Jonas Valanciunas Is the Hero Memphis Needs Right Now

Jonas Valanciunas is part of a new look Grizzlies squad. Acquired in the Marc Gasol trade, the Valanciunas acquisition signaled the end of an era in the city of Memphis. The hero the dedicated Grit n’ Grind fans deserve is the Batman and Robin tandem of Gasol and Mike Conley magically being 10 years younger and lifting the city on a run to the NBA Finals. That’s the dark knight the fans have earned. That’s the hero they deserve.

Alas, Valanciunas is the hero they need right now. While he can never be a beloved son of Memphis the way Gasol is, Valanciunas brings a skillset at a younger age that simply has more value to this franchise in the current moment. His brute force play style fits right in with the Grit n’ Grind culture.

The soon to be 27 year old has a player option for next season priced at $17.6 million that seems likely to be exercised. The fresh face causes reasonable excitement for what could be next season.


Valanciunas, by our grading system, is in the midst of a solid season.

As visually demonstrated, Valanciunas is posting an A- or better in 6 of the 11 categories we grade, along with a B+ in a 7th. In limited minutes this season (820) these grades are largely in line with his career grades.

There are a few categories with sizable discrepancies, but this could be due to the small sample size of minutes played this season. His off-ball movement grade is down while his playmaking and perimeter defense are up.

Specifically pertaining to playmaking, in a tiny sample of 256 minutes as a Grizzly, Valanciunas is posting by far his best career assist rate. His 18% rate in Memphis obliterates his 5% career mark. Furthermore, there is some hope this higher rate is somewhat sustainable. Valanciunas typically resided right around a 5% assist rate each season during the first five years of his career. He then ticked up to 7.5%, before spiking up to 11.5% this season, which incorporates an 8.5% while still in Toronto.

While maintaining an 18% assist rate appears overly ambitious, perhaps flirting with 9-10% is realistic moving forward.

Finishing in the Post

Two of the most import areas of impact Valanciunas brings to the Grizzlies is finishing and post play. For a team starved for offense, this skillset is particularly valuable. The finishing comes in a few varieties as well. Valanciunas has the brute force to physically move his defender backwards as his positions himself closer to the basket. Additionally, Valanciunas is ambidextrous with his hook shot.

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His physical presence is so massive he can snare offensive rebounds and then absorb contact with other mammoth human beings and still finish on his way to the line.

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Valanciunas also demonstrates basketball intelligence moving without the ball and keeping proper spacing in tight corners. This is evidence by his immediate chemistry with Avery Bradley.

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Since relocating, Valanciunas is hitting 83.3% of his shots within three feet of the basket for his new employer. On the year, he is at 73.4% shooting at the rim. This Anthony Davis level finishing around the basket is the largest driver of his 59.7% eFG% and absurd 63.9% true shooting percentage marks on the season.


The physical presence coupled with the outstanding defense makes Valanciunas a natural fit in the city of Memphis. For his career he is posting an A- grade in interior defense, and is at an A on the current season.

Again baring in mind the tiny sample in a Grizzlies uniform, Valanciunas has become a bit of a block monster since the trade. As a resident of Memphis, Valanciunas is posting a 5.2% block rate, which would be tied for 7th best in the league, ironically with rookie unicorn Jaren Jackson Jr.

Would you like to see defense with no quit? Grizzlies fans would.

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What JV brings to a basketball court is a seamless fit with the identity of Memphis, and his relative youth in relation to Gasol’s gives the future a brighter outlook.

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