NBA: Jaren Jackson Jr. tops defensive player ladder

The player who helps Memphis have the best defence in the league moves to the top of the latest list.

NBA: Jaren Jackson Jr. tops defensive player ladder

More than just a statistical tool, a player's "on" and "off" numbers show how important and valuable he is. Assuming he helps the team more than it hurts, that guy should be on the court as much as possible. 

So, the Memphis Grizzlies and their fans are saying, "Please give us more Jaren Jackson Jr." 

If only asking would make it happen. 

Jackson has been the best defender for the Grizzlies and probably the best in the league in 2022–23. He has done enough for the red-hot Memphis team to earn the top spot on this month's Kia Defensive Player Ladder. But he's done it almost as a part-time player, with high-quality work that makes his team want more and makes the other team shake their heads. “Enough.” 

Jackson has been on the court for 704 of the Grizzlies' 2,074 minutes, as of Monday's 136-106 win over the Suns. That's just a little bit more than a third of the time. That includes the first 14 games of the season, when he was still recovering from foot surgery, when he didn't play at all, and the other 27 games, where he played an average of only 26.1 minutes.


In the MLK Day game on Monday, he had a typical stat line: 18 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, 6 blocked shots, and a plus-30. All of this happened in 25 minutes. This season, Jackson has only played 30 minutes or more four times, and he has never averaged more than the 28.5 minutes he played in his second season, 2019-20. 

There are a few reasons for this, like the fact that his court time has been closely watched since he started playing on November 15. Another reason is that the Grizzlies have won 18 games by 10 points or more, so the starters haven't had to put in long hours. Jackson's foul trouble, which used to be a big problem, is less of a problem now. He's averaging only 3.0 fouls per game, but he's fouled out once and gotten four or more whistles in nine other games. 

Jackson's average of 3.3 blocks doesn't show up on the NBA's official leaderboards because he hasn't played enough games yet, but he's more than a half-block ahead of Brooklyn's Nic Claxton (2.7), and his total of 89 is third even though he's played at least 400 fewer minutes than Milwaukee's Brook Lopez (106) or Claxton (104). 

All of this affects how much money the Grizzlies make. They have the best defence in the league, giving up only 108.9 points per 100 possessions. Even if Jackson isn't playing, their score of 110.5 would still tie them for fourth place. But when he plays, he's like a sponge that soaks up the other team's chances: his rating is 102.4. 

Here are the leaders halfway through the season, from which the first Hakeem Olajuwon Trophy winner (and the 41st DPOY winner) is likely to come:

1. Jaren Jackson, Jr., Memphis Grizzlies 

Jackson's toughness, mobility, and ability to move up and down the court have helped him reach the top spot for January. The players he has guarded have had a hard time because of this. When he defends, they only make 43.7% of their shots, which is 4.9% less than usual. He has the most defensive win shares in the NBA (0.152). And opponents are only shooting 52.7% of the time when they are five feet or less from the basket.

2. Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks 

Lopez's play has gone up or down with Milwaukee's defence, or vice versa. Since Dec. 13, when the last D-Ladder was made, the Bucks have given up 114.1 points per 100 possessions, which ranks them 13th out of the 30 teams. Lopez's 21.6 blocked field-goal attempts are the most in the league. Over the past five weeks, he ranks third (20.4), behind Nikola Jokic and Domantas Sabonis, and the difference in percentage between shooters is +2.1%. Lopez has the most blocks in the NBA (101) and is tied for the most blocks per game (2.6).


3. Brooklyn Nets' Nic Claxton 

Recently, Nets coach Jacques Vaughn has said good things about Claxton's aggressiveness, which has made the tall, fourth-year centre feel better about himself. Come for the crazy 73.2% shooting, stay for the minus-7.8% effect he has on opponents' shots when he blocks them (2.7 per game). Claxton said in a recent interview, "As a candidate for Defensive Player, I should be No. 1." I defend positions one through five and am tied for first place as the best shot blocker. 

The next 7defensive player ladder

(In the order of the alphabet) 

1. Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat

Knows that other coaches don't like how he moves around "like a free safety." 

2. Jarrett Allen, Cleveland Cavaliers 

Allen and Evan Mobley make up the Cavs' two-headed monster up front.

3. OG Anunoby, Raptors of Toronto 

With 158 blocks and 2.2 steals per game, he was the best perimeter defender in the league.

4. Memphis Grizzlies player Dillon Brooks 

Leads the Grizzlies' defence on the outside and can guard the toughest matchup at any of four positions.

5. Luguentz Dort, Oklahoma City Thunder 

HoopsHype did a "re-draft" for 2019 and put him at No. 7 because of how good his defence was.

6. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers 

19.9 DFGA, -3.2 DFG%, and he didn't foul Westbrook, according to the rules.


7. The Indiana Pacers' Myles Turner 

With Sabonis gone, the lineup of guards and wings has been put to the test like never before.

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