Coming into the new year, the expectations are high. The Grizzlies have a healthy roster, which means the pressure will be solely placed on head coach J.B. Bickerstaff and this coaching staff. Even in a small market, the Grizzlies faithful want results. Last season was a whirlwind and not at all what the fans wanted, but tolerable because of a weak and unhealthy roster. He took over after the firing of Fizdale, so people understood the challenge. This year, it will probably be a short leash. If Bickerstaff cannot deliver results, there could be some noise about a change in coaching in the next couple seasons.
Bickerstaff’s combined record as head coach is 52-82 in two seasons. That record spans over 71 games in Houston during the 2015-16 season. Both of these head coaching seasons started unexpectedly when Kevin McHale and David Fizdale were both fire while Bickerstaff was serving as associate head coach.
It will be his first start to a season as a head coach in the NBA. He will be able to implement his game plan and strategies off the bat without picking up the failed pieces from a previous coach.
2017-2018 Season In Review
As mentioned, J.B. Bickerstaff was hired on as head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies after the controversial firing of David Fizdale. Many people nationally did not understand the firing of Fizdale while many rumors came out about a feud with superstar Marc Gasol. Either way, the Grizzlies were in a state of turmoil when Bickerstaff took over as head coach.
That first season he logged a record of 15-48. This is less than ideal coming from a team who made the playoffs countless times the seasons before. Bickerstaff had to take a roster that had lost many pieces from the playoff runs and compete on a nightly basis. The challenge was the toughest Bickerstaff had faced up to this point in his career.
Even as the record was not what he wanted, Coach Bickerstaff gained the respect from the players which was seen throughout the tough stretches of the season. During a season like that one, all you can ask is that the coach builds on the relationships across the roster trying to improve on everything that brought the team to this low point. This year will be a test of how well he can do with that challenge.
Bickerstaff and this coaching staff will be in for an interesting ride this season. With a healthy Conley and Gasol and decent role players around them, the Grizzlies should be factors in the playoff discussion. If not, this season will go down as another failure. That would be the second unimpressive season that Bickerstaff has led the Grizzlies to in two years.
His style fits this new era of NBA. The Spray N Pray era is alive and well, and that is what will lead him to the most success. In Houston, he was one of the first coaches to shoot an absurd amount of threes per game. Bickerstaff was the first Houston coach to set up their identity as such.
Even as that Houston roster fit perfect to that scheme, the logic still can work in Memphis. It is a change for Memphis, but more threes is analytically proven to give a higher odds of success. With Conley back and Gasol/Jaren Jackson Jr. to stretch the floor, it could be great system to implement for this roster.
Best Case Scenario
The best case scenario is that the roster stays healthy. Conley and Gasol play at the superstar level everyone knows them to be. This eases the pressure off Bickerstaff to help him navigate his way through his first full season as head coach.
This roster depth will let Bickerstaff show off his coaching creativity throwing out successful small ball lineups that work with great success. Also, he will perfectly bring on Jaren Jackson Jr. to develop and fit into the schemes he is concocting on a nightly basis. The Grizzlies win 45 games and are the 7-seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
Worst Case Scenario
The worst possible outcome is that Bickerstaff does not get a long leash as head coach. This would come by the wheels falling off early as Conley or Gasol suffer injury, and the team nosedives. Bickerstaff does not have the coaching resume to have another bad season, so if anything went wrong it would not be long before he gets the axe as head coach.
Supporters would petition and say that the roster health is not his fault, but after so many other miscues, Chris Wallace tries to deflect the attention on another bad season on the coach saving himself for yet another season. The Grizzlies would end up with 30 wins searching for a new head coach next offseason.
At the end of the day, J.B. Bickerstaff may not be a long term answer. His record just does not give me hope. Just one man’s opinion - I do not believe that he has what it takes to make the calls throughout the game to put his team in the best position to win the game.
However, he does have the great opportunity to prove me and other critics wrong this year. It is his first full year to take the reins as head coach, so it will be fascinating if anything changes earlier on this season. His success will be directly linked with the health of the roster. Bickerstaff could show promise with the superstars around him. Without them, the mistakes he makes during the year will be more obvious
J.B. Bickerstaff has coached in 134 games over his two years as interim head coach. That is enough games to disregard the interim title. He has his chance. It is why this will be a make it or break it year for Bickerstaff. The realistic expectations are for the Grizzlies to contend for the playoffs. That is all. If he can do that, his job should be safe. If not, the Grizzlies will have to question the leadership of this team once again.