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Jonas Valanciunas: On fishing and finishing

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And how the Grizz should be glad they reeled him in.

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NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Toronto Raptors Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

It is hard to know whether Jonas Valanciunas had greater success catching fish or rebounds this season for the Memphis Grizzlies, but it is evident that he had a noteworthy season. In this unconventional year, he averaged a double-double with 14.9 points and 11.3 rebounds. Valanciunas shot 58.5% from the field and 35.2% from the three-point line. For the season, he earned 39 double-doubles and one triple-double from the Bubble.

NBA fans learned that Valanciunas was spending his time off the court with a fishing pole, which often takes a similar patience, focus and determination. While his contributions on the court may go unnoticed until you glance at the box score, he is consistently doing all that a franchise can ask its big man - characterized not by flash, but consistency. A Grizzlies fan never has to wonder whether Valanciunas is giving his best effort, and without his stabilizing presence, the Grizzlies would not have had the freedom to experiment elsewhere in the roster.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

At His Best.

Interestingly, Valanciunas’ best statistical three-game stretch happened to also be losses for the Memphis Grizzlies. On November 27, Valanciunas scored 30 points and snagged 16 rebounds against the Clippers. The next game on November 29, Memphis lost to the Jazz despite Valanciunas’ 22 points and 17 rebounds. Finally, on December 4, Valanciunas scored 32 points and grabbed 13 rebounds ultimately resulting in a loss to Chicago.

There were additional games throughout the year when Valanciunas shined. For example, when the Grizzlies played the Golden State Warriors in mid-January, Valanciunas hung up 31 points and earned 19 rebounds. Grizzly Bear Blues’ own Jack Noonan took note of that after the Warriors game —

There is a niche role that Valanciunas has in today’s NBA. He is one of the old school bruiser types who gets their money playing tough-nosed basketball earning every rebound he collects. This style contrasts perfectly in this Grizzlies’ rotation.

Perhaps the marquee moment — especially given it is still fresh on our memory and took place on a national stage — was earning a triple-double against the Milwaukee Bucks to help the Grizzlies earn a spot in the play-in tournament. Valanciunas exudes effort and determination and provides consistency for the Grizzlies who need that back bone to center their young talent.

At His Worst.

Following Valanciunas’ best stretch of basketball was a five-game lull. In the five games after playing Chicago on December 4, Valanciunas averaged 8.6 points and 8.6 rebounds. While that is not nothing, it was an uncharacteristically quiet stretch for the Grizzlies’ center. Notwithstanding Valanciunas’ slow-down, the Grizzlies won 3 out of 5 of those games.

It is clear that the Grizzlies do not live-or-die by an off-night from Valanciunas in all match-ups, but his effectiveness in the paint and ability to make shots from beyond the arc commands the attention from the defense. When his effectiveness has been successfully stalled by a defense, there is that much more pressure on the other players to create plays.

In the Bubble, Jonas Valanciunas scored zero points against the Toronto Raptors despite playing 27-minutes against his former squad, resulting in a Grizzlies loss. The Raptors played impressively in that game, especially on the defensive end, proving to be chaotic with a combined 31 steals between the teams. The style of game did not lend itself for him to thrive, and frankly, a player is not going to “have it” every game. Perhaps the Raptors knew how to eliminate Valanciunas as a factor by playing disruptively on both ends of the floor.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Toronto Raptors Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

What Happens Next?

The Grizzlies will have to regroup in the offseason to figure out how to fill gaps and create depth in the roster. The Grizzlies are not playing “catch-and-release” with Valanciunas. He has proven to be an asset worth building around. He is talented enough to command attention from a defense and help space the floor, and the Grizzlies would be wise to continue to find players who can capitalize on that spacing and make shots from the outside.

If Valanciunas can continue to be a rebounding machine and a force in the paint, then his value will continue to be self-evident. He played 70 games and earned a double-double in 39 of them. Grizzlies fans should be incredibly encouraged by his performance this year, and there is no reason to believe Valanciunas has reached the pinnacle of success in his career.

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