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A Beautiful Diversity Amongst Grizzlies Big Men

Everybody plays a different brand of basketball that fits together

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

With the re-introduction of Brandan Wright into the lineup in the past couple of weeks, the Grizzlies strongly bolstered their frontcourt. Sometimes a mid-season addition like that can bloat the rotation, causing an odd-man-out scenario.

That is NOT what is happening in Memphis, and one of the reasons for that is the diversity of the big men on the roster. From appearance to age to style of play, there’s minimal overlap in what these players bring to the table, making them interchangeable and Grizzlies lineups much more versatile.

So let’s analyze what roles each guy plays on the team, starting with the young guys.

Note: I’m purposefully leaving out Chanlder Parsons and James Ennis III as they are nominal wing players who may be moved into a small ball four spot, whereas these other guys are exclusively fours and fives.

The Project: Jarrell Martin

Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles Lakers
Jarrell Martin (10) dunks against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

As our own Matt Hrdlicka wrote in early January, Martin has been poor, but “there is [probably] a player in here.” At 6’10 240 lbs., there are few players on the team with the kind of physical tools he has (save Deyonta Davis, who I will get to soon). He looks like the kind of guy who, if he could develop a quick first step, could be a nightmare as a small-ball, floor-spacing four.

Problem is, right now he does not have that quick step and it limits him on both sides of the court. He’s shooting horrifically overall at 37.5% according to Basketball Reference, but his 34.6% shooting from distance shows that there is a viable and efficient offensive player in Martin. He also posts good rebounding numbers per 36 minutes and per 100 possessions, which show he already has good motor and strength.

With a fully healthy squad now available for the Grizz (*knocks on wood for good measure*) Martin’s place will be with the Iowa Energy in the D-League. Fortunately, he can build chemistry with fellow youngsters Wade Baldwin IV, Troy Williams, Davis and potential NBA call-up JaKarr Sampson.

The Prodigy: Deyonta Davis

This kid could be the smooth Brandan Wright—only better. With his insane wingspan and timing, he could become the franchise rim protector in 4-5 years. His timing is already great (though not perfect) and his athleticism is palpable even when watching him in brief intervals on a television screen. Note: he is WAY more impressive live.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder
Deyonta Davis warms up before a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

I call him the smooth Brandan Wright because instead of being an elite rim runner/rim protector with gangly arms and an awkward running gait, Davis looks like a motorized statue chiseled by Bernini himself. Even though he’s a half step behind, he still flows well within the game and can make up for mistakes just on pure talent and physical gifts.

However, at the ripe young age of 20 and with a bevy of players in their primes ahead of him on the depth chart, Davis will be relegated to the D-League until a roster spot opens up, and rightfully so. He’s not quite ready yet. The Grizzlies have a potential star in Davis; they need to get him some reps when they can.

And speaking of Brandan Wright...

Rim Runner/Rim Protector: Brandan Wright

Brandan Wright is beautiful because he gives you a different dimension in the pick and roll while still giving the team production on the defensive side of the ball. While Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph need deftly placed bounce passes through tight, brief windows when rolling, Wright has the reach and jump to snag most lobs at the rim, making Mike Conley’s job easier.

Wright also like to go to work on the offensive glass. He’s the third best Memphis big in terms of offensive rebound percentage, which is a percentage of the available offensive rebounds a player grabs while he is on the floor. Getting garbage buckets and tip ins sustains his offensive workload when not running to the rim.

However, his defensive rebounding has been sub-standard thus far as he only nabs 1.3 of those per contest. That could be due to the small sample size he’s played so far or could be due to the fact that he’s playing next to other great rebounders frequently. It’s too early to tell.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Brooklyn Nets
Brandan Wright (34) prepares for liftoff against the Brooklyn Nets.
Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

Defensively, Wright’s length deters players from shooting at or around the rim. His block percentage, which is the percentage of opponent’s two-point field goals blocked while that player is on the floor, of 5.2 percent is the second best on the team by quite a margin. Note: Davis leads the team with 7.3 PERCENT (!!!).

Wright is a fresh addition to the rotation and serves an useful and unfilled role as bench big defensive specialist and rim runner.

Mr. Versatile: JaMychal Green

Another reason why it’s nice to finally have Wright is JaMychal’s inability to curtail fouling every player on the opposition. If the 6’9 forward ever gets in would trouble, now there’s depth in the frontcourt.

But other than that, what a boon Green has been for the Grizzlies. His size allows him to neutralize small ball lineups used against the Grizzlies by his ability to switch and guard smaller players. This “Numbers Game” by Peter Edmiston of the Commercial Appeal from December, though dated, still holds true especially in its analysis of what specifically Green does well on the defensive end.

Offensively Green gives you many options too. He’s shown he can space the floor or operate in the paint without needing the ball much. He has the third lowest usage rate, which estimates the percentage of team plays a player uses while on the court, while putting up the fourth best win shares per 48 minutes mark which attempts to encapsulate how many wins a player contributes to his team per 48 minutes. Now that’s efficiency!

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Memphis Grizzlies
JaMychal Green (0) guards Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans.
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

And additionally, Green is a tenacious rebounder even though he’s often undersized. The guy can do it all, and it would be a shame if the Grizzlies let the 26-year-old walk in free agency, assuming he doesn’t get traded (I am assuming this very hard.) He will be expensive, though, as GBB Site Manager Joe Mullinax detailed here in January.

Throwback to 90’s Big Man: Zach Randolph

Yep, one of the few bigs who could genuinely play in any era of basketball ever and be just fine.

We know what Z-Bo does: lost post dominator, midrange jab-step-into-feet-together-slightly-off-balance-cash-money-jumper, beast on the glass. What is refreshing and quenching is that he’s doing all of that just about as well as he ever has in Memphis... while coming off the bench.

Per 36 minutes the big fella is having the third best scoring year of his career, second best assisting season, and—wait for it—the single best rebounding year of his career. You read that right, I promise. Don’t believe me?

Z-Bo’s career rebounding #’s per 36 minutes

Bang! Read em and weep.

His elite strength and physicality plus his touch of God footwork and finishing make him one of the perfectly constructed power forwards in the game. Please be the Grizzlies’ Tim Duncan, Z-Bo. Never age.

Mr. Do-It-All: Marc Gasol

Tell me something Marc Gasol cannot do on a basketball court. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Utah Jazz Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Offensively he is dangerous anywhere: low post, high post, short corner, paint, midrange, beyond the arc, on ball, off ball. Oh, and I forgot to mention he’s one of the most skilled passing big in the game’s history.

What’s that? I forgot to mention he’s been the anchor for one of the league’s stingiest defenses for six years running? Well I’ll have you know that I didn’t forget because I wrote it down right there ^ restating your rhetorical question.

If you squint really hard you might say that rebounding is the chink in his armor, but a) when your frontcourt partners are all excellent rebounders and you also play with a ball hawking guard in Tony Allen, you’re rebounding suffers as a result and b) often times Marc is positioned at the high post or top of the key and his biggest responsibility when a shot goes up is not to go for the offensive board, but to sink back and set up the defense.

So yeah, there’s nothing he can’t do. Obvious All-Star, candidate for best big man in the league, Grizz for life. He is a fitting leader for this motley crew of bigs in Memphis.

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