“It’s a long season.”
“This team is young.”
“They’re only supposed to win 27 games anyway.”
That’s me talking to myself, trying to rationalize this “Next Gen” Grizzlies team. We are four games into an 82 game season, a season that still falls into the rebuilding era for Memphis. Yet while you’re in the midst of that rebuild, its still tough to watch a team give up 27-0 scoring runs like the Grizz did to the Lakers on Tuesday night.
So what are some reactions or lessons learned through the small sample size that we have?
First Half Team
I won’t even get into the third quarter frustrations. For one, I’m in a decent mood and don’t want to ruin it. And two, the horrible third quarters that this team has suffered through the last forever seasons make no sense. The roster is different every year, there has been a plethora of coaches in recent history, yet the same issue arises every season. I don’t get it, and its true this season so far.
On the other hand, this team of young guns is really good in the first half. Tuesday night in LA was the first time this team has trailed at half, and even in that game they were up most of the first half. The energy and focus is there through the first two quarters of each game, yet the second half seems to fall apart. Call it coaching or just inexperience from young players, but the consistency to finish a four quarter game is lost so far.
Jaren Jackson Jr. Is a Problem
Often times in today’s NBA you’ll hear that a player “is a problem”, i.e. “James Harden is a problem.” In Harden’s case that is a compliment; a praise that means he is a problem to defend against. In the case of our dearest Jaren Jackson Jr., I do not mean it in a good way. JJJ is his own worst enemy right now. He can’t seem to stay on the floor due to horrendous foul trouble. And here’s the thing, the refs aren’t targeting him or calling stupid fouls. Jackson legitimately fouls. He doesn’t move his feet enough, he hacks at the ball trying to block every shot, and his defensive instincts haven’t caught up yet. He isn’t seeing plays before they happen.
Jackson had a great rookie season, quickly becoming one of the Grizzlies beloved. The foul issues were masked by his great offensive production and potential, alongside the fact that the Grizzlies were just so bad it didn’t matter. Now there is more of a spotlight on him; the front office has chosen to build around him and that potential he brings. With the spotlight comes the scrutiny of his foul issues. He is only averaging 26 minutes a game right now, that’s ~133 in the league. For a player you are building around, you need him on the floor more.
He is averaging 4.8 fouls per game (along with Dillon Brooks), which is 3rd in the NBA. Those fouls keep him off the floor and out of rhythm when he is. For this team to improve, JJJ has to be on the floor as a part of the improvement.
Rotations Need to Be Solidified
First-year head coach Taylor Jenkins is learning the NBA just like the young team he has been placed at the head of. One of my favorite things about Coach Jenkins is that he is not J.B. Bickerstaff, so he has that going for him. Yet one thing is obvious, he hasn’t quite mastered the rotations of this lineup. Now, think back to the previous paragraph and remember, some of that is not his fault. Foul trouble from JJJ and Dillon Brooks causes him to be creative with who he can put on the floor. Yet decisions to play Solomon Hill over Marko Guduric against the Nets paid off, and then didn’t happen at all against the Lakers. The guard play is spotty right now because of inexperience and lack of shooting, yet finding who Tyus Jones plays well with and who Ja Morant is most comfortable with is imperative.
Jonas Valanciunas is also on a minutes restriction, so size is also a big issue in late game situations. Kyle Anderson is forced to play the four or five and severely undersized when asked to do so, and rookie Brandon Clarke is thrown under the same bus. Neither have the size, and Clarke lacks the experience, to really fill those positions adequately. Jenkins is well compensated to figure out schemes to either 1) avoid putting inadequate defensive lineups on the floor, or 2) play to the strengths of his roster.
Again, it’s a long season. The Grizzlies are picked by Vegas to win 27.5 games, an early 1-3 record is right on pace with that. Does that mean they are playing to our expectation? Regardless, there is a lot of learning to be done by the coaching staff and players alike, and there will be plenty more frustration runs like we experienced against the Lakers. The true test is to see how this team can improve over the course of this long season.