Jaren Jackson Jr. very well might be the best defensive player in basketball this season. Jackson, a stalwart for the Memphis Grizzlies and the frontrunner to be named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, is averaging a ridiculous 4.2 blocks and 1.4 steals per 36 minutes, and is a major reason why the team has aspirations of winning the first NBA championship in franchise history this year.
On Saturday, basketball fans got caught up in a theory about Jackson’s numbers that got posted to r/NBA. The long and the short of its argument: Jackson’s numbers are ridiculously inflated during Grizzlies home games, to the point that it’s worth wondering if something fishy is going on. Titled “Memphis Grizzlies scorekeeper posting fraudulent numbers,” this is the argument made by the post’s author:
I decided to take a closer look at his games and IMMEDIATELY 1 thing became crystal clear. At home in Memphis he has 66 blocks in 16 home games, averaging 4.13 blocks per game, versus just 35 in 16 road games, averaging 2.19 in nearly identical minutes- an 89% increase in Memphis. In home games he has been credited with 22 steals in 16 home games, versus only 10 steals in 16 road games. This means he is averaging nearly 1.4 steals per game at home, but just 0.63 steals on the road per game- an astounding 120% increase in Memphis. In home games he has been credited with 88 blocks + steals, versus 45 on the road. This equates to an average of an outlandish 5.5 blocks+steals at home in limited minutes versus a reasonable and realistic, and still outstanding, 2.81 steals+blocks per game on the road. This equates to a 1.96X home stat increase only in these 2 categories. A 96% increase in performance specifically at home is truly an aberration which should be reviewed. This demonstrates the sort of incredulous statistics which calls for serious analysis.
The post — which comes in at a robust 1,594 words — believes one of three things is happening: Jackson is trying way harder at home, the team’s official scorekeeper is embellishing the numbers because they want Jackson to look better, or most concerning, something nefarious is happening because of fantasy basketball or gambling. There are also a collection of examples that, they allege, proves this theory.
It is undeniably true that Jackson’s block and steal numbers are better at home than they are on the road — he’s accrued 66 blocks and 22 steals in 417 minutes at FedExForum compared to 37 blocks and 12 steals in 456 minutes everywhere else. Having said that, this theory does struggle in the face of scrutiny, in part due to the fact that the NBA reviews blocks and stats and makes official rulings on whether they should count.
Someone who knows the process just corrected me on this. Leaving up the above tweet so that people see the correction:
Official scorers actually don't handle stats like this. They handle fouls. NBA reviews stats like blocks and steals in real time.
— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) January 28, 2023
Each team has inputters/callers, which are different than official scorers. One of the callers who's at the game with a headset will have input with tracking stats in real time.
— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) January 28, 2023
That's a lot of work when you can just go to the box scores on https://t.co/AHuWYVn45V and just click on his blocks and steals. They're all there. Like, here are the 8 vs. Atlanta: https://t.co/iGNfrZKC9U
And the NBA reviews all stats after every game. It's impossible to do this
— John Karalis 🇬🇷 🇺🇦 (@John_Karalis) January 28, 2023
Of course, people make mistakes, even if this would be a pretty big mistake to make and would require several layers of folks being in on the whole thing, all in an effort to promote one player in the 51st-largest media market in the United States. Still, multiple people decided to fact check the clips that got flagged by the post’s author, and believe that there’s no major conspiracy going on here.
I watched every block by Jaren Jackson Jr. in slow motion from alternate angles to investigate the NBA Reddit thread claiming the Grizzlies scorekeeper is "posting fraudulent numbers."
But only 3 of his 66 home blocks are incorrectly labeled, a completely insignificant amount. pic.twitter.com/84ZiE1rPVD
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) January 28, 2023
🧵: Gonna go ahead and answer all of these if I can and give my input as someone who was a stat checker for the NBA.
JJJ probably gets a hand on the ball here with Zion in an upward motion. These get started as blocks. https://t.co/0hLuLTNjC7
— Neema (@findingneema23) January 28, 2023
And as noted by Michael Sykes of For The Win, it’s not like players getting their stats slightly inflated at home is a new phenomenon, either, as there was a paper written on the exact topic for the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference a few years ago. Perhaps the NBA ends up looking into all of this and eventually determines that the Grizzlies are engaging in a plot to juice Jackson’s numbers, but the simplest answer is usually the correct one, and the simplest answer here is that Jackson is just really, really good at playing defense.