Last year’s Memphis Grizzlies were one of the great success stories of the league. Despite a host of injuries, the Grizz rode their elite depth to the second seed in the West (including a 20-5 record without peregrine falcon Ja Morant) and put a scare in eventual champion Golden State before bowing out in the second round of the playoffs.
This year, Memphis lost bench contributors Kyle Anderson, De’Anthony Melton, and Jarret Culver in the offseason without replacing them (outside of drafting a couple of rookies), and second-year player Ziaire Williams has missed the entire season so far with knee soreness. So there was ample opportunity for a wing to step up and seize a larger share of the spotlight for Memphis this season.
Enter undrafted fourth-year player John “Jitty” Konchar, who has been everything the Grizzlies hoped for and more when they unloaded all those role players.
Konchar does all the things a supporting player needs to do: he snipes from distance (41% from three for the second year in a row), plays solid defense (snagging a steal per game and leading the team in charges drawn), and hoards rebounds like a tiny Smaug.
Inhaling 6.6 rebounds per game (more than Zion or Draymond), Konchar averages the third-most boards in the league for a player 6’5” or shorter*. I watched footage of every rebound Konchar has snagged this season, hoping for a neat trick or cool technique to uncover, but there’s no secret sauce. As Konchar himself explained, “I don’t know; sometimes, they just come to me.”
However, there are a few keys paving the way for those balls to reach him. First, Konchar’s been empowered by coach Taylor Jenkins to attack the rim on both ends (many guards are required to immediately sprint back on defense to prevent transition attacks). He also works next to premier box-out artist Steven Adams, one of the league’s most unselfish big men. Rebound-hogging is a big problem with many centers**, but Adams will gracefully relinquish the board when it’s clear Konchar has it under control:
Compare that to, say, Bobby Portis stealing this rebound from Giannis, who sadly looks at his hands, wondering where his ball went:
It helps to share!
Konchar has a knack for finding the open space by the basket. He roves around the painted area looking for an unoccupied pocket, and waits patiently until the ball finds him. But not many guards are willing to crash on every shot, every day.
There’s nothing special about any of this. Konchar just does the little things relentlessly, adding up to a big advantage for Memphis. Successful glass-cleaning requires repetitive, monotonous effort, which is why it’s fun to celebrate rebounding when the occasion arises: last season, Konchar tied the franchise record for rebounds in a game with 17 (putting him even with Grizzly idol Zach Randolph), eliciting this hilarious quote from Ja Morant:
“He’s just a cool dude,” Morant said. “He’s smooth. He doesn’t show no emotions unless you try to hype him up or something. After [a big three], I tried to get a scream or something out of him, but he just smiled. He’s always smiling.”
Konchar’s an unassuming guy on the court who talks exactly like Dave Chappelle impersonating a white person:
“Nice dunk shot, Dez!” “There’s nothing like a basketball game!” “This is a great sports game, here.” Incredible stuff.
That’s why I was delighted to discover that Jitty is extremely assuming online. He has his own website, JohnKonchar.com, where “KonchArmy” members can purchase merchandise celebrating “rising star John Konchar, an incredibly versatile player whose own brand of basketball has a way of bringing fans to their feet.”
Currently, the only thing available in the store is a white-and-navy “Koncharmy” hoodie. Unfortunately, it does not appear to be actually purchasable, and I spent dozens of seconds trying to find a way to add it to my cart, to no avail.
But as much as I fetishize little-guy rebounds and hilarious online personas, Konchar’s shooting is what will keep him in the league. He’s been a consistent outside bomber for Memphis, and he’s worked hard to develop a quicker trigger. The last few games have even seen him dabbling with the “no-dip” three-pointer, which means that the second it hits his hands, he can fire without bringing it down into his shooter’s pocket:
He’s shooting 40.7% for his career from deep, and this season he’s taking 4.2 threes per game — about two-thirds of his total shot attempts.
Konchar is still primarily a corner spacer. He doesn’t do much off-the-dribble work or initialization normally, but he’s a functional passer and ballhandler who has played some backup point guard for the Grizzlies when necessary. He guards everyone from D’Angelo Russell and Kyrie Irving to Josh Giddey and Lauri Markkanen. He’s Mr. Reliable, able to plug whatever gaps need plugging.
I wrote an article for Hoops Habit recently about the league’s best bargain contracts, and Konchar (making just $2.3M this year) was one of the top names. The Grizzlies know what they have, and even though he was still locked in through next season, too, they decided to give him a three-year extension this summer, keeping him in Memphis through 2027.
It was a smart move. Konchar has improved every season and offers a rare mix of highly-sought skills tailor-made for a contender. Every team needs a John Konchar, but unfortunately for the other 29 squads, Jitty is one of a kind.
*Josh Hart is number one by a mile, and Steph Curry is second. Curry’s rebounding is a substantial part of his success, since he can grab the rock and attack the defense before it can get set.
**In their defense, rebounds matter. Players know that averaging an extra half-rebound per game can make a difference in future contract negotiations, fan perception, and much more, particularly for role-player big men. In the past, players like Brook Lopez and Steven Adams himself have taken heaps of scorn from fans and commentators for being “bad” rebounders. In fact, both are superb team rebounders who excel at boxing out instead of chasing a live ball. Rebounding is not always an individual stat, as most people believe, and we need greater context around rebounding numbers. Unfortunately, those numbers can be hard to find and explain.