The Memphis Grizzlies are at the halfway point of the regular season, and they sit at the top of the Western Conference with a 28-13 record. Along the way, there have been some surprises, and the usual contributors have impacted winning at another level.
Let’s give out some (fake) hardware for the 1st half of the season.
Parker Fleming, GBB Site Manager: Jaren Jackson Jr. Ja Morant has been the team’s best player, but Jaren Jackson Jr. might be the most valuable this season. He elevated the defense upon his return to the best in the league, and he’s emerged as the best defender in the league as well. Offensively though, he’s doing this — averaging his lowest field goal attempts per 100 possessions (15.8) since his rookie season — but he’s become far more efficient, increasing his percentage by 10 points (41.5 to 51.6) from last year. His profound impact on the defense and his improvements offensively have made him a more potent player for this team, and he’s the piece that makes this team scary.
Andrew Katz, GBB Senior Staff Writer: Ja Morant. The Grizzlies are an incredibly well-rounded team and there are other valid contenders but the answer has to be Ja Morant. 12 leads the team in points per game and assists per game and is third in rebounds and steals. Morant knows when to take over but he also works to make his teammates better, despite what Charles Barkley says.
Nicole Nelson, GBB Staff Writer: Ja Morant. The expansion of his skills and willingness to learn.
Brendan Smart, GBB Senior Staff Writer: Tyus Jones. Is that weird? The depth on this team is wild, but I tend to lean towards Tyus due to his consistency, and growth from beyond the arch. The bench unit is good, but Tyus takes that unit to another level. Nobody will take Tyus, and Ja Morant is the easy answer, but his production in his role, and ability to step up when Morant, has been out has been insane to witness.
Francis Carlota, GBB Staff Writer: Jaren Jackson Jr. Let’s be different. Memphis was 18th in defensive efficiency prior to Jaren’s return on November 15. Memphis is now 1st. Need I say more?
Rookie of the Year
Fleming: David Roddy. The Grizzlies haven’t gotten the production from the rookies that they’ve been used to since the inception of this era, but I do believe this Memphis class has a group that could impact winning as role players. Roddy has received the early jump. He and Jake LaRavia were pretty close in production before LaRavia went down with a foot injury, and during that time away, Roddy found his groove. The shot comes and goes, but his flashes in defensive assignments and in attacking downhill leave me incredibly intrigued — and has given him a pathway to contribute for this Grizzlies team.
Katz: David Roddy. It took a while, but David Roddy already looks like an excellent NBA rotation player. He has found his footing offensively and is learning to use his body to maximize his talent on both sides of the ball. I expect big things from Big Body Roddy in 2023.
Nelson: David Roddy. Roddy came in and immediately had an impact and now he’s finding his stride.
Smart: David Roddy. Easily the best rookie (so far). His movement on the floor, and grasp of the game have been beautiful to witness since his shooting slump to begin the season. Shot looks good, but more importantly, he’s adjusted defensively footwork wise.
Carlota: David Roddy. Though I’ve caught some jabs on twitter for my stance on Roddy, there’s no denying he’s been the best rookie so far.
6th Man of the Year
Fleming: Tyus Jones. Tyus Jones might be a candidate to be a finalist for the actual 6th Man of the Year award. He started out a smidge off his game, but the roster turnover off the bench and integrating 2 rookies into the mix probably played a role. Nonetheless, Jones has taken a bit of a leap since his payday. He’s more aggressive shooting the basketball (career-high’s in field goal attempts (18.1) and 3-point attempts (8.0) per 100 possessions), and he’s emerged as the team’s 2nd-best 3-point shooter (39.6% on 4 attempts per game). Despite the uptick in scoring, his playmaking is still a phenomenal asset for the Grizzlies, as he’s in the 94th percentile in assist percentage (27.1%, per Cleaning the Glass). The confidence he’s playing with right now has given this bench unit a jolt.
Katz: Tyus Jones. This guy is not a backup point guard. As a starter, Tyus Jones is averaging 21.1 points on 54.2 FG% and 50 3PT%, 7.7 assists and 2.4 steals. While 6MOTY is supposed to honor best guy off the bench, it is also meant to shine a light on who steps up the most when his number is called. That is Stones, man.
Nelson: Brandon Clarke. Clarke is explosive coming off the bench, and he’s been carrying extremely high energy.
Smart: Everyone! Can Tyus get two awards?! Seriously, it’s a different guy each night off this Grizzlies bench. Ziaire Williams appears to finally be finding his rhythm on both ends of the floor, and that is huge for that second unit.
Carlota: Santi Aldama. This one is tough. Tyus Jones could easily get the nod, but I’ll give it to an incredibly improved Santi Aldama.
Defensive Player of the Year
Site Manager Note: Obviously Jaren Jackson Jr. I’ll just give you the responses.
Fleming: [waves hands]
In mid-November, the Grizzlies were ranked 17th in defensive efficiency. Since then, they've been the NBA's best defense by a healthy margin. The biggest reason why? @jarenjacksonjr, the Defensive Player of the Second Quarter. From my @YahooSports Awards: https://t.co/Lr2AkLpAzW pic.twitter.com/uxEru5ygcI— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) January 12, 2023
Katz: I think it says something about a player that I am only watching them while the Grizzlies are on defense. Every time Jaren Jackson Jr. meets opponents at the rim, I genuinely get goosebumps. JJJ has played like one of the best defensive players EVER, and he is definitely Memphis’s midseason DPOTY
Nelson: He’s stopped fouling and learned how to control his body and his mental mentality. Plus he averages 3.2 blocks per game.
Smart: It’s as easy as pulling the Grizzlies defensive ratings before and after his return from foot surgery. The Grizzlies were amongst the leagues worst in defensive rating. Also to note that Jackson Jr. has stayed out of foul trouble for majority of his return.
Carlota: It’s clear. His defensive impact and importance cannot be overstated.
Most Improved Player
Fleming: Santi Aldama. Before the season, I expected a leap from Santi Aldama, and had said even if it’s one from “fringe NBA guy” to “rotation player,” that’s a huge one. He’s been even better, and he adds an impact on winning. His perimeter skill has been good for spacing (37.7% on 3.4 attempts per game), and he’s also added more size to the frontcourt, which has helped the Grizzlies’ imposing defense. He’s become a fascinating prospect — at 22 years old, he’s a 6’11” big man with fluidity, skill, and funk. He’s inserted himself in discussions around the Grizzlies’ future with his emergence this season.
Katz: Santi Aldama. Before the season, I had zero expectations for Santi Aldama. Then he showed flashes in the preseason and he maintained that production as a starter and off of the bench. The Grizzlies are fortunate to have a 9.3 point scorer off the bench who hauls in 5.1 rebounds a game and shoots 36.2% from deep.
Nelson: Desmond Bane. Desmond has taken on learning how to get in the paint and the post and not just shooting beyond the arc. His defense has also been stout.
Smart: Santi Aldama. Santi really came up huge when the season began in Jaren Jackson Jr’s absence. Slim Spain looked — and looks like — he belonged on the NBA hardwood for the first time in his career. He’s shot the ball really well, and provided a huge spark for this Grizzlies team when they needed it most. Now, apart of one of the best bench units in the NBA. He earned this opportunity.
Carlota: Santi Aldama. Very few people saw this leap from Santi Aldama coming. He more than held his own offensively when Jaren was out and even provided solid defense as well. Now on the bench, Santi is an important floor spacer and energy bringer when called on.