Now Is the Time to Bet on Jaren Jackson Jr. for Defensive Player of the Year
Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Jaren Jackson Jr. #13 of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Jaren Jackson Jr. missed the first month of the season with a foot injury initially expected to keep him out into the new year. But preseason reports were good for Jackson's recovery, and he returned sooner than anyone thought possible.
He made his season debut on Tuesday and while the offense wasn't there in his first game, his presence was immediately felt defensively with five blocks.
Jackson is one of the league's finest defenders and would have surely been one of the DPOY favorites if he were healthy to start the season. Instead, he was a 60-1 long shot at DraftKings as he made his season debut.
And just like that, yesterday's price is no longer today's price. Jackson is already down to 30-1 to win the award after just 25 minutes in his first game.
Now is the time to bet Jaren Jackson to win DPOY — if you haven't already.
Before the season started, I laid out six criteria for DPOY winners. Look how well Jackson fits historical patterns for an award based heavily on reputation:
1. Voters love repeat DPOY winners.
26 of 40 DPOYs have gone to the same 10 guys. No go for Jackson on this one.
2. DPOY almost always goes to a big man.
Of the last 34 DPOYs, 29 were big men. Check.
3. Reputation matters, Part I: Young guys don't win DPOY.
Only one DPOY in the last 25 years was in his first four seasons, but Rudy Gobert, Draymond Green, Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol, and Metta World Peace all broke through for their first DPOY in Year 5. Jackson is in Year 5 — perfect.
4. Reputation matters, Part II: Past DPOY voting is predictive.
Every DPOY this century previously received at least one DPOY vote, and 17 of the last 20 had received at least one first-place vote. Jackson finished fifth in voting last year with 10 first-place votes. Bingo.
5. Reputation matters, Part III: All-Defense voting is predictive, too.
All but one DPOY this century made All-Defense previously and 11 of the last 15 had previously made First-Team All-Defense, including nine the year right before winning DPOY. Jackson edged out Bam Adebayo for the final First-Team All-Defense spot last year.
6. DPOY is actually a team award.
This is probably the most important criterion, and it's our one big hurdle. Every DPOY since 2008 has finished on a team that ranked top-five in Defensive Rating, per Basketball Reference. All but three were top-three. The Grizzlies currently ranked 19th in Defensive Rating without Jackson. Uh oh.
Can the Grizzlies' defense be good enough to finish top-five and help Jackson win the award?
That might be the wrong question. Maybe the Grizzlies aren't actually a slightly below average defensive team — maybe Memphis is just a below average defensive team without their Defensive Player of the Year.
Look at the Boston Celtics. After destroying the league in every defensive metric a year ago, this season's Celtics rank 22nd in Defensive Rating. They're also missing Robert Williams, who looked on track to win last year's DPOY before getting hurt late. One elite big man defender around whom the entire scheme is built can truly change everything.
Jackson led the Grizzlies last year with a 106 Defensive Rating. Memphis finished the season at 109.0 as a team. A little math tells us the Grizzlies posted a 112.5 Defensive Rating without Jackson last year.
Their Defensive Rating this season without Jackson is … 112.7. Okay, then.
Last season's Grizzlies defense ranked seventh in 2-point percentage and 10th in Effective Field Goal Percentage. This year: 13th and 17th. Last year's team ranked top-10 in Defensive Rebounding Rate. This year: bottom-10. Last year Memphis led the league in blocks. This year they're 16th.
Jackson is a good rebounder, a versatile defender, an outstanding rim protector, and one of the league's best shot blockers.
Isn't it possible he's exactly what the team's defense has been lacking?
Isn't it possible — even likely — that Memphis's defense has been below average specifically because they're missing Jackson? And if the Grizzlies rebound now and finish with a top-five defense like they did last year, wouldn't that make Jackson the pretty obvious solution and a clear DPOY candidate?
If the season were starting fresh and Jackson were fully healthy, he would be a clear top-five DPOY candidate and his odds would reflect as much. That would probably put Jackson around +1000.
If you got in early, you could have bet him at +6000. And right now you can still get him at +3000.
Jackson missed a month, but games played typically has not been a big deal for DPOY voters. The NBA season is eternal. Sure Jackson missed a month, but there are five more to go. If Jackson plays like an elite defender the rest of the way, do you really think voters will care or even remember he missed these first few weeks?
We don't know how healthy Jackson will be or how good the Grizzlies defense will play. But that's why we're getting bargain value.
Jackson has similar odds at some books to Robert Williams and Kawhi Leonard, neither of whom may be spotted on a basketball court anytime soon, or wild long shots like Alex Caruso and Nic Claxton.
It's always difficult betting long shots, but it's clear Jackson has major value. If he looks healthy and plays well and the Grizzlies play like a top-five defense with him, Jackson should quickly climb into top-five in the DPOY odds too.
I already grabbed Jackson at +6000 on the Action app. You'll want that Jackson DPOY ticket when he makes his run into contention.