his scoring damage is done in the first quarter where he has made 16 of his 27 three pointers this season and 30 percent of his total field goals.

The largest iceberg of his impact is visible when looking at the Grizzlies rebounding. Per Cleaning the Glass, he is in the 79th percentile for bigs in offensive rebounding. If you assume those ahead of him are starters, then that puts him top 6 in the league.

On defense he really cleans up and snags 25.8% of available rebounds off opponents’ missed shots, which is elite enough to land him in the 93rd percentile for big men. While Memphis as a team is below par in rebounding percentage compared to the rest of the league, Valanciunas is doing everything that he can do corral boards in the paint. Without him, Memphis would no doubt be missing out on put-back points and surrender more second chance opportunities to their opponents.

The next best rebounder on the team is Brandon Clarke, who pulls in just under 6 boards per game, but whose rebounding percentages are significantly lower than Valanciunas.

According to Cleaning the Glass, when Valanciunas is on the court, the Grizzlies are 1.6 points better than their opponents. That is third among the starters behind Ja Morant (+3.7) and Dillon Brooks (+2.6). Though JV is not known for his defense, that is the area that the Grizzlies excel in when he is on the court.

Valanciunas plays a role in the Memphis defense that allows Jaren Jackson to play away from other team’s big men and help protect the rim from the weak side. When Jackson is given the freedom to range and isn’t anchored to the paint, he is able to play more creatively on defense.

Memphis allows 4.5 points per 100 possessions less when Jonas is playing, but also scores 2.9 points less.

As I eluded to before, both offensive and defensive rebounding numbers are in elite territory for the Grizzlies when the Lithuanian is roaming the paint.

As I wrote about earlier in the year, one of the weaknesses of the Grizzlies is that when Jonas is playing, some of the other bigs are hampered a little. Both Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke are better on offense without Valanciunas on the court. The likely reason for this is the decrease in usage rate that both see when playing alongside JV.

However, Memphis is one of the best at scoring in the paint and Valanciunas plays a large part in this accomplishment. His efficient scoring early in games helps set the tone and creates outside shooting opportunities for the rest of the team as the game moves along.

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