The Memphis Grizzlies have only had one Defensive Player of the Year winner — Marc Gasol (2013) — but that could change this year. Right now, forward Jaren Jackson Jr. is the favorite to win the 2023 DPOY Award despite only playing 33 games this year. He’s a massive favorite actually. His odds currently sit at -110 on FanDuel whereas the next-best odds lie with Brooklyn center Nic Claxton at +350. There’s no doubt that Jackson is having a phenomenal defensive season. He deserves a lot of praise, but his stats aren’t as great as they seem. According to a viral Reddit thread — which at the time of writing this story had more than 56,000 upvotes — Jackson’s numbers are being inflated when he plays at home.
A look at Jackson’s home/road splits
JJJ’s home/road splits are eye-popping to say the least. In 16 games at home this year, Jackson has 22 steals and 66 blocked shots. Through 17 games on the road, Jackson has only 12 steals and 37 blocked shots. That’s a 1.95-to-1 steal home-to-road ratio and a 1.9-to-1 block ratio when playing at FedExForum. It makes sense for players to play better at home. However, discrepancies of this magnitude are questionable at best.
Previous Defensive Player of the Year winners
Let’s take a look at the last 30 Defensive Player of the Year winners. That’s a sizable pool of data, no? It doesn’t matter how many total steals or blocks they had. The only thing we’re looking at is the ratio at which these players accrued their blocks and steals at home versus on the road. Here’s every former DPOY to accrue even a 1.5-to-1 home-to-road ratio for either steals or assists:
2022 Marcus Smart - 1.62 block ratio
2005 Ben Wallace - 1.83 block ratio
2003 Ben Wallace - 1.51 block ratio
1999 Alonzo Mourning - 2.09 steal ratio
That’s everyone. Only one of these guys actually had a steal ratio greater than Jackson’s, and that happened 24 years ago during a shortened season of only 50 games. With that few games played, it’s not hard to assume that ratio would’ve come back down to Earth over the course of a whole season. Meanwhile, no DPOY winner in the last 30 years has surpassed Jackson’s 1.9 block home-to-road ratio. Only three men have even come close, and one of them was a guard who recorded only 18 blocks the entire season. Essentially, the statistical ratios we are seeing from Jackson this season are unprecedented. Even if you don’t think there’s foul play going on, these numbers warrant further investigation.
A closer look
Jackson is currently on pace to play 55 games this season, but let’s assume he’ll play 60 by the end of the year. After all, since returning to action on Nov. 15 Jackson has only missed two games. Sixty games played is a safe assumption. Given his current pace, Jackson should finish the season with approximately 62 steals and 187 blocks, or 1.03 steals per game and 3.12 blocks per game. About 41 of those steals (1.37 per game) and 124 of those blocks (4.13 per game) should come at home, meaning 21 of the steals (0.7 per game) and 63 of the blocks (2.1 per game) should come on the road. At home, Jackson would be 18th in steals per game and first in blocks by over 1.4 blocks per game over second-place Claxton (2.7). On the road, Jackson would fall to fourth in blocks and 120th in steals. Those numbers don’t sound very becoming of a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, do they? So, if Memphis theoretically wanted to create an NBA Defensive Player of the Year, it would make sense why they’d want his base defensive statistics to seem better than they actually are.
The Memphis Grizzlies are the 29th-most valuable franchise in the NBA, and despite their stellar season — yes, through Friday, they’d lost five straight, but won 11 straight prior — they are outside the top 20 in the league in attendance. They want fans in seats, and the last two times the Grizzlies finished better than 20th in attendance were 2015 and 2013. While those seasons saw the Grizzlies win 55 and 56 games respectively, the Grizzlies didn’t get the same kind of attendance (in relation to the rest of the NBA) when they won 56 games in 2022. The difference? I’m reaching, but maybe Marc Gasol’s Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2013 had something to do with it. Could the Grizzlies be looking to replicate those circumstances from a decade ago in order to increase attendance moving forward?
Now, the next question on your mind is probably “Where are all these steals and blocks coming from? The scorekeeper can’t manifest steals and blocks from thin air. People would notice.” That’s true, but apparently the Grizzlies’ scorekeeper is a certified genius. Allegedly, these extra steals and blocks are added when Jackson does anything on defense that could even be imagined as a block or steal. Social media has already found numerous examples from games earlier in the season.
For the sake of transparency, there are others who believe no foul play was involved.
In the tweet above, ESPN NBA analyst Kirk Goldsberry claims that, although 66 blocks is a lot, only two to six of them are actually questionable, meaning at worst, JJJ would still have 60 blocks at home on the year (3.75 per game).
Only three of the forward’s 66 home blocks were mis-recorded by a scorekeeper, according to Kevin O’Connor, a senior basketball writer at The Ringer.
There is reason to think the Grizzlies could be interested in padding Jackson’s stats, but there’s also reason to think the NBA would have caught this sooner had this been true. The league has already refuted the Reddit post, with NBA spokesperson Tim Frank stating:
“In order to ensure the integrity of our game statistics, auditors, independent of the statisticians on-site, review all plays and stats decisions in real-time during NBA games.
“If changes are necessary, they are made at that time or following a postgame review. All of the plays questioned in the post on Memphis games were scored consistently within the rules set forth by the NBA statisticians manual.”
Furthermore, since the post was initially made, Reddit has since labeled it “misleading.” Does that mean it’s incorrect? Not necessarily, but it does mean that the author of the post was speaking as though his findings were fact when that very well may not be the case. All in all, it seems nothing will come of these potentially fraudulent Jackson steals and blocks, and if that’s the case, maybe throwing money on Jackson’s block and steal numbers at home is the best bet you can make for the rest of the season.