On Thursday’s deadline, the Memphis Grizzlies sent waves through the city. They flipped Shelvin Mack, the fanbase’s scapegoat for the Grizzlies’ struggles. They also turned JaMychal Green and Garrett Temple into Avery Bradley.
More importantly, the Grizzlies traded away a franchise icon — something that we all saw coming, but still couldn’t prepare for. Marc Gasol has been moved to the Toronto Raptors — where his workload will be less, and his title chances will grow.
For the Grizzlies? They received Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, CJ Miles, and a 2024 second round pick.
The reaction? Very meh. Many people felt like the Grizzlies could’ve gotten better return for Gasol, whether it was a B-level young prospect and/or a first-round pick.
Instead, they got a second-round pick that won’t convey for another 5 years, veteran shooter that hasn’t shot well this year, a young-ish promising point guard, and a rotational big man.
The latter, though, could be a valuable piece for the Memphis Grizzlies. He racks up double double’s. He’s battled-tested, boasting the career playoff averages of 12.7 points and 9.4 rebounds — more notably, averaging 14.5 points and 10.6 rebounds last postseason. He’s also still young enough where he could be a piece here for the next 4-5 years.
Jonas Valanciunas could be awesome here.
Once the trade went down, I reached out to Joel Stephens from SB Nation’s Raptors HQ to see what Toronto Raptors fans think of Valanciunas. So, he sent me some feedback from him and some other members of Raptors HQ.
Stephens called the newest Grizzly big man both the most effective player and the least used in potential production. He did point out how his dominant rebounding and intimidating size balances out his inability to guard driving perimeter players. In addition, he lauded his fit with Jaren Jackson Jr., and said he could thrive with an increased role.
Joshua Kern highlighted Valanciunas’ skill in the pick-and-roll — more so with his rolling abilities and his 15-foot jumper — and on the glass. He also reminded me how young he is (26 years old) and how there’s still plenty of room for growth.
Sean Woodley called Valanciunas “one of the very best match-up dependent players in the NBA.” He also praised his offensive gifts as a bruising post-up bucket-getter and a “uncover-able mountain of a roll man.” He compared the Jackson and Valanciunas duo to his pairing with Serge Ibaka, but called JJJ a “more spry” version of Ibaka. He also called Valanciunas one of the quirkiest, driest and funniest guys he’s been around, and that the only people that loved him more than the local media were his teammates. That’s super cool.
Given the responses from the staff over at Raptors HQ, the Grizzlies found themselves a good player both on and off the court.
Jonas Valanciunas doesn’t have the game that most analytic gurus geek over, as most people want to cast old-school, back-to-the-basket, bruising big men to the side.
Valanciunas is a rare breed that checks a lot of boxes in the analytics department. Though Basketball-Reference excludes him from these list due to his limited amount of games, he’s among the top 20 in so many analytical categories.
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Call me a nerd, no big deal, but this highlights Valanciunas’ productivity. Though he's played limited minutes this season (18.8 per game), he’s been an impactful player that attacks the glass and scores in the post with ruthless aggression — averaging 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds.
If the Grizzlies can tap into his production and unleash him for 25-30 minutes a night, they would become a better rebounding team, because of their new double-double machine.
Jonas Valanciunas isn’t a great defender, which has played a factor in his relegation to the bench. However, he makes up for it with his elite rebounding and his scoring ability. He’s not one of those unicorns that’ll shoot 4-5 triples a game, as he’s an old-school big man that generates a lot of his buckets in the pick-and-roll and in the post, as he.
His rolling ability will be welcomed in Memphis, especially by Mike Conley. The lone member of the Core 4 should be glad to have a veteran that’s experienced and skillful in the pick-and-roll, as Conley made a living off it with Gasol and Zach Randolph.
In addition, Valanciunas’ physicality, size, and footwork help get position and find scoring opportunities out of the post — something that’s becoming uncommon in today’s pace-and-space NBA.
Aside from his scoring, the Grizzlies will benefit from his elite rebounding. The Grizzlies are second-to-last in rebounds per game, so here’s hoping that Valanciunas could help them not get killed on the glass.
There are so many directions the Jonas Valanciunas era could go.
It may start with him on the bench, as JB Bickerstaff has stated that Ivan Rabb has earned his spot in the starting rotation. That leaves the Grizzlies’ newest big man in the same role he had in Toronto as a bucket-getting bruiser off the bench. The role should suit him fine, but I have more questions than answers about it. With Jaren and Rabb starting, does the big-man rotation shrink to 3 guys with those two serving as the 4 alongside Valanciunas? I’m asking, because playing him off the bench next to Joakim gives them no spacing. In addition, if Valanciunas is killing it off the bench — which could very well happen — does he replace Rabb in the starting lineup?
Ideally, I’d like Valanciunas starting at the 5 alongside Jackson, because it keeps their 19-year big man away from truly taking an early toll as the 5. It’s also something I don’t think Ivan Rabb is necessarily ready for yet. In addition, with him being only 26 years old, he could certainly be the big man paired with the franchise’s cornerstone leading into his prime.
Finally, no one knows if he has a legitimate future with this team, or if he’s an asset. He has a $17M player option this summer, and if he thinks he could cash in on the open market, he may opt out — even though I wouldn’t rule out him re-signing for a tad less money, but more years. In addition, if he opts in, do the Grizzlies try to flip him for more assets?
Valanciunas’ role with the Memphis Grizzlies is uncertain, but there’s hope that he could be a great building block next to Jaren Jackson Jr. Though he doesn’t fit Jackson’s timeline — a gripe from most people in local media — he’s still a young big man that has contributed in big playoff games. If you want to give him a ceiling, he could be another Nikola Vucevic, an old-school center that bloomed a tad late and became an All-Star in his late-20’s.
Jonas Valanciunas should get the chance to prove himself as the talented, productive big man that many in Toronto speak highly of. It could form a beautiful marriage between him and the Memphis Grizzlies, and a damn good frontcourt duo between him and Jackson.
Stats found on basketball-reference, and videos on NBA.com.