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2018-2019 Grizzlies Player Reviews: Jonas Valanciunas

The Lithuanian big man quickly became a fan favorite

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

For the rest of the month, GBB will be breaking down every Grizzlies player that logged double-digit game appearances for Memphis this season and what their games need moving forward. Welcome to the 2018-2019 Memphis Grizzlies Player Review series!

Jonas Valanciunas

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports


19 games played (17 starts), 27.7 mpg, 19.9 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 54.5% shooting, 27.8% from 3, 109 offensive rating, 105 defensive rating, 24.4 PER, .14 win shares per 48 minutes



NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Jonas Valanciunas, along with Delon Wright, C.J. Miles and a 2024 second round pick were traded to the Grizzlies in exchange for Marc Gasol on February 7th. It didn’t take long after that for Grizzlies fans to love Valanciunas.

It took Valanciunas a few games to get back into rhythm following the trade (and a hand injury) but he quickly became a 20 and 10 machine for the Grizzlies down low. Valanciunas ended the year with 16 double-doubles, with 11 of those coming in a Grizzlies uniform. Valanciunas benefited from an expanded role with the Grizzlies, scoring a career high (34 points) and grabbing a career high in rebounds in a single game (24).

With all due respect to Marc Gasol, Valanciunas brought a much more physical presence down low for the Grizzlies, bullying opposing big men on both the offensive and defensive end. Valanciunas gave Grizzlies guards a ton of space to work with by setting some tough screens on the defense.

Valanciunas isn’t what Gasol was defensively for the Grizzlies, but he still exceeded my expectations. He doesn’t quarterback the defense the way Gasol did and he can be attacked in the pick and roll, but Valanciunas’ length and physicality made things difficult for opponents down low. Valanciunas won’t ever be known as a defensive specialist, but he’s far from a liability on that end of the court.

The expanded role in Memphis likely takes some of the sting out of watching his former Raptor teammates in the playoffs while sitting on a courtside seat in Scotiabank Arena.

What is next?

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Jonas Valanciunas has a handful of options this coming summer. He has a player option that he has until June 13th to decide on, according to The Daily Memphian’s Chris Herrington. What Valanciunas does with that $17.6 million option will determine his plans, as well as the Grizzlies, this upcoming draft and free agency period.

Valanciunas could simply decline the player option, becoming an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team. If Valanciunas declines the option, he either wants the heck out of Memphis (unlikely considering all the positive things he’s said about Memphis) or wants a contract that gives him more long term financial stability (think 3-4 years for less annual money). Valanciunas could also exercise the player option, collecting the 17.6 million and delaying unrestricted free agency for a season. Coming off an ankle injury that ended his season prematurely, Valanciunas may want to cash in on his pay day while he can.

Another intriguing option for Valanciunas could be similar to what Zach Randolph did in the summer of 2014. That summer Z-Bo exercised his 16.5 million player option and then signed a 2-year, $20 million dollar extension with the Grizzlies. Valanciunas could do the same by exercising his option and collecting the money for next season, and then sign an extension (2-year, $28 million?) and securing long-term financial stability. In this scenario both sides win as Valanciunas secures a ton of money, and the Grizzlies get to keep Valanciunas in Memphis for a few more years at a good price.

Still, the Grizzlies couldn’t have been more impressed with Valanciunas’ play over his 19 game stint with the Grizzlies. Here’s to hoping Valanciunas sticks around for at the very least one more year.

Grade: A

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