The dust has seemingly settled on what has been a surprisingly active Grizzlies offseason. Barring any changes to the second two-way contract and one last cut/trade to get to the league-mandated 15 players, it’s likely the Grizzlies roster will stay as is going into the 2018-2019 season. The Grizzlies roster is much more versatile than seasons past, with a majority of the roster being able to play multiple positions.
Although opening night is still 3 months away, it’s interesting to look at what the Grizzlies starting lineup and rotation will look like in mid-October while these moves are still fresh on our mind.
(Authors Note: These lineups are what I believe the Grizzlies WILL do, not necessarily what I believe they SHOULD do; also, I’m going with the assumption Dakari Johnson will be cut to get the Grizzlies down to the 15 available roster spots.)
Opening Night Depth Chart:
Point Guard - Mike Conley, Andrew Harrison, Shelvin Mack, Jevon Carter
Shooting Guard - Dillon Brooks, Wayne Selden, MarShon Brooks
Small Forward - Kyle Anderson, Garrett Temple, Omri Casspi
Power Forward - JaMychal Green, Chandler Parsons, Ivan Rabb
Center - Marc Gasol, Jaren Jackson Jr.
The two biggest questions in regards to opening night is who starts at shooting guard and power forward.
Andrew Harrison started the first two games his rookie season two years ago. Looking over that short stint, the last time the Grizzlies started and stuck with rookies in their starting lineup was the 2008-2009 season, when both O.J. Mayo and Marc Gasol were rookies. As good as Jaren Jackson Jr. looked in summer league, I’d be shocked if the Grizzlies start JJJ on opening night.
Whether or not that is the right decision is an argument for another day, but the Grizzlies typically don’t throw rookies into the fire and I think it will take at least 15-20 games into the season for JJJ to take over for JaMychal as the starting power forward. With JJJ the closest thing to a center besides Marc Gasol on this roster, starting the season on the bench gives the Grizzlies rotation more flexibility.
After proving himself to be a second round steal last season, Dillon Brooks has earned himself the starting shooting guard role. The addition of Garrett Temple gives the Grizzlies a high IQ option at the shooting guard position, but I think the team will roll with Brooks so that Temple can help lead the bench mob. The Grizzlies are in a good position and can start any of the 4 players mentioned above. In most games, it doesn’t matter who starts, but instead on who finishes the game on the court. If Brooks starts and is having a bad game, Coach Bickerstaff can close the game out with Temple instead.
With the Grizzlies roster being more versatile than ever, their rotation can change almost every night. The Grizzlies quietly have a ton of depth, especially on the wings, to throw different looks at opponents.
I think the first substitutions the Grizzlies make will be to sub in JJJ for JaMychal and Selden in for Brooks, keeping Conley, Anderson and Gasol on the court. Eventually, JJJ will shift down to the center position when someone like Chandler Parsons subs in for Gasol to play power forward. Look for Garrett Temple or Omri Casspi to sub in for Anderson, while Harrison or Mack come in for Conley.
An eventual Harrison, Selden, Temple, Parsons, and JJJ bench lineup won’t scare a ton of teams but can be sneakily effective. The lineup has a nice blend of young athleticism and high IQ veterans. If this lineup is struggling to score, the Grizzlies will simply replace Selden with MarShon Brooks, who can hopefully recreate the scoring magic he had at the end of last season. Casspi is essentially Parsons insurance. Casspi can easily fill in Parsons spot in the rotation when Parsons likely sits in back-to-backs. Casspi can also get a little run while the team continues to limit Parsons minutes.
The Grizzlies have a bunch of options going into next season, which will allow them to experiment with various different starting and bench rotations. Having multiple players who can play multiple positions will make it easier for the team to recover if someone goes down with an injury. Having this versatility will also give Bickerstaff options at the end of games.
The Grizzlies, barring injuries, will almost surely close nearly every game out with the trio of Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Kyle Anderson. Similar to the starting lineup, Bickerstaff will have options for who closes the game out at the 2 and 4 positions. Every game is circumstantial and these positions will be filled by who is having a good game. However, I expect the Grizzlies to close out most games with Garrett Temple at the 2 and Jaren Jackson Jr. at the 4. Temple’s high IQ and solid offensive and defensive ability will help the Grizzlies make the most out of every possession late in a close game.
Pairing Jaren Jackson Jr. next to Marc Gasol down low to close out games will make it extremely difficult for teams to score late in the game. If JJJ has similar success from beyond the arc to what he did in summer league, his 3 point shooting will help create a ton of space for the Grizzlies to work with.
At the end of the day, the Grizzlies have a ton of different options with their lineups and it will be interesting to see how Bickerstaff changes things up on a nightly basis to get the most out of this team. The opening night lineup will probably look much different from the lineup the Grizzlies will trot out in March and April, for better or worse. However, given the Grizzlies track record, and the increased interest in developing their young players, I expect the Grizzlies to stick to something similar to the rotations mentioned above to start the season.