The 2019-20 Memphis Grizzlies will not only feature a multitude of new players, but also an almost entirely new coaching staff. From the head coach down to the last player on the bench, fans inside FedEx Forum will need time to match faces with the names. It is only natural, then, to wonder what style of play will emerge from this fresh collection. Sure, they’ve said that it will be a fast-paced style, but doesn’t everybody make that claim now? While GBB continues to provide excellent coverage of individual players leading up to the beginning of the season, this illustration highlights key characteristics of historical team playing styles tied to the new coaches.
Such an exercise isn’t easy, as Taylor Jenkins will make his NBA head coaching debut this year with the Grizz. Similarly, the assistant coaching staff comes with varied backgrounds in the NBA, abroad, and even the women’s college ranks. So, the analysis must rely solely on past performances of other teams with head coaches not part of the staff. However, assistants learn and develop while on the job like anyone else. Following, it’s not unreasonable to assume there will be some influence from this staff’s head coaching mentors on the playing style for this year’s Memphis Grizzlies.
Last year, Jenkins served as an assistant coach under Mike Budenholzer for the Milwaukee Bucks after serving in the same position on Budenholzer’s staff for five years in Atlanta. If he adopts the style of his former mentor, we can certainly expect these Grizzlies to push the pace of the game. Those teams ranked among the fastest paced teams in the league the past three years, finishing fifth last year. This coincides with the emphasis on three-point shooting. Last year, the Bucks finished second in three-pointers made (13.5) and the Hawks finished ninth (11.2) the year before that. That has come at the expense of offensive rebounding, however, as both of those teams finished in the bottom half of the league in that category. But, in the end, what really matters is wins, and Jenkins saw a lot of that on Budenholzer’s staff. Atlanta made the playoffs four of those five seasons, and the Bucks had the winningest record in the NBA last year.
Now, Jenkins gets to be in charge of his own team with a new staff of assistant coaches to help him. One of the more well-publicized assistant hires was that of Niele Ivey.
A long-tenured assistant with Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team, Ivey has seen her own fair share of fast-paced teams. Last season, they led the country in both points per game (88.6) and number of possessions (3,016). It was no anomaly, as those Fighting Irish teams consistently ranked among the best in the country in those categories over the last three years. Her hiring indicates more than progress towards gender equity. It signals that Jenkins means it when he says he wants to play fast.
In his lone season as the head coach of the Memphis Hustle, Brad Jones oversaw one of the top five offenses in the G-League (110.2 offensive rating), while developing young talent. Finding a common theme with fellow coaching staff members, his team was second in the league in three-point percentage (37.5%) while ranking in the bottom half of the league in offensive rebounds per game (10.8).
Breaking from these trends, David McClure has served for the past three seasons on the staff of the Indiana Pacers, whom have had one of the slowest paces in the league during that stretch. What those teams have done well, though, is defense. Last year especially, the Pacers ranked third in defensive efficiency (106.0). Further, while they didn’t make many three-pointers due to their slow pace, they were among the league’s best in making 37.4% of their long-range shots.
Vitaly Potapenko remains as the only holdover from the previous Grizz coaching regime, indicative of his standing with the players and organization. James “Scoonie” Penn comes on board after working on the staff of his alma mater, Ohio State. During his time there, the Buckeyes have been one of the slower-paced teams in college basketball. They also didn’t shoot the three ball very well. However, it is more likely his playing days that could relate to this coaching staff. As an All-American at Ohio State, his teams were consistently among the top 20% in offensive efficiency. Moreover, his eleven-year international playing career adds a dimension for this staff that would otherwise be missing.
Finally, Neven Spahija brings championship swagger to the group, having just coached Maccabi Tel Aviv to a second Israeli League Championship during his tenure in 2018. While advanced stats aren’t as readily available for that league, a common trend among those teams has been excellent shooting from behind the arc. Indeed, that seems to be a common trend among all of the teams mentioned and should be a glaring neon sign for anyone wondering if Memphis will truly play a modernized, three-point focused style of fast-paced basketball.
Each of the aforementioned coaches served on staffs for many years, gaining incredible experience alongside great coaches. While each of their previous teams had their own unique characteristics, the undeniable shared bond among them seems to be fast play with a successful showcasing of three-point shooting. This would certainly not be the Grit-N-Grind style of previously beloved Grizzly teams, but perhaps that’s a good thing. Just as it is important to give the new young core room to grow, it may also be to everyone’s benefit to not tie the culture of the previous “Core Four” to them. Besides, the idea of a Run-N-Gun style of play with Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. sounds way too fun to not give it a try.