This may or may not surprise you, dear reader, but the Memphis Grizzlies are flying under the national radar yet again.
As the latest results of our SB Nation Reacts polls come out, two that should be more relevant to Memphis - who should be named Coach of the Year and Most Improved Player - are actually apparently not relevant at all. For in both categories, no Grizzlies are in the top-4. And in both categories, the Memphis Grizzlies have worthy candidates.
As the playoffs approach, the biggest surprise of the season is likely the success of the New York Knicks. For the first time since 2013, the Knicks have reached the postseason and they did so without a true superstar leading the team. In place of a superstar, the team is led on the court by Julius Randle and head coach Tom Thibodeau. Both of whom fans believe will finish the season with an individual award. 69 percent of fans around the league believe Randle should win the 2020-21 Most Improved Player award. The next closest player, Michael Porter Jr., received 11 percent of the vote.
You should be asking yourself - wait a second, where is Kyle Anderson?
He didn’t make the cut.
This isn’t an argument for Kyle to win the award - it is fair to say that Randle has been the catalyst for the Knicks resurgence, and without him New York doesn’t return to their current level of success. That’s also not to say that Porter Jr. shouldn’t receive recognition - he has helped Denver stay afloat after the Jamal Murray injury and appears to be growing as a scorer just when the Nuggets need him most.
But Jerami Grant and Christian Wood play for two of the worst teams in the NBA. Meanwhile, Kyle Anderson - currently posting career highs in minutes played, three point rate (while making 36% of them, not a career high but more impressive considering the higher number came on far fewer attempts), offensive rating, points per 100 possessions, usage rate (while posting his lowest turnover percentage since his rookie season where he only played 358 minutes) - is nowhere to be seen. An argument can be made that Kyle Anderson has been the best player for the once again overachieving Grizzlies.
Apparently not a good enough one. It will be interesting to see how the overall voting plays out - perhaps if there were five names on the list below, Kyle’s would have made the cut. But he is worthy of being in the conversation.
Meanwhile, in the Coach of the Year conversation, the New York Knicks are once again dominating the conversation. And once again, at least they deserve it. 50 percent of national fans believe Tom Thibodeau has earned the Coach of the Year award this season. And that is fair - New York was a literal joke before Thibs arrived, and now they are anything but. Beyond Thibs, Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams took 23 percent of the vote. Again, understandable - Phoenix, who was supposed to be better, has overachieved in terms of that expectation. They boast one of the best records in the entire NBA entering the postseason. Monty is more than deserving of recognition.
The same can be said of Quin Snyder, who has the Utah Jazz performing at a truly historic rate offensively. Also, Nate McMillan has made the most of his interim role with the Atlanta Hawks, turning them from a major disappointment after all the money they spent this past offseason to an Eastern Conference playoff squad.
So...in reality...all four of these guys are deserving. But Taylor Jenkins is also worthy of praise. Memphis was without arguably its best two-way player the entire season, and Jenkins and his staff were part of a Grizzlies organization who clearly prioritized their long view approach of “sustained success”. There are multiple ways that Memphis could’ve done things differently to maximize this roster’s short-term potential (while potentially limiting their long-term prospects, hence why they didn’t do them). And yet, here the Grizzlies stand - better than they were last season both in terms of play/production and record overall as a team.
It’s darn impressive. So maybe, if this list went out to five like the MIP one, Jenkins would be on it. He surely would be if it extended to 10. And that’s the reality for Kyle Anderson as well. Both Anderson and Jenkins have had terrific seasons, given all the adversity that has come their team’s way. In that they can take solace - it probably will not result in award victories this season, but it has led to Memphis bring in control of their own playoff destiny. For one of the youngest teams in the NBA, that’s all you can ask for given the realities of the Grizzlies situation.
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