Nobody blocked more shots per game, nor had better defensive numbers at the rim this season, than Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr.
And voters noticed.
The Memphis big man was announced Monday night as the NBA’s defensive player of the year, becoming the second player to win the award while wearing a Grizzlies’ uniform. He joins Marc Gasol in that club, after the Spaniard did it a decade ago.
Jackson led the league with 3.0 blocks per game this season, after finishing fifth in the defensive player of the year voting last season. He got 56 first-place votes and 391 voting points to finish ahead of runner-up Brook Lopez of the Milwaukee Bucks, who got 31 first-place votes and 309 points. Cleveland’s Evan Mobley — in just his second NBA season — was third with eight first-place votes and 101 points.
“Team defense really helps us. It goes a long way,” Jackson said on the TNT broadcast that announced the award.
The shooting percentage that Jackson allowed at the rim — 46.9% — was the best in the league among those with at least 300 shots defended there, and was an obvious plus on Memphis’ path to the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
“Hands down, no-brainer, JJ’s definitely defensive player of the year,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said earlier this month.
Jenkins could get into all the analytics that he wants, but the simple eye test also tells the story. Jackson wasn’t ready for the start of the season because his surgically repaired right foot needed more recovery time.
And Memphis was, well, not great on defense while waiting for Jackson to get ready.
“He missed the first (15) games of the year. We were really bad defensively,” Jenkins said. “He comes back into the lineup and things turn the corner drastically.”
Jackson gave Jenkins and the Grizzlies’ staff much credit for his role in helping him win the award.
“They’ve instilled the confidence in me to be aggressive offensively — but really unleash me defensively to go out there and do whatever,” Jackson said.
Lopez, the runner-up, had never been this close to a major individual award in his 15 NBA seasons.
Even though he’s always been a shot-blocker – he’s swatted 1.8 per game throughout his career – this was the first time that Lopez was a serious candidate for the DPOY award. He finished 10th in the balloting in 2020, a season in which his Milwaukee teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo took home both that award and MVP.
Lopez blocked a career-best and league-high 193 shots this season, plus contested 17.5 shots per game — by far the most of anyone in the league.
Golden State’s Draymond Green was fourth, followed by Miami’s Bam Adebayo in fifth, Antetokounmpo in sixth, Toronto’s O.G. Anunoby and Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday tied for seventh, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Brooklyn’s Nic Claxton tied for ninth, Chicago’s Alex Caruso in 11th and Miami’s Jimmy Butler in 12th.
The award was the first major individual one to be announced by the league this season.
Three more awards are scheduled to be revealed later this week — Clutch Player (Butler, Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan or Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox) is coming Tuesday, Coach of the Year (Sacramento’s Mike Brown, Oklahoma City’s Mark Daigneault or Boston’s Joe Mazzulla) will be announced Wednesday and Sixth Man of the Year (Boston’s Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee’s Bobby Portis Jr. or New York’s Immanuel Quickley) will be revealed Thursday.