What do these teams have in common?
For starters, all of these teams reached the second round of this year’s playoffs. They also only had one “center” play over 12 minutes a game in the playoffs. As the league has become smaller and faster, “true 5’s” are closer to a historic museum than a basketball court.
If you’re a big man that can’t hit 3’s, finish easy lobs, protect the rim and switch on anything, good luck finding any minutes in the modern NBA.
Where am I going with this?
Last week, the Memphis Grizzlies traded Deyonta Davis, leaving Marc Gasol as the only “true 5” on the roster — before yesterday’s trade for Dakari Johnson.
The traditionalist fan, the one that firmly believes in positions, is cool with the Johnson trade, because it gives them another true 5. However, I, the modernist fan that is all about position-less basketball, say that they’re fine without another center. The team’s newfound versatility makes one not necessary.
I know this ideology worked for the league’s elite teams, but will it be helpful for the Grizzlies? Is the Dakari Johnson move fine?
Dakari Johnson & the field
Dakari Johnson is a solid pickup for what his role should be, Marc Gasol’s insurance. He's a young big man that could potentially become a decent backup big down the line.
After the Deyonta Davis trade, it was easy to believe that Grizzlies could either clear a roster spot, main roster or two-way, for another true 5. Granted, any player that would take this spot would only see real minutes if Marc Gasol or Jaren Jackson Jr. went down with an injury. Even then, you still have Ivan Rabb, a combo big man with a promising post game.
When you look at the field though, there weren’t any much better options than Johnson for this role.
Greg Monroe will probably only look at places with a defined role or with a legitimate title shot. Neither of those are happening in Memphis.
Then there’s the infamous Jahlil Okafor, whose defensive deficiencies and inability to space the floor have driven him out of the league, despite being the 3rd overall pick THREE YEARS AGO.
The only better realistic option than Johnson is Tarik Black. He’d be a bruising veteran presence that would be perfect in both this role and the new GNG mantra.
It also helps that he’s from Memphis.
Dakari Johnson is an OK young center. He’s still insanely raw and doesn't have any intriguing/potentially elite NBA skill. If he makes the Grizzlies’ opening night roster, he’ll ultimately see more minutes in Southaven than Memphis.
And that’s totally fine, because ...
Why another “true 5” is ultimately unnecessary
... THE GRIZZLIES DON’T REALLY NEED ANOTHER TRUE 5.
Granted, I’m not calling for anyone’s job to be gone after this trade. It makes sense salary cap/luxury tax wise. However, I wouldn’t prioritize Dakari Johnson over someone like Andrew Harrison for depth purposes.
The Grizzlies have a luxury that they haven’t had in quite a long-time: frontcourt versatility. It’s honestly a convenience that could allow the Grizzlies to form a mold of a team similar to the league’s elite.
This valuable commodity is thanks to recent draft pick Jaren Jackson Jr. For the first time in quite some time, the Memphis Grizzlies have a big that can legitimately play both the 4 and the 5. In fact, Jackson may be more of a 5 than a 4.
SB Nation’s Ricky O’Donnell praised Jaren Jackson’s Summer League performance, but also mentioned how the Grizzlies should really be using him:
“Jackson largely played out of position at power forward for Memphis in summer league next to center Deyonta Davis, and he figures to log plenty of minutes there in real games next to Marc Gasol. Michigan State made this mistake, too.
Jackson is the perfect modern center. Just stick him at the five and figure everything else out later.”
Sure, it might be beneficial to play him next to Marc just for his development, which is totally fine. However, he can be a unicorn 5, one similar to the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis and Kristaps Porzingis. Utilization in this type of role opens up insane small-ball possibilities for the Grizzlies — ones JB Bickerstaff should eagerly venture into.
Be traditionalist, that’s fine...stay in 2010. The Grizzlies have the perfect opportunity to join the modern NBA with their versatile wings and budding-unicorn big man.
Why damage that for a depreciating asset in today’s league?