At one point last night, it looked like the Memphis Grizzlies had finally figured everything out. They led by 19 near the end of the first half and were finally making many of the same shots that they had consistently missed over the course of this “slump.” They shot 54% in the first half and made 9 threes as the Kings looked generally helpless on the defensive end. Jaren Jackson Jr. was incredible as he scored 12 points in the 1st quarter.
And yet, the Memphis Grizzlies now find themselves on the brink of total free fall after a potentially season-defining 102-99 loss to the Kings in Sacramento last night. And this collapse can almost be entirely traced back to one person.
But before I get into that, allow me to place you in the middle of a story.
Let’s say that you are a basketball phenom with transcendent talent and the desire to pursue greatness. And for most of your rookie season in the NBA, you have definitely been great. Some would even say that you’re the second best player on your team.
However, your head coach seems to be completely oblivious to this fact. Of course, your coach will sit in post-game pressers and speak glowingly of you, saying things like “he doesn’t realize just how good he is yet.” But deep down, you know that he is the one who doesn’t realize how good you are. He is the one that is holding you back.
So after several games (in which you admittedly did not play well) of playing less minutes than inferior players on your team, everything seems to come together for you one night. You score 12 points in the first quarter, including a ridiculous poster dunk that causes your own team’s bench to clear.
Maybe this is the night the coach will understand how transcendent you are. Maybe this is the night that you will finally have the role that you deserve.
And yet, your coach almost seems to go out of his way to keep you from finding a rythym the rest of the game. You don’t score again after that dominant first quarter. It’s certainly not your fault, considering that he barely even plays you in the second half, and in the limited time in which he does, you barely ever touch the ball, taking only one shot after the first quarter.
So tell me this: How would that make you feel? Would you be able to trust that your coach is competent and has the ability to lead your team into the future? At the very least, you would be highly uncertain of that fact, wouldn’t you?
Such is the life of Jaren Jackson Jr. under the...questionable...coaching of J.B. Bickerstaff, who was hired without a coaching search (that seems a tad relevant at the moment).
The problem with Bickerstaff is also the main problem for the Grizzlies during this awful stretch—inexplicable, confounding rotations. Specifically, playing Shelvin Mack, JaMychal Green, and, yes, Marc Gasol far too many minutes.
To a certain degree, I am able to empathize with Bickerstaff. He spent a long time on NBA benches before finally getting his own head coaching job, and there was probably one thing that was drilled into his head more than anything: Trust veterans.
But there comes a time when you have to realize that your veterans don’t have to necessarily make “rookie mistakes” to have a negative impact on the game when they are just that bad. Also, the idea that players like Mack and Green receive more minutes than more talented players like Jevon Carter and Jaren Jackson because they make fewer mistakes is ludicrous. They are simply given a longer leash when they do make mistakes.
Last night serves as the culmination of this confounding philosophy. Marc Gasol, especially with his recent play, played entirely too many minutes with 38. JaMychal Green and Shelvin Mack both finished the game despite a mountain of statistical evidence saying that is a terrible idea. Jaren Jackson Jr. was yanked after the first foul he received in the first few minutes of the 4th quarter, and he would only reenter the game near the very end.
This one's wild. Mack singlehandedly destroys this defense. Just leaves Bogdanovic to wander inside. So Bogdanovic wisely just tracks the 3 point line for space and finds some, Selden is totally hung out to dry here. Mack played 9 min after this. Would JJJ? pic.twitter.com/jq3y70bVqw— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) December 22, 2018
Now, being an NBA head coach is a difficult job, especially when you have to manage personalities and egos. It’s easy for anyone to tell a coach how to do his job from the couch or Twitter. However, coaching in the NBA also isn’t rocket science. Sometimes, it’s just a simple case of mathematics.
Net Ratings over the five-game losing streak. Pretty self-explanatory. pic.twitter.com/Vr5wqcdc1g— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) December 22, 2018
Now let me be clear: J.B. Bickertstaff can turn this whole thing around with just a few changes. It’s way too early to be talking about the “f-word” when it comes to the head coach before midseason even arrives. He has instilled an excellent defensive philosophy and has helped the Grizzlies rebound after a miserable tanking season
However, with a devastating and humiliating loss like this serving as the culmination his inexplicable and stubborn mistakes, he is now on the clock. And the clock is ticking until he turns it around.