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Struggling Starters: Keep the Young Grizzlies in the lineup

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Despite early struggles, Harrison and Martin fit best in the starting lineup (for now)

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Grizzlies have gotten off to a hot start to tip off the 2017-2018 campaign. They already have signature wins against the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets and have jumped out to a 4-1 record. Despite the early season success, Grizz fans still have their concerns.

As is Grizzly tradition, the team already has some injury issues which has caused some players to play in uncomfortable roles. The injuries to Wayne Selden (quad) and Ben McLemore (foot) has forced Andrew Harrison into the starting lineup at shooting guard. The JaMychal Green ankle injury has caused Coach Fizdale to place Jarell Martin in JaM’s usuall 4 spot in the starting lineup. Returns have not been great for either player, highlighted by GBB’s own Mark King. (Tweet was before last night’s win against Dallas, where the duo combined to go 3/12)

However, despite their struggles, I believe the team is better off with both players in the starting lineup until Green, McLemore & Selden are healthy. In no way am I saying that Harrison and Martin are starting caliber players in the NBA, but with the way the Grizzlies rotation is set up, I believe it is in the Grizzlies best interest to keep them in the starting lineup until players get healthy.

Andrew Harrison

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Harrison is a shooting guard who can’t shoot, and that’s not a ideal for the Grizzlies. He’s an average defender, which helps, but his inability to shoot is obvious when watching opposing teams guard him. The main reason I believe Harrison should start until Selden or McLemore gets healthy is his ability to be a ball-handler and facilitator. This allows for Mike Conley to play off the ball, where he excelled last year. This also helps Harrison stay involved with the offense, instead of standing in the corner. There’s more to an offense than the stat sheets show, and although Andrew can’t shoot particularly well, he’s usually in the right place at the right time to keep the flow of the offense going. He’s still mistake prone, but when he plays within himself he can help the Grizzlies offense.

Harrison’s shooting has been putrid to start the season, but he’s getting open looks. Part of that is by design of the opposing defense (mainly the wide open 3’s) but he’s also gotten a fair share of mid-range jumpers that I expect (hope) he can start knocking down. Even though his shot isn’t falling, his movement and involvement in plays helps create offense for Conley and Gasol.

Andrew is a hard-working player and knows where he’s supposed to be during the different offensive sets. His inability to shoot hurts, but Conley and Gasol are both good enough to carry that offensive burden for now.

Jarell Martin

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Jarell’s story is still crazy to me. A little over a month ago he was supposedly cut from the team and now he’s started every game for the Grizzlies sans the season opener. Martin is essentially starting because there’s nobody else available. Ivan Rabb isn’t NBA ready and Chandler Parsons’ isn’t fully converted to the “small-ball 4” role yet. Martin is a capable defender, but is the weakest link in the Grizzlies switching scheme. He played a great defensive game on Thursday against the Mavs, but consistency on both ends of the floor have been what hurts Jarell the most.

Where Jarell really thrives in this starting unit is when the offense pushes the tempo. Martin is great at finding and running through the appropriate lanes and it’s lead to some awesome alley-oops (Side note: I’m pretty sure him and James Ennis III have combined for 50 alley-oops already this season). Jarell Martin in the open court is a highlight waiting to happen. In half-court sets, Jarell sometimes looks a little out of place, but has a knack for grabbing offensive rebounds to give the Grizzlies extra possessions. His shooting hasn’t been great to start the year, but if he can have more performances like Thursday against Dallas (two 3’s) then defenses will at least have to respect his shot which will open up all sorts of lanes for Conley and Gasol.

Bench Continuity

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Arguably the biggest reason I believe both Harrison and Martin should start is because the bench has a good thing going right now. The Chalmers-Evans-Brooks-Parsons-Wright lineup has been great to start the season, partially because 4 of the 5 can pass, dribble and shoot the ball effectively which creates great ball movement and easy, open looks. The inability to shoot of Harrison and Martin would hurt the bench lineup offensive effectiveness, whereas the starting lineup has Conley and Gasol to take over. Placing someone like Chalmers or Evans in the starting lineup to replace Harrison could cause a drop off in the bench production.

Likewise, I don’t think switching Martin and Parsons roles’ necessarily helps the team. Parsons may provide more of a scoring punch than Martin, but coming off the bench seems to have taken a ton of pressure off Parsons, which has helped his game.

Defense was always, and will be, the concern from this bench unit. However, with inspired efforts from both Evans and Parsons, the defense can switch on literally everything and it has caused the opposing offense all sorts of problems. The bench unit has been great to start the season, but they’ve only played 5 games together. With the injuries likely to only last a couple more weeks before the team is (hopefully) healthy, I believe it’s in the Grizzlies best interest for the bench unit to build its rapport and get more familiar with one another.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Both Harrison and Martin haven’t played great this season, but it’s not like their shortcomings are single-handedly losing games. Fizdale is closing games out with who has the hot hand, mainly Chalmers and Evans, in place of Harrison and Martin so I don’t expect to see either on the floor much in crunch time. The Grizzlies have still started the season strong, which McCarty Maxwell pointed out is important for this team.

By Thanksgiving, assuming the injured are healthy, I doubt we see Harrison on the floor much, and Martin will likely only get extended minutes depending on matchup and foul trouble. The bench unit as a whole would suffer if major moves were made. Considering that will likely be the Grizzlies bench rotation all season, keeping that continuity and building chemistry would benefit the Grizzlies greatly. Both Conley and Gasol are good enough to mask the deficiencies of both Harrison and Martin when on the court, whereas the bench unit can’t cover them up as much.

Getting Harrison and Martin valuable minutes early in the season doesn’t hurt unless the Grizzlies start losing. Let them learn while the others get healthy. Andrew Harrison would not have made the game-saving block in Game 4 of the Spurs series last year if he spent all last season on the bench. The Grizzlies are thin in the frontcourt, and will likely need Jarell at some point down the line this season. Getting them minutes this early in the season will only make them better if they’re needed towards the end.

They’ll be frustrating at times, but keeping things the status quo would be in the best interest of the Grizzlies. You know the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

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