OTG Team Awards: Memphis Grizzlies
Even in a lost season, there are a handful of players that make a team watchable. For Memphis, even with the record not being pretty, the Grizzlies had a ton of guys that made the team “cheerable” for fans: guys that made the team fun, guys who came out of nowhere, guys who fired us up, and guys who were rocks through the worst of the worst. Let’s see who’s who.
Most Improved Player: Delon Wright
Delon Wright was acquired by the Memphis Grizzlies at the trade deadline for Marc Gasol. With more usage, Wright has blossomed with the Memphis Grizzlies. Since his departure from Toronto on February 8th, Wright is averaging 12.0 points, 5.2 assists, and 5.0 rebounds per game. During that time, he helped lead the Grizzlies to a winning season in the month of March, registered his first ever triple-double, and the first ever back-to-back triple double in franchise history. Wright is an easy pick for Memphis’ Most Improved Player Award.
Rookie of the Year: Jaren Jackson Jr.
Despite being the fourth overall pick in the draft, Grizzlies rookie big man Jaren Jackson Jr. was labeled a project by most. After appearing in 58 games, Jackson has shown that he is the new face of the Grizzlies franchise, and will be for years. In one of the deepest rookie classes in the last half a dozen seasons, Jackson has justified his draft position. Jackson was shut down after the All-Star break, as a deep thigh bruise ended his campaign sooner than expected, but when he played, Jackson put together quite a rookie season. He averaged 13.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, and a block and a half per game, and showed himself to be the prototype of the modern big-man by hitting nearly 36 percent of his three-pointers. Grizzlies fans can expect more and better from the emerging Jackson, who was the youngest player in the league this year, and has many great seasons ahead of him.
Defensive Player of the Year: Jonas Valanciunas
Jonas Valanciunas missed several games following his trade to Memphis due not only to a thumb injury, but also a passport issue. This limited him to only 19 games on the roster -- but what a quarter of the season it was. Upon debuting with the Grizzlies, Valanciunas took advantage of his increase in minutes, usage rate, and responsibilities. Fans knew Valanciunas could be good, but he has been amazing. His 19.9 points per game don’t speak to his defensive prowess, but they are a career high, and indicative of just how central Valanciunas became to the Grizzlies in a very short time. He led the Grizzlies with 10.7 rebounds per game, and added 1.6 blocks as their defensive anchor. Valanciunas may not have seen his trade from East power Toronto to West cellar-dweller Memphis as a boon when it happened, but he will be rolling in the dough this offseason after teams saw his full potential. For Memphis’ sake, let’s hope that it is in Beale Street Blue.
Sixth Man of the Year: Joakim Noah
Many people wrote Joakim Noah off after a rough stint with the New York Knicks, and it was within their right to do so. He signed a four year, $72 million dollar contract with New York, and played a total of 53 out of the 328 games that deal assumed. His body looked broken, and with all that money lining his pockets, he could have called it quits; to paraphrase Cypress Hill though - he ain’t going out like that. He’s put in 42 games on Beale Street, and Noah looks like the guy who helped take the Chicago Bulls to the NBA Playoffs for years. Energetic, wild, unpredictable, and consistent each night, Noah can be heard talking to his teammates on the defensive end of the floor well up into the first bowl at FedEx Forum. Noah is a legitimate NBA player again; he has found his niche off the bench with any NBA roster after this season.
Most Valuable Player: Mike Conley
Captain Clutch took it up a notch this season. Mike Conley, who has been consistent on and off the court, was put in a unique situation this season: after anchoring the franchise for years, Conley was very publicly put on the trading block this season. In a situation like that, you see a different side of a lot of guys, but not Conley. Through it all, he stayed true to himself and put the franchise on his shoulders after the trade deadline. After not getting dealt by Memphis at the deadline, Conley went on to pass Marc Gasol for sole possession of the top spot on the Grizzlies All-Time scoring list, and while doing so, earned his first ever Western Conference Player of the Week honor in the month of March. With the franchise headed toward a rebuild, it remains to be seen how long Conley will be in a Grizzlies uniform; what’s clear is that every day he puts one on is a welcome one in Memphis.