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March Madness: The Grizzlies are appearing to phase out James Johnson for reasons unknown.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

In the month of March, James Johnson has had 3 DNP-CD's while playing an average of 9.2 mins/game in the remaining 6 games. If you remove the blowout against the Sixers, that average drops down to 8 mins/game. In the same 9 game span, Johnson's primary competition at SF Tayshaun Prince is averaging almost 25 mins/game while Mike Miller is averaging a little over 19 mins/game. With little explanation given of why Johnson's minutes have evaporated over the last 10 games, it appears that the Grizzlies are beginning to phase out Johnson from the rotation.

  • March 1st, Before injuring his ankle against the Cavaliers, it appeared that JJ was a solid fixture into the Grizzlies' rotation.
  • March 3rd, The injury explained his absence on the road against the Wizards.
  • March 5th, Two days later, Johnson was the first to come off the bench during the onslaught by the Nets.  With that game appearing to be out of reach, JJ was one of main catalysts leading the attempt at a comeback that unfortunately came up short.
  • March 7th, Despite his 12 pt in 14 minute effort in Brooklyn, Johnson did not play at all against the Bulls. There was speculation among fans that he re-aggravated his ankle, but it also seemed plausible that he sat due to it being a bad matchup.  In JJ's absence, both Prince and Miller tallied 20+ minutes with Miller receiving most of the time at SF during crunch time.
  • March 8th & 11th, For the next two home games, Johnson's minutes were once again sparse. He entered with only 5 minutes remaining against the Bobcats after the game was under complete control by the Grizzlies, and couldn't crack the rotation against the Blazers despite them having a 10+pt lead throughout the entire game.
  • March 12th, Questions about his ankle were put to rest as he played a vital part of a 4th quarter comeback win against the Pelicans. That effort went unnoticed by the coaching staff as he was once again benched against a Raptors team that killed the Grizzlies on the perimeter.  In the most current game in Philly, he logged a misleading 15 minutes after it had become a 20 pt blowout.

Throughout the season, Joerger's rotations have been confusing, and the lack of playing time for JJ is becoming somewhat concerning. It can be quite the struggle to find reasons for the amount of playing time that Prince receives along with his continued inclusion in the starting lineup. If you remove his 21 pt game against the Wizards, Prince is only averaging 4 pts/game (.385FG%) in March. Considering he is playing two quarters worth of time per game, it seems like very little is gained by keeping him in the game while Johnson continues to be stuck on the bench.

One might argue to keep Prince in for his defense, but is there any player that Johnson couldn't guard as well or not better than Prince? In the loss to Toronto, Prince played 35 minutes because he was "shutting down DeRozan." However in those minutes, he only scored 4 pts. If JJ is capable of guarding Anthony Davis, why would he not able to guard Toronto's forwards? With the entire offense seemed to be stuck in neutral and needed a spark, why did Joerger only put in one of the two defensive sparks that lead his team to victory two days prior in New Orleans? Although it defies all logic, as long as he is "healthy", it seems no one will usurp Prince's role as a starter in the 1st and 3rd quarters or encroach on his playing time.

On the other end of spectrum, you have Johnson vs Mike Miller. Unlike Prince, Miller provides an offensive threat to help spacing for the bigs and is fully capable of shooting the Grizzlies back into a game (such as against the Thunder). While Miller's defense is a bit subpar, those offensive skills are the reasons why he is getting major minutes per game.  However, if you remove his 19pt game vs the Wizards, he is only averaging a little over 5 pts/game (.487 FG%) in March.  If given similar minutes per game, it is realistic that Johnson would average the same if not better than both Prince and Miller.

Whether it is an injury, some sort of disciplinary action, or Joerger playing match ups, Johnson's lack of playing time is truly puzzling and concerning. Johnson was a major reason why the Grizzlies managed to right the ship while they seemed to be in free fall earlier in the season. If the Grizzlies do not make the playoffs, there will be a great deal of discussion on the variety of rotations and the amount of playing time among the players. As it has been seen with the continuous Leuer and Davis fiasco, no rotations are ever set in stone. I think all fans agree that there needs to be consistency in the lineups, however it appears the discussions over who should be receiving more playing time will not be ending any time soon.