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Who can play the five for the Grizzlies?

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The Grizzlies are getting by, but getting by isn’t enough

NBA: Washington Wizards at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

One glaring issue through the Grizzlies’ first six games is a lack of rebounding. In overall rebounding, the Grizzlies are currently dead last in the NBA at 39.7 per game. That low number is no doubt a result of the Grizzlies’ also-league-worst 7.2 offensive rebounds per game.

Now, by no means are total rebounding numbers a complete end-all indicator of win-loss records. The Atlanta Hawks are 16th in the NBA and are 2-5, the Orlando Magic are 12th and are also 2-5, and the Golden State Warriors are 15th and are 7-1. Scoring has some to do with that, as Golden State averages over 124 points per game, and the Hawks only average 108.4 per game. Orlando is only scoring 100.6 per game, but total defense in regards to points helps as well.

Memphis is allowing 100 points per game and scoring 103.7. Golden State is allowing 110.8 per game, including a game the other night when the lowly Chicago Bulls put up 124 on the Warriors. Atlanta is giving up 116.8 and Orlando is surrendering 110.7 per game. Through Wednesday, the only team in the league giving up less points per game than the Grizzlies is Boston at 97.5 and whereas Memphis is 4-2, the Celtics stand at 5-2 through Wednesday.

There definitely is SOME correlation between rebounding and winning games, especially in the long run. In the Grizzlies’ two losses to Sacramento and Indiana, Memphis was out-rebounded 114-77. In their four victories the Grizzlies won the rebounding battle by a combined 168-152. With the victory against Utah the lower point total of the four, the Grizzlies are averaging 111.8 points in their victories and 87.5 points in their two losses.

Jaren Jackson Jr. and Marc Gasol are currently the only “traditional” bigs, as-in players that can be slotted in at the five spot. Chandler Parsons and Ivan Rabb are close to the size for the position but neither can fill in appropriately in the event of a Gasol or Jackson injury spell, or in the short term, foul trouble in a game situation.

Jackson is currently averaging 4.3 fouls per game, the worst average in the NBA. Gasol is doing pretty well at only 1.8 per game, which is down about 28% from a little over 2.5 from last season. The Grizzlies team as a whole are 16th in the league with 22.5 fouls per game, which is down from their league-worst 23.2 per game last season.

Going back to the quandary of bigs in the lineup, JaMychal Green is still out for the foreseeable future. Green’s broken jaw will most likely keep him out until at least the start of December, and he may not be back to full strength until late-December or early-January. So the Grizzlies may need to find at least one or even two bigs to fill out their roster.

Aside from the couple players already mentioned the only players with size are Yuta Watanabe, Kyle Anderson, and Omri Casspi; 3 players who also could probably only fill in at the five in a pinch or against a similarly small lineup.

Current Free Agents

What free agents??

Seriously. There isn’t a lot to choose from in this regard. Quincy Acy is just about the only big with any decent resume that’s still out there, and he’s currently not doing anything at all in a basketball-related way.

All the other bigger name free agents like Joffrey Lauvergne or Tarik Black have headed overseas with the hopes of coming back to the NBA next season.

G-League Prospects

Ideally you’d want to try to sign to a couple different 10-day contracts once you’re able to and bridge the gap some, even with the eventual return of JaMychal Green. Plus, it’d be pointless to sign anyone right away since they haven’t played yet this season, unless there’s someone you feel is absolutely worth it already.

Players on Expiring Deals

One important thing to keep in mind is that with the Grizzlies current cap situation, the only way the team could add someone that’s currently on the roster is either through a trade or through a team buying out a deal and then signing that player to the league minimum. The problem still becomes that even with waiving the non-guaranteed deal of Andrew Harrison, the Grizzlies still may go into the tax even signing a player to the league minimum. It would take some clever bookkeeping to make these deals work. It’s definitely possible to make it work, it would just take some creativity.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Taj Gibson

Taj is a curious case and probably wouldn’t be an option for buyout unless the Timberwolves move Jimmy Butler. At that point the T’Wolves would have to be looking to put themselves into a good position for a high draft pick. Gibson had his best season on the boards since his rookie campaign in 2009-10 by averaging 7.3 boards per game last season, bolstered by a nice 3 per game offensively. One troubling stat however, is his defensive net rating has fallen every single year since 2013-14. Part of that is the overall quality of the teams he’s been on since that time, but it also has something to do with Taj turning 33 earlier this year.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Robin Lopez

Last year was a bit of a down year for Lopez, but then again it was a down year for the entire Chicago franchise. For his career, Lopez is only averaging 5.4 boards per game, but over the four seasons before 2017-18 he averaged 7.3 per game. Lopez has shot the ball well over his career, including a true shooting percentage that’s actually been better than that of Marc Gasol season-to-season. A big dilemma for Lopez would be that he’s been a starter the last several seasons of his career, and would need to be the Grizzlies 2nd option at the five.

His comfort level with this reduced role would be a factor, as would the Bulls’ roster. Like the Grizzlies, the Bulls only have a couple traditional fives on their roster, and would probably not be looking to cut Lopez loose unless something drastic happened.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Nikola Vucevic

Vucevic, like Robin Lopez, has been the primary option at the five. Also, like Lopez, young additions to the team the last couple seasons have slightly lessened his role. Orlando has a slightly different situation this season as they have the young draft pick in Mo Bamba but their other option has yet to suit up for the Magic this season. Timofey Mozgov joined the Magic via trade this summer. Currently, Orlando finds itself in the 10th spot in the East, but it remains to be seen if it’s sustainable for the long-term. Vucevic has similar/better stats than Gasol in most categories so picking up Vucevic is probably a bit of a stretch.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Randolph

I’m not including Zach in here for the “obvious” reasons. Yes, he’s arguably the most important player in the history of the franchise. We know what Zach brings to the table. Overall, of the other players I mentioned, this is probably the most likely possibility. Zach is obviously still connected to the city and from a public relations perspective this is the one deal that if it didn’t work, Chris Wallace and the rest of the front office would take the least amount of heat for it. If you didn’t know already, Zach hasn’t played a single game for the Kings this season, and in fact hasn’t even suited up or been listed as active. The Kings are clearly going with a youth movement and it’s clearly working early this season. Aside from all the off the court stuff, Zach’s game on the court could be what ails the Grizzlies so far this season.

That’s all if Zach is still the guy he was when he left Memphis at the end of the 2016-17 season. Zach isn’t quite the double-double player he was for many years, but he could still get you 12 points and 7 rebounds in a 2nd unit or spot starting role.

Now, this is all speculative of course. The Grizzlies are still finding ways to win games. But just like in years past, the team is possibly one more injury away from being a lottery team again instead of the playoff contender they envision themselves to be. You can either wait out Green’s jaw injury and hope he’s good for the 2019 portion of the season, or move some pieces from the low end of the roster and get some help down low right now.

The Grizzlies upcoming schedule will go a long way towards determining what the team does. Over the next few weeks the Grizzlies play Utah twice, the Kings and Suns for a second time, and then one game a piece against Golden State, Denver, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Dallas. End that stretch still above .500 and you’re in good shape, but there’s definitely a possibility of coming out of those ten games below .500 and be in a big hole heading into the end of November.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com