It has been a long and sleepy stretch for the Memphis Grizzlies of late.
With a record of 3-6 in December and 4-9 in their last thirteen games, it would appear that Memphis is in a free fall. Gone are the days of longing for dreams of a 1st round home playoff series and getting the chance to see the Grizzlies go on a run. With the Western Conference being more brutal than ever before, the bears of Beale Street run the risk of falling out of the playoff picture entirely over the next month if they don’t “fix” the issue.
Barring a trade - which clearly Memphis may well be in the market for after the events of the past few days - the Grizzlies have to find improvement from within. The cavalry is not necessarily coming, either. Dillon Brooks, clearly valued by the Grizzlies, figures to be a cog in the rotation upon his return from injury in the next week or two, but he does not have the ability to improve the long-term viability of Memphis on his own.
Do not fret, though, Grizzlies fans. There are ways to embrace the unique makeup of the roster and send a shot through the lineup, getting these guys going once again.
Here’s how you do it.
Get weird, go big, and start a non-shooting shooting guard.
Kyle Anderson continues to find his footing as a Memphis Grizzly. The good news is he seems to be improving - five of his best games so far this season, according to basketball-reference.com’s Game Score state, have come in the last three weeks. It was always going to be a transition coming from the machine that is the San Antonio Spurs to Memphis, but Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff has been slow to find the best way to utilize Anderson on the offensive end of the floor.
When Kyle is at his best is with the ball in his hands. So bumping him up to the back court alongside Mike Conley would allow for Kyle to initiate and facilitate offense, both for himself and for others, while making Mike more of a primary scorer than he already is.
Who do you take out of the starting five? Garrett Temple, who has cooled considerably since his hot start to the season and would probably be better served helping lead a veteran bench unit of himself, Shelvin Mack, and JaMychal Green (with Dillon Brooks once he comes back from injury). This means going big with Omri Casspi on the wing in the starting unit.
According to basketball-reference.com, Casspi has played 59% of his minutes at the three position and he has filled his role as Chandler Parsons insurance quite nicely as both a scorer and a versatile wing defender. He has the same defensive rating as Kyle Anderson (105) and is shooting 36% from three and a remarkable 64.5% on two-point shot opportunities. He is a malleable player, able to fit his game alongside those he is around and his size alongside Anderson would create defensive issues for opposing offenses and would also help with the issues the Grizzlies have rebounding the basketball. In 48 minutes played together, Anderson and Casspi help the Grizzlies grab 8.7% more available rebounds than the team’s average.
The first substitutions can be Garrett for Omri and JaMychal Green for Jaren Jackson Jr. Casspi probably shouldn’t see more than 25 minutes a game, so Temple will still get his. But with this starting lineup you utilize one of your greatest strengths - your uniqueness - while attacking the glass and getting more opportunity for one of your currently most effective offensive players. Size and switchability abound, and the ability of Kyle Anderson with the ball in his hand will make more opportunity for those around him.
Less Shelvin Mack, more Jevon Carter
In games where Shelvin Mack plays 30 or more minutes, the Grizzlies (surprisingly) are 3-0. Yet Shelvin shot an unsustainable 13-22 in two of those games, and in the other he shot a horrible 2-11 from the field. In games where Shelvin plays less than 20 minutes, however, the Grizzlies are 5-1 and Mack is a much worse 10-27 from the field overall. Despite worse shooting from Mack, Memphis actually had more success as a team.
Of course some of this is coincidental, and Shelvin has overall been a diamond in the rough find for the Grizzlies and should continue to be a rotation player. Memphis has become far too dependent on him, however, and he should not be getting the minutes that he is getting currently. Mack currently gets more minutes per game than JaMychal Green, Dillon Brooks (before injury of course), and the aforementioned Omri Casspi, whose role should be increased some. If these numbers hold, they would be Mack’s largest minutes per game average of his career by three minutes per game while posting a net -6 rating for the Grizzlies.
Less needs to be more.
Now Memphis has a hungry guard in Jevon Carter who would happily eat in to some of Mack’s minutes, and would bring a defensive energy and intensity that could provide a spark on an almost nightly basis for Memphis. You rarely see that in the NBA - a player who is a “microwave” in terms of heating up quickly off the bench, but in terms of defensive acumen, not scoring buckets. Shelvin may be here long-term for Memphis, but Jevon will almost certainly be a Grizzly next season. He has shown in Southaven with the Hustle he is ready for 12-ish minutes a night.
Let him and Mack run together. This would mean, again, multiple ball handlers, allowing for the 6’3” combo guard Mack to be off the ball more consistently and think as a scorer at times with a reserve unit.
Quick Hits to Help
- Replace any MarShon Brooks and Wayne Selden Jr. minutes with Dillon Brooks upon his return. This is kind of obvious at this point...clearly you’re willing to part with both MarShon and Wayne, so roll with the guy you called off a trade for and perhaps try to pair those two with a 2nd rounder or two for a wing upgrade.
- Don’t overuse Joakim Noah. He’s been a shot of life for Memphis, and provides some help on the glass and defensively. There’s no need for him to play 14-ish minutes a night at this stage, though, knowing the way the NBA is trending smaller. JaMychal Green and Jaren Jackson Jr. should suffice on 50% of the nights - make Joakim a burst of energy and enthusiasm when necessary, not a nightly rotation staple.
- Get Jaren Jackson Jr. 30 minutes a night. With Marc Gasol averaging 34 minutes per game, Jaren at 30 would allow for plenty of time for JaMychal as the third big, plus some time for Omri Casspi at the 4 in specific matchups. Same for Noah, as stated above. Jaren needs to keep learning how to play with fouls, and how to use his body. Best way to do that is through playing.
Some things aren’t fixable. The Grizzlies simply don’t have as much talent as several of the Western Conference teams they are in contention for playoff spots with. This roster has been built to zig where others zag, however. Embrace that - attack utilizing that ability to be unique and wake up a roster that, when clicking, can compete with just about anybody in the NBA.