Author Note: This article was written before Parsons was inserted into the starting lineup and the injury to Brandan Wright. However, all stats are updated through the Houston game.
One of the main headlines for this Grizzlies team this season has been the dominant performance of its bench. The solid start for the Grizzlies and the bench’s success has been directly correlative so far. This points out two things, one of which could be concerning.
First, it shows how deep this roster is. Memphis has 12 players who are averaging 15 or more minutes a game this season. That is uncommon in this star-driven league nowadays. It’s a testament to how much trust Coach Fizdale puts in his whole roster (some of it, however, may be unwarranted). He goes with the hot hand which makes the final five players on the court look different than the starting five.
Second, and this is what could be concerning, is that the Grizzlies’ starting lineup has been very disappointing as a whole to this point. Yes, Marc Gasol is having a quality start, averaging 20.1 points a game, and Mike Conley, outside of his injury problems, has had impressive stretches. But as of late, neither of these guys has been there together which has shown the major holes in the other starting three players out there. With Wayne Selden Jr., Ben McLemore, and JaMychal Green all coming back this last week, hopefully it will give Fiz other options, especially getting Green back at the four.
So, with both of these factors in play, it has given the bench unit as a whole the opportunity to flourish and help the team in a major way. As seen here, the second unit of Chalmers, Evans, Brooks, Parsons, and Wright is the eighth most productive lineup to play at least 70 minutes together.
Out of all lineups to play at least 70 minutes together, here are the most productive:— Shane Young (@YoungNBA) November 16, 2017
Holy Process, Holy Sixers pic.twitter.com/hOBASsgLNx
Currently, the Grizzlies are third in the league in bench scoring at 43.9 points a game. This is led by Memphis fan favorite, Tyreke Evans, averaging 17.7 points per game making a strong early case for 6th man of the year. This scoring has come from a majority of pull up threes and driving full steam at the basket, finishing with ease. As many people know by now, Evans is a score-first type player. 64.6% of his made field goals are unassisted. It emphasizes the talent he has with the ball in his hands as a true scorer.
Now, many people have written about Tyreke’s rise to greatness this season, but it would not be possible without other important players on this Grizzlies bench, starting with Brandan Wright. His Grizzlies tenure has been rocky to say the least, with lots of failures. However, this year he’s taken on a quiet role and has been sneaky important off the ball for these second team scorers.
The pick and roll chemistry he’s established with Evans and Chalmers (at times) has stood out beyond his final stat line. He does his job as a garbage disposal for the team. He cleans up the trash around the rim and doesn’t look to expand his role. Wright is only averaging 5.7 points and 3.7 rebounds a game, but his splits tell the story. He hasn’t taken a three all year and has taken 48 of his 62 field goal attempts from inside 5 ft. In addition, 31 of his 35 made field goals have all happened inside 5 feet. This is incredible to me. Someone needs to put together a video of two-second clips of all his putback dunks and layups.
Outside of Wright being a traditional big man, his feel for the pick and roll has really helped the bench get their jump this year. His role in the high post has expanded to run through him more than before. As seen in these two clips, Wright comes out of the paint to help Evans and Parsons find a crease to drive through.
First, Wright takes the pass from Chalmers then hands it back off to Evans while giving him the screen he needs to beat Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. This leaves Brook Lopez on an island to guard either Evans or Wright near the basket - no man’s land. Wright plays it correctly off the pass, following Evans into the paint and leading to an easy score
In this clip, Wright’s slip screen makes Clint Capela stay on him for a bit longer than he should be resulting in questionable defense from Ryan Anderson on Parsons leading to an impressive finish. Even as pick and rolls are common knowledge in basketball, Wright has been doing well at giving ball screens to let these score-first guys on the bench go off. Also, for each clip, notice the room in the paint that will be mentioned later on.
Next, Mario Chalmers. Before the two-week injury to Conley, Rio had been the biggest question mark on this second unit. He is struggling shooting the ball this season after having a promising start. Chalmers is averaging 7.9 points a game on 35.1% shooting from the field, 22.2%(!!) from three. Only Andrew Harrison has a worse shooting percentage than that on the team. It has not been a good start for Chalmers back in Memphis, but Fiz has changed his role into more of a facilitator more than anything else. Hopefully, his shooting comes into form, however, until then they’ll call on other ball handlers to help with the duties.
Finally, Dillon Brooks and Chandler Parsons. (I am adding Brooks in the bench because even though he starts now, he has only started seven games thus far.) These two have had important roles which will be the main reason we could be seeing them as staples in the starting lineup soon.
Dillon Brooks has been so much more than the team could have asked for. The Rook is now a critical piece in his first season only 15 games in. He has taken on defensive roles that no young player in the league should be expected too. Brooks has held his own averaging 9.3 points and 4.3 rebounds a game while playing solid defense on the best players in the game. He is third on the Grizzlies in defensive rating of players playing in more than 3 games with the other two being Brandan Wright and Chalmers. So, when starting, Brooks has the best defensive rating this year in the starting five.
What really makes a difference though is how Parsons and Brooks space the floor so well. Looking back at those two clips, Brooks and Parsons do a great job of clearing the paint letting Evans, or Brooks letting Parsons, drive the paint after the screen from Wright. Defenders have to stay at home because of the resurgence in Parsons shot (54.7% from the field, 51.2% from three). It is a new aspect that the Grizzlies were missing without Parsons playing last year.
This second unit has really overachieved this season. It is great to see Memphis have one of the crazier stories in the league with this resurrection of Tyreke Evans. As he has been the main reasons for the bench success, Grizz Nation must not overlook at how he is becoming a star on this team. The spacing with Brooks and Parsons combined with the screen and rolls from Wright come together perfectly for Evans to score 17 points a game and (quietly) 3.4 assists as well.
The Grizzlies stole Evans in free agency, but the pieces around him have been what has elevated him and the Grizzlies bench to this next level.