The past two Defensive Player of the Year winners sharing the court on the same team hasn’t been seen by anyone ever throughout the 77-year existence of the NBA, and that’s why Jaren Jackson Jr. is very much looking forward to his upcoming lockdown partnership with Marcus Smart for the Memphis Grizzlies starting next season.
In an interview with Clayton Collier of ABC24 – Memphis, Jackson Jr. recalled the exact moment when Smart was traded to them. The star big man also expressed his excitement over the addition of the 29-year-old to their already formidable program considering the DPOY context.
“I texted him immediately like, ‘This is crazy, bro,” Jackson said. “To have another guy that just won DPOY on our team? That doesn’t happen very often or ever. But I know what he brings to Boston. I’ve been seeing it before I was in the league and it’s crazy.”
In a shocker move, the Boston Celtics suddenly pulled the trigger this offseason and transferred Smart to Memphis in a three-team deal that saw the inclusion of the Grizzlies and the Washington Wizards.
Though his Beantown exit couldn’t be more painful in his deepest regard, Smart ultimately accepted the new challenge in front of him as he is now being assumed to take the leadership baton of Memphis – a similar responsibility that he formerly embraced as the Celtics’ heart and soul element in the last eight years.
During his reign as the league’s Defensive Player of the Year last year, Smart served as Boston’s defensive ace on the perimeter who significantly contributed to the team’s highest defensive rating (106.2) that propelled the lowest points allowed per game (104.5), lowest field goal percentage (43.4), as well as in three-point field goal percentage (33.9) during the 2021-22 regular season. His command also aided the C’s to finally get over the hump and reach the NBA Finals for the first time in 12 years.
And now, more than the defensive impact he can truly apply to further strengthen the team’s No. 2 overall-ranked 111.2 defensive rating from last season, Smart got a bold task of instilling a younger, promising version of “Grit ‘N’ Grind” culture in Memphis which is considerably a much-needed approach for the franchise that needs a major ambiance shift following a nightmarish, controversy-marred campaign from the previous season.
With Smart’s valuable experience, toughness, and guidance ready to aid and cultivate them moving forward, Jackson Jr. understands the level of redemption and urgency that he and the Grizzlies are about to welcome for the 2023-24 season.
Albeit finishing as the second-seeded team of the Western Conference, the Grizzlies notably bowed from an early elimination and were humbled by the Los Angeles Lakers in six games of their first-round encounter last 2023 postseason.
“There’s no more motivation I need than how we left last year,” Jackson said. “It’s a moment you’re going to remember, and you have to make something good out of it. Otherwise, it don’t make sense and it don’t matter. So we’re just going to put it together.”