Following the loss to Milwaukee, the Grizzlies are now 19-25, including a 7-20 record over their past 27 games. In six weeks, Memphis has transitioned from a clear playoff contender to a likely lottery lock. The Grizzlies are in a situation that no one wants to face, but one that must be embraced. The best way to stay positive in the present is to focus on the future. This is a rebuilding franchise, and because it is in a small market, it must commit to doing the rebuild right.
This starts with a commitment to making the right decisions concerning the current team roster. Specifically, developing the Grizzlies’ youth. JB’s Bickerstaff strength as a coach is the relationship he has with his players, especially veterans. It gives him the comfort and confidence in relying on those veterans, and provides a simplicity in setting lineups and rotations. Unfortunately, as the season has progressed, these lineups have become ineffective due to regression in the veterans’ productivity.
As a result, Bickerstaff must shift out of his comfort zone to using common sense. This means shifting minutes from struggling veterans to other bench players. A good example of this is the case of Shelvin Mack and Jevon Carter. Over the past six weeks, Mack’s productivity has been a barren wasteland. He has produced a +/- mark of roughly -81 since the beginning of December. He has been nothing but a liability over the time span. As a result, the Grizzlies have started to increase the usage of Carter over the month.
Giving Carter playing time is great. However, the level of playing time has been very inconsistent, which prevents Carter from truly being able to develop. Following a memorable debut against the Rockets on Dec. 15th, carter played 22 minutes against the Warriors. In the eight games following that, Carter did not play more than 12 minutes in a single game, including not playing at all in four games. Then, on Jan. 7, Michael Wallace reported Bickerstaff was replacing Mack as the backup PG with Carter. That seemed to last one game, as Mack has doubled Carter’s playing time over the past week.
Carter is not the only example of the Grizzlies reluctance to depend on their youth. With the emergence of Jaren Jackson Jr., the play of JaMychal Green, and the addition of Joakim Noah, Ivan Rabb has not had much of a chance to make an impact. In fact, Rabb has played in 15 games this year, and only played more than ten minutes three times.
However, when Rabb has gotten minutes, he has produced. Though it is just 90 minutes of action, Rabb’s Per 36 measures include 16.0 points, 13.2 rebounds, 4.8 offensive rebounds, and 65% shooting from the field. Rabb has talent, and when he is featured off the bench, he can combine that talent with energy to truly make an impact. Look no further than his performance against Portland earlier this year for proof of that.
The Grizzlies current struggles with injuries requires them to play their available players on the roster. Mack, Green, Noah and other veterans will continue to get minutes so that the starters can get needed rest. However, the injuries to the Grizzlies roster should also open good minutes for the young players to be exposed to bigger roles.
Those minutes could increase even further if the Grizzlies continue to struggle. The focus on the future extends beyond the coaching staff to the front office. To maximize the chances at future success, they cannot stand pat as they did in previous seasons. They must turn present pieces into future assets. This means if players such as Garrett Temple, Justin Holiday, Green, Mack, Noah, and even Marc Gasol are not in the long term plans, exchange them for something that will make the long term plans better.
Another fact to keep in mind over the next few seasons is the limitations in place for the Grizzlies to acquire talent. The Grizzles will eventually lose a first round pick to the Boston Celtics. They also will have a limited payroll due to the large amounts owed to Gasol, Mike Conley, and Chandler Parsons. Naturally, as a small market, the Grizzlies are already at a disadvantage for being less attractive to free agents. If the Grizzlies want to remain somewhat competitive and shorten the rebuild, they must get production from cost effective sources.
That is exactly what Carter and Rabb offer. It is very unlikely that either of these players will turn into an NBA star or even a consistent starter. However, if both can develop into effective reserves, that will carry significant value for the Grizzlies into the future.
Both players offer that type of potential. Carter’s elite defense can change the defense on a single play, while Rabb’s energy and Rebounding can provide a huge boost to keep the Grizzlies’ competitive. If Memphis can turn Carter and Rabb into effective reserves that can provide instant and consistent production on both ends of the court off the bench for the future, this season will have been a success.
For the Grizzlies to effectively focus on the future, they must do it the right way. The front office must make roster transactions and the coaching must make lineup decisions that maximized the Grizzlies’ chances at future success. The Grizzlies have two future starters in Jaren Jackson Jr. and Kyle Anderson to anchor their future core. They have Dillon Brooks as a promising asset as a reserve and spot starter on the wing. If Carter and Rabb can become reliable reserves, along with any future assets the team can acquire through trades, the organization will have done a great job making its future that much brighter.