When the Grizzlies announced that J.B. Bickerstaff was going to have the “interim” tag removed from his title and become the full time Grizzlies head coach, most fans and media members were vastly underwhelmed (yours truly included). Instead of trying to go after established like Frank Vogel, Steve Clifford, Dwane Casey or Mike Budenholzer, or even up and coming coaches like James Borrego, the Grizzlies stuck with their Bickerstaff, who was captain of the Grizzlies tanking efforts last season. The players seemed ecstatic at the news, with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol singing the praises of J.B. and how excited they were for this upcoming season. But to the fans and some media, hiring J.B. just seemed like a lazy hire with no real coaching search.
Fans and media had reasons to be disappointed in the hire as the Grizzlies were not linked to a single coaching candidate outside of Bickerstaff. Bickerstaff himself wasn’t even mentioned as a candidate for the other 8 coaching vacancies last summer. It seemed as if the Grizzlies didn’t even try to go after someone more qualified.
Everyone pointed out Bickerstaff’s 52-82 record as an interim coach following last season or the fact that he’s been an associate head coach for 14 of his 16 seasons in the NBA with his only other coaching experience was as interim head coach in Houston in 2015-2016 and last year for the Grizzlies. Was J.B. Bickerstaff the right choice for head coach this past summer? Frankly, it doesn’t matter. J.B. is the coach of the Grizzlies now and should be for the foreseeable future.
It’s unfair to hold J.B.’s 52-82 record against him coming into this season. The Grizzlies handed J.B. the keys to an old ‘76 Gremlin instead of a well-oiled machine. Using last years 15-48 record under J.B. isn’t a valid argument considering the players he was given to use. Last year was more about development than winning games by the time J.B. took over.
J.B.’s situation in Houston wasn’t much better as it was the end of the Dwightmare. It’s really more of an accomplishment that J.B. went 37-34 and sneaked into the playoffs that season before losing to the Warriors in 5 games in the first round of the playoffs. Depending on who you ask, J.B. had no desire to stick around in Houston after that season, even with Howard moving on to sign with Atlanta.
So far this season the Grizzlies have exceeded expectations, jumping out to a 15-11 record and in the middle of the playoff race. Yet I’ve noticed a theme early this season for the Grizzlies. Whenever the team wins the players get all of the credit, whereas J.B. gets the a majority of the blame whenever the team loses. I’m sure J.B. would prefer things stay that way, as any head coach would, but I personally think blaming J.B. for every minor thing isn’t fair to him.
J.B. is 26 games in to his first real gig as a NBA head coach. This is probably the first time he’s ever felt legitimate job security in this position. Don’t let the gray beard fool you, either, as J.B. is only 39 years old. He’s in his first full season as the guy in charge, yet Grizz Nation seems to be expecting J.B. to have everything figured out as if he’s in his 10th season in charge. It’s time to pump the brakes on all of the J.B. slander.
This isn’t to say that J.B. has been perfect in his first year as head coach. His rotations have been questionable many times throughout this season. Early in the year, he barely played Dillon Brooks for seemingly no reason. Lately it seems like he’s flipping a coin before the game to decide who is going to play between MarShon Brooks and Wayne Selden Jr. He hasn’t quite figured out how to balance Jaren Jackson Jr.’s minutes with his fouling tendencies. The biggest complaint I’ve seen is how J.B. goes to the Mike & Marc Pick-n-Roll nearly every possession down the stretch in close games.
Those are fair complaints, but also signs of a coach still figuring it all out. It’s also important to note that J.B. gave Dillon a larger leash before Dillon got hurt. J.B. has also started to let JJJ foul out of games, instead of leaving him on the bench with 5 fouls late in the game. The Wayne and MarShon minutes are still weird to me, but J.B. at least typically rides with the hot hand on a game-to-game basis. J.B. riding with the Mike & Marc Pick-n-Roll should be telling the front office this team needs another scorer particularly on the wing, but it wouldn’t kill J.B. to run at least a few plays for JJJ to throw teams off late in the game.
J.B. is in a peculiar position with the Grizzlies. He’s tasked with competing on a nightly basis and getting the Grizzlies back in the playoffs, but he’s also been tasked with developing the young talent on the team to better prepare for the future of the organization. Balancing those two priorities will make J.B.’s rotations weird at times until he figures out what the best rotation is.
J.B. also only has a short period of time to prove himself to the Grizzlies front office. With Marc Gasol’s player option this summer and the fact that the Grizzlies could have a ton of cap space to work with after next season since the max contracts of Chandler Parsons, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley (if he opts to use his early termination clause) will be off the books. The next two seasons will likely determine which route the Grizzlies go once the money opens up. If the front office decides to blow it up and rebuild, it’s difficult to see J.B. given the opportunity to stick around. If the team is competitive, he may have earned a contract extension. Considering J.B. is the 6th Grizzlies coach in the past 10 years, the front office hasn’t shown much patience in their head coaches.
Just because the front office loses patience easily with their coaches doesn’t mean we have to. J.B. is in the early stages of his coaching career and in the early stages of this season. It’s time to stop with the mini social media riots against him when the Grizzlies lose. J.B.’s still learning as a coach and has already shown the ability to adapt over time. The NBA season is an 82 game marathon, not a sprint. Everyone needs to take a step back, a deep breath and just be thankful the Grizzlies are good again.
Do you think J.B. Bickerstaff has done a good job so far in his first full season as Grizzlies head coach?
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