The Memphis Grizzlies are a team on the come-up, playing an exciting high octane brand of basketball. Yet, there are times when sides will look to utilize bully-boy tactics within the paint, punishing the Grizzlies young roster physically. Jonas Valanciunas negates these tactics perfectly, with his size and dominance on the boards, he is the perfect foil for physical games.
Standing at 7’0′ and weighing 265lbs, Jonas’ slow, plodding style doesn’t seem to fit the Grizzlies break-neck brand of basketball. There are times when Jonas’ presence on the floor can be detrimental to the team’s schematic agenda, yet, his presence is a necessary evil. Jaren Jackson Jr and Brandon Clarke are still in their formative NBA years, honing their skills on the fly.
Jonas Valanciunas is a throw-back big, one who thrives in the paint with his back to the basket, yet, his continued improvements shooting the ball are increasing his longevity within the league. During his final full season with the Toronto Raptors, Jonas flashed his potential as a stretch five, as he shot 41 percent from deep on 30-of-73 shooting according to Cleaning The Glass.
The ability to stretch the floor at the five position is invaluable in the modern NBA, having a seven-footer on your roster who can do so is a luxury unafforded to most NBA teams. Taylor Jenkins is aware of this, one would assume, and pursued the development of Jonas shooting from deep this season. According to Basketball-Reference, Jonas attempted 1.3 attempts from deep per game this season, which is his highest volume of attempts in his career, he hit on 36.7 percent of them.
Being able to get buckets from deep draws the defense away from the paint as they worry about the threat of a pick-and-pop, which can lead to some hard rolls to the basket from Jonas Valanciunas out of pick-and-roll scenarios.
For all his growth as an outside scorer, Jonas is not at the level of fellow floor stretching bigs such as Brook Lopez, as such, his biggest strengths still lie on the glass and in the paint. This season, 51 percent of Jonas’ attempts came at the rim, while another 35 percent were between four feet and the free-throw line according to cleaning the glass, which further proves Jonas’ preference is to mix-it-up down low.
Synergy provides further proof of Jonas’ addiction for post-play, having posted up on 23.4 percent of his total possessions and getting a bucket on 51.3 percent of his attempts, which ranks him in the 70th percentile. Yes, Jonas is a valuable post player, yes, he can get you buckets when the game slows down in the half-court, however, feeding the ball into the post is not conducive to the system Jenkins is implementing in Memphis. So, where does Jonas’ skill-set fit into the team’s style of play?
Jonas is best suited to the current Grizzlies roster as a roll-man and vertical spacer, along with a substantial presence on the glass. Earlier, it was mentioned that Jonas possesses the ability to draw defenses out of the paint when threatening the pick-and-pop. Rolling after the defense pushes up provides the spacing necessary for him to push hard to the rim, either to produce space for the ball-handler or to catch the lob-pass.
Playing Jonas in this manner capitalizes on his strengths down-low while he continues to build a rhythm from beyond the arc. Long term, Jaren Jackson Jr projects as the teams starting five, and you should expect his usage and minutes to trend upwards continually. Yet, having a player such as Jonas, who is a veteran in the league and capable of reinventing his game over time, holds value.
So, the question becomes, how do you maximize this value without hurting the system Jenkins is trying to implement? The answer is to play Jonas in a situational role. Getting killed on the boards? Jonas. Struggling to finish around the rim? Jonas. There are opportunities for Jonas to continue to grow his outside game while still producing in the role he has been accustomed to throughout his career thus far.
At only 28 years-old, Jonas still has time to increase his efficiency on a higher number of attempts from deep, while slowly assuming the bench role as Jackson and Clarke continue to blossom. Jonas may not fit the stylistic trend the team is now heading in. However, Jonas is a necessary foil for when the game slows down, providing the younger players with a veteran presence who’s capable of dominating for stretches of a game.
He will have earned every cent of his current $45 million deal if he can continue to grow, play his role, and have a hand in developing the team’s young big-men.