When it comes to mid-season acquisitions by the Memphis Grizzlies, it is always best to curb your enthusiasm.
Jeff Green, Jerryd Bayless, Lance Stephenson, James Ennis, Mario Chalmers...the list is long but distinguished over the recent history of the Grizzlies. Justin Holiday has been added to that “illustrious” group after Memphis made it official Wednesday night that they had acquired Justin from the Chicago Bulls for Wayne Selden Jr., MarShon Brooks (who will actually not report to Chicago), and two 2nd round draft picks - one in 2019 and one in 2020, both unprotected.
This may seem like a steep price to pay, and to an extent it is - those 2nd rounders count as assets that could have been used in a future deal, or of course to make selections in upcoming draft proceedings. For a team that has had issues building successfully through the draft in the past, it is usually best to have as many bites at the apple as possible to acquire young, controllable talent.
Yet for the Grizzlies, who are still in win-now mode despite their recent slide and stumble down the Western Conference standings, these are the kinds of moves they will be interested in making. Memphis has made a deal here to upgrade their current roster, and a team that isn’t interested in being good this season in Chicago gets future pieces to play with in one way or another. As long as Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are on this team, these are the types of trades you can expect - moves on the periphery, attempting to maximize the moment.
Justin Holiday makes the Memphis Grizzlies better. How, and how much better, will be interesting to see play out. There are reasons for optimism, however.
He is better than those he is replacing.
Sometimes it really is that simple.
While Wayne Selden Jr. has youth and athleticism, and MarShon Brooks could certainly get buckets, they both were flawed within this Grizzlies roster to the point that they were not contributing. Brooks couldn’t defend consistently and was too ball-dependent on offense to make an impact, while Selden would make two mistakes with the ball or in a defensive rotation for every shot or highlight dunk he would have. Justin Holiday is a dependable wing in two specific ways - he is capable of making a large amount of threes (97 so far this season, good for ninth in the NBA), and snagging steals (67, sixth in the NBA to this point in the season).
There is no denying that Holiday is flawed. His percentages shooting are below average at best - 38.3% from the field overall isn’t striking fear in the hearts of anyone. Yet considering the fact that Selden made Memphis worse on both ends of the floor when he was on the court, Holiday should be an improvement. The Grizzlies offensive rating was 2.1 points with Selden playing, and the offensive rating of Memphis opponents was 2.8 points better with him playing.
Holiday’s on-off numbers with the Bulls aren’t much better (-7.1 to Selden’s -4.9), but given Chicago’s issues as a roster this can be forgiven to an extent. This is especially true when you consider what Holiday was asked to be for the Bulls...
He is capable of doing more with less (minutes).
Justin Holiday leads the 2018-2019 Chicago Bulls in minutes played overall (1,325) by over 200 minutes and played more minutes per game on average than any player on their roster. Yes, Justin Holiday, a player that more than one casual Memphis Grizzlies fan probably said “who?” when they saw their team acquired him via trade. He has played more minutes per game this season than anyone on the Grizzlies roster, including Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.
Safe to say he will not be expected to eat that many minutes in Memphis...and that should help his production.
He has played his best offensive basketball when he has been allowed to play within himself and hasn’t been asked to be on the floor for such extended periods of time. During arguably his best season, back with the New York Knicks in the 2016-2017 campaign, he played roughly 20 minutes a game as a reserve. He shot 35.5% from beyond the arc and an impressive 51.3% on his two point field goal attempts and posted a career best 12.7 PER in over 1,600 minutes played across 82 total games.
Let that sink in. He has already played almost as many minutes in 38 games as he did that season. This is a player that has been asked to do far more than he is capable of, or should be asked to do on a good team...or at least on a team trying to be good. For Holiday, it is fair to guess that alongside the wings of the Grizzlies he will not be asked to bear such a burden.
He fits with any Grizzlies lineup
As a 6-6, 181 pound wing Justin Holiday can do just about whatever the Grizzlies need him to do on the perimeter. He has shown as much over the course of his career in terms of positions played- he started out as a point guard (which didn’t last long), but has settled in as a versatile wing who can play both the shooting guard and small forward positions...and in theory perhaps even some small ball four.
Whether he starts (he shouldn’t) or comes off the bench (he should), Holiday can be a player that can slide in to the Grizzlies rotation and be a multi-faceted defender and scorer both with and without the ball in his hands. He can help facilitate offense to keep Mike Conley off the ball for stretches, he can play alongside Dillon Brooks or Garrett Temple and switch defensive assignments and screens/picks with ease, and he can also help make Shelvin Mack more comfortable and relieve some of the stress on his game.
How? Let’s figure out where Holiday’s minutes will come from. Here is the current minutes per game of Memphis perimeter players, with 14-ish minutes vacated by Selden and MarShon that Holiday will logically fill-
Mike Conley 34.1 minutes per game
Garrett Temple 31.8 minutes per game
Kyle Anderson 29.9 minutes per game
Shelvin Mack 23.8 minutes per game
Dillon Brooks 18.6 minutes per game.
Let’s apply the following rules to this list-
- Mike Conley and Kyle Anderson will not see less than their current allotment of minutes.
- Dillon Brooks should see more time
Where do minutes come from for Justin?
Well for starters, Shelvin Mack is currently playing 41% of his minutes at the shooting guard position. 6’3” Shelvin Mack. That should stop immediately and go to 0% of his minutes. Taking away 41% of Mack’s playing time would be roughly nine minutes a game opening up at the shooting guard position, and goodness would that help Shelvin so much. In 2015-2016, where Mack was almost exclusively a point guard between Atlanta and Utah, his teams were 4.5 points better with him on the floor than off it. The following season the Jazz were -.6 with Mack on the floor in such a role, but compared to Shelvin’s current situation (-5.7) that would be a welcome change if possible.
That opens up nine minutes per game. From there, Garrett Temple is playing a career high in minutes himself. While he is nowhere near the on-off nightmare that Mack is - Memphis is 6.2 points better with him on the floor than off it so far this season - at 32 Temple could probably afford to see his minutes and usage go down a tick. If Temple just goes down to 28 minutes per game, from his close to 32 average, that opens up another roughly four minutes on playing time.
Doesn’t sound like much. But divide those thirteen minutes from Mack and Temple combined among Dillon Brooks and Justin Holiday, and what do you get? About 24 minutes per game for Dillon and 22 minutes per game for Holiday. Give or take a minute or so, you just got more meaningful minutes from players that are better than what you had before Dillon’s return from injury and the acquisition of Holiday.
J.B. Bickerstaff hasn’t exactly earned much faith from Grizzlies fans when it comes to rotations. But with 240 minutes per game to work with, this on a nightly basis would look awful nice-
Mike Conley- 34 minutes
Marc Gasol- 34 minutes
Jaren Jackson Jr. - 32 minutes
Kyle Anderson- 30 minutes
Garrett Temple - 28 minutes
JaMychal Green - 24 minutes
Dillon Brooks- 24 minutes
Justin Holiday- 22 minutes
Shelvin Mack- 12 minutes
240 minutes. A chance for Kyle Anderson to play some power forward, an opportunity to allow Shelvin Mack to maximize his time on the floor, and Justin Holiday can provide a solid reserve 1-2 punch with Dillon Brooks. That is a team that can turn their current losing ways in to winning basketball once again.
How much winning? Well that remains to be seen - the Western Conference isn’t getting any easier, and Memphis has a few games to make up on some teams that are both on paper and probably in reality better than them.
What the arrival of Justin Holiday does, though, is it allows for a bit of a reset for these Grizzlies. A new rotation can be developed, new sets can be installed to accentuate Justin Holiday’s skill set (hopefully with the second unit), and it clears the air a bit in the wake of the failed Kelly Oubre Jr. trade. While the two players who got physical Wednesday night (Temple and Omri Casspi) are still with the team, this type of move, even on the edges of the rotation, can breathe life in to a team that desperately needs fresh air.
It wasn’t cheap to get it, but if utilized properly Justin Holiday could be just what this team needs to get things right and help them find what Memphis Grizzlies basketball is again.
Stats provided by basketball-reference.com