Who Was the Most Underrated Memphis Grizzlies Player This Year?

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Who Was the Most Underrated Memphis Grizzlies Player This Year?
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Kosta Koufos' first season with the Memphis Grizzlies shouldn't go unnoticed. Koufos skillfully played within himself while plugging a desperate hole in the Grizzlies' rotation.

Other Memphis players flew under the NBA radar in 2013-14. Mike Conley began receiving mentions as the league's most underrated. Fox Sports Ohio's Sam Amico tweeted about Conley's lack of appreciation.

On the other hand, Conley is generally recognized as one of the team's two best players.

Within the Grizzlies, Koufos lived up to his expectations better than anyone else without much fanfare.

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Plugging a hole behind Marc Gasol 

Before diving into anything else, one must mention that Koufos filled a conspicuous void on the Grizzlies roster.

Gasol had yet to benefit from a decent backup before Koufos arrived. The prior five years of the Big Spain era were littered with the likes of Hamed Haddadi, Hasheem Thabeet and Marreese Speights.

Speights played out of position when used as a center and never saw enough time to be effective.

Haddadi was the only traditional center during most of his four-and-a-half years in Memphis, but he rarely saw double-digit minutes due to his lack of conditioning and penchant for foul trouble.

Thabeet was a draft bust who struggled to put up much of a fight inside.

Meanwhile, Koufos arrived as an experienced starter, having served said role for the Denver Nuggets in 2012-13.

Koufos averaged 16.9 minutes per game this year, more than any other backup center since Gasol's rookie year. In his 58 games as a reserve, Koufos still managed to earn playing time at 14.1 per game.

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The Commercial Appeal's Chris Herrington called (subscription required) Koufos "a stark comparison to every other stand-in Marc Gasol's ever had."

Koufos' presence proved vital when Gasol went down with a sprained MCL. He wasn't spectacular, averaging 8.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game while shooting 45.9 percent from the field and allowing 106 points per 100 possessions.

Still, Koufos provided a valuable lift in a couple ways as a starter. His rebounding was better than Gasol's can be. His 11 double-digit scoring games helped sustain the offense during that time.

If the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year had gone down with any of the aforementioned reserves taking the starting spot instead, the Grizz likely would have fared worse than 9-13 in Gasol's absence and lost hope of rallying for a playoff spot.

ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh tweeted of how glad the Grizzlies should have been at the time to have Koufos.

 

Tough Defense

Koufos generally did well protecting the rim. 

Overall, he allowed 102 points per 100 possessions, defending much better off the bench where he allowed 100. He blocked 1.9 shots per 36 minutes and had a 4.4 percent block rate.

The Grizz allowed 3.6 fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.

In his only significant playoff appearance, the Ohio State product allowed 87 points per 100 in 17 minutes of Game 3 against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

 

Effective Rebounder

Koufos is such an efficient rebounder that he's on par with Zach Randolph

Koufos' offensive rebounding ability is better than Randolph's has been in the past three years. Koufos pulled them down at a 14 percent rate, 2.4 percent better than Randolph. 

While sharing the interior as a starter, Koufos mopped Randolph's traditional territory, taking 15.4 percent of available rebounds, 5 percent better than Randolph.

In defensive rebounding percentage, Randolph had a small edge (23.3 percent to 22.7 percent).

Overall, Koufos was a bit better with 11.3 rebounds per 36 minutes and an 18.4 percent total rebounding rate, compared with Randolph's 10.6 per 36 and 17.4 percent rate.

 

Solid Inside Shooter

As with his defensive performance, Koufos' shooting was best in the right situations.

He did better after head coach Dave Joerger stopped pairing him with Ed Davis, who also depends on close shots, and after handing the starting job back to Gasol. Koufos shot 45.9 percent from the field as a starter. From the time he returned to the bench on Jan. 14 to March 28, Koufos hit 57.1 percent.

The sixth-year pro shot 44.3 percent with Davis on the floor, 6.7 percent worse than without him. In the first two months of the season, when they played seven minutes per game together, 0.9 more than afterward, Koufos made 37.1 percent as they shared the interior.

 

Conclusion

The Grizzlies felt a great benefit from Koufos' presence. Not only were they prepared when Gasol became injured, but they were also able to spare the Spaniard when he was healthy.

Koufos wasn't able to do everything Gasol does while starting in his place. Hardly any backup could have been asked to cover all Randolph's defensive lapses, facilitate the offense constantly and hit jumpers like Gasol.

The 25-year-old did all he could have done, protecting the rim, cleaning up the glass and dropping putbacks.

Unless otherwise noted, advanced metrics come from basketball-reference.com.

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