An important word in life. We all have transition moments in life — going from middle school to high school, moving towns, changes in relationships and the list could go on. What shapes us is how we handle the transition, and Taylor Jenkins is in the biggest transition of his life.
Transition will be an important word for Coach Jenkins.
For years, this Memphis franchise has been known for its defense, rostering a Defensive Player of the Year and multiple All-Defensive Team players. Memphis used their offense as part of their defense — yes you read that right. The Grizzlies “slow it down” mentality was designed not only to use their offense strength of half-court offense, but also to limit the number of possessions the opposing team received. The less possessions, the less opportunities for them to score.
It was not uncommon for the Grizz to be outscored in transition on a nightly basis. The fast break was just not part of their game plan. They were going to secure the rebound, find Mike Conley, and set up the offense through Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph.
But now is the time transition becomes a key word within the Memphis Grizzlies organization. Not only will the focus be on the transition in the front office and coaching staff, but a major focus will be the transition game on the court — and when you want to be successful in transition on the court, it matters who is in the court.
The Milwaukee Bucks were a different animal last year than the current Grizzlies roster — featuring all-world talent Giannis Antentokounmpo and a superb supporting cast including Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez.
The Memphis Grizzlies are different in so many ways — they have youth littered around the roster, no all star level player (yet) and they don't have the Hulk, I mean the Greek Freak. So what can Coach Jenkins transition from the Bucks to Beale?
Lineups and Transition Play
One of the most important jobs of a head coach in the NBA is to find the lineups and rotations that will provide the most opportunity for success. It’s been said a thousand times that today’s NBA is moving towards positionless basketball.
For years, Memphis was stuck with the traditional lineup, and now Taylor Jenkins has the opportunity to mix things up since there is no play off expectation for this team this season.
One of the more interesting pieces on this team is Bruno Caboclo. What is even more interesting is how coach Jenkins intends to use him. Bruno is no longer Mr. “Two years from being two years away.” This is probably as ready as he is ever going to be at 24 years of age.
Check out what Omari Sankofa of The Athletic learned about Jenkins’ thought process on Bruno:
So why might coach be considering this move? Check this player comparison out:
PLAYER A: 6’9” 236 lbs 24 years old 7’7” wingspan
PLAYER B: 6’11” 242 lbs 24 years old 7’3” wingspan
One of these players played for Coach Jenkins in Milwaukee last season and the other is currently on the Memphis Grizzlies roster. Yes, one of them is Bruno Caboclo and the other?
[Disclaimer: Neither Grizzly Bear Blues nor myself believe that Bruno Caboclo and the Greek Freak are anywhere near the same galaxy talent wise. This section is strictly focused on the similar body types and skill sets]
Player A is Bruno and Player B is Giannis — so the question is, why would that be relevant? Well if Coach Jenkins is serious about running Bruno as a big, and perhaps THE big on the floor, it must be because he has seen it somewhere before.
In Milwaukee last season, the Bucks trotted out lineups where Antentokounmpo was “The Big” a total of 74.4 minutes on the entire season. These lineups included Giannis and four guards or wings on the floor together. In that 74.4 minutes of play, the Bucks were a collective +6.9.
Why would Jenkins want to do that with Bruno? Giannis led the entire NBA in points per game in transition at 7.3. This matters because Bruno’s defender would most likely be a less athletic big man that he could escape easily and run the floor.
Transition is the name of the game. Milwaukee had two players in the top 15 of the league in transition points per game, with Bledsoe joining Giannis at 14. With a dynamic point guard like Ja Morant leading the break and a lengthy, athletic Bruno Caboclo running the floor as the 5, there is something worth exploring.
But even while that lineup was a +6.9 and featured the MVP, Milwaukee only used that type of lineup for less than a minute per game. If a lineup of Giannis, Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon and George Hill was used that infrequently, don't expect Taylor Jenkins to roll out Bruno, Ja Morant, Tyus Jones, Dillon Brooks and Grayson Allen anywhere near the same amount of time.
Bruno fits more of the role of Brook Lopez. Lopez blocked over two shots a game while knocking down threes at a 36% clip. Using his length to protect the rim and be a spot up shooter may be the best role for Caboclo as a 3-4 this season.
So while the idea of Bruno at the five in today’s positionless NBA is a fun thought, what is a more realistic approach for this team?
It won’t be trying to replicate the players in Milwaukee — that didn't work so well for David Fizdale. Instead it will be about the philosophy and model of play that Jenkins will look to translate from his old post to this new opportunity.
With Ja Morant, Jenkins gets the athletic point guard that can play with pace and get the offense started, while providing his own spark. Jaren Jackson Jr. gets to be the rim-protecting big that also spreads the floor so that wings can probe the paint. Dillon Brooks, Jae Crowder, Grayson Allen, Kyle Anderson and Marko Guduric are all wings that will play their roles and be complimentary pieces to Ja and Jaren. Tyus Jones is the backup point guard that will be able to play alongside the starter but also lead the second unit without worry. Jonas Valanciunas seems to be the anomaly, as Jenkins didn’t have a big like him to focus on in Milwaukee.
Valanciunas has 20-12 written all over him, the Grizzlies would be wise to begin the game getting Jonas involved, allowing the team to settle into the night. He isn't going to run in transition and be successful as he is still very much a traditional big. He does possess the ability spread the floor, so if Taylor Jenkins wanted to run a 5-out offense and leave the paint open, Valanciunas is a valid enough threat to make it work.
The moral of the story is this: Taylor Jenkins has studied under one of the top coaches in the NBA for years. The early success of this rebuild in Memphis will be reliant upon his ability to transition their model of success with this young roster and the teams ability to succeed in transition on a nightly basis.