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Forward Thinking: On Kyle Anderson, Brandon Clarke, and modernization in Memphis

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The Grizzlies going small up front off the bench has been big.

Kyle Anderson (Getty, Michael J. LeBrecht II) and Brandon Clarke (Getty, Michael J. LeBrecht II) . Graphic: William Stone.
Kyle Anderson (Getty, Michael J. LeBrecht II) and Brandon Clarke (Getty, Michael J. LeBrecht II) . Graphic: William Stone.

The Memphis Grizzlies are going through a modernization.

After several years of having a veteran-heavy team, there’s not a single player on the roster — aside from Andre Iguodala — born before the 1990’s.

This pace-and-space offense, the modern system in today’s NBA, has revamped the style of this franchise. So gone are the days of “playing in the mud,” as the Grizzlies are setting franchise-records in pace. They are also launching more 3’s than they have in year’s past, and the ball movement has been outstanding - they’re third in the league in assists per game.

One specific modern aspect of their new look I’ve paid a lot of attention to though is their lineup versatility.

Small-ball has dominated the league over the past few years, and it’s becoming imperative for players to play multiple positions. After fielding rosters with multiple one-position players, the Grizzlies have a plethora of players that can play more than one position. Traditional point guards like Tyus Jones and De’Anthony Melton can slide down to the 2 in spurts in 2-PG lineups. Marko Guduric and Dillon Brooks can also play either wing position, while traditional 3’s such as Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill can move to the 4.

The small-ball duo that’s been big for the Memphis Grizzlies is Kyle Anderson and Brandon Clarke at the 4 and 5 spots.

Tradition-minded basketball enthusiasts scoffed at the idea of having one “true 5” on the roster coming into the season. However, Brandon Clarke’s emergence has made that notion a non-issue.

Though Anderson and Clarke lack the size of the traditional big man, Coach Jenkins sees their playmaking as the element of their games that make up for it:

I think Kyle’s a unique player, Brandon’s a unique player. Our system is built on just getting playmakers there as much as possible. At times, we may be a bit smaller, but hopefully our speed and the playmaking ability, and over time the shooting that we can get on the floor, that’s going to benefit us more. And we got to know that if we’re a bit smaller, we got to collectively rebound.

This duo also likes how their games mesh together at the 4 and 5 spot. Anderson highlighted their versatility of both the the offensive system and their skill sets — especially with their ability to play positions 3-5. Clarke had all good things to say about Anderson and how their games mesh together:

First off, Kyle’s a really, really good passer, so it’s always fun playing with a big that can pass well. Also, we’re both pretty high basketball IQ players. I feel like we can mesh well together, and we can play well each other’s games, because our games are really, really different, because I’m quick, and he’s a bit slower. But that being said, I think it just works out really well when we’re on the court together.

This 4-5 combination has produced results as well. Of the lineups that have played 10 or more minutes, with Clarke and Anderson at these spots, all of them have positive net ratings:

  • Tyus Jones, Marko Guduric, Solomon Hill, Kyle Anderson, Brandon Clarke: 117.1 Offensive Rating, 71.4 Defensive Rating, +45.7 Net Rating — 16 minutes
  • Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen, Marko Guduric, Kyle Anderson, Brandon Clarke: 105.4 Offensive Rating, 97.1 Defensive Rating, +8.3 Net Rating — 15 minutes

Another impressive lineup worth mentioning is the 5-man unit of Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Crowder, Anderson, and Clarke, which has produced a Net Rating of +58.7 (146.2 Offensive Rating, 87.5 Defensive Rating) in 7 minutes together.

Although it’s a tiny sample size, and even though there are adjustments these two are making at their new positions, it’s still evident that these two work together at the 4 and 5 — regardless of traditional basketball ideology.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Anderson at the 4

Prior to this season, Kyle Anderson played 67 percent of his minutes at the small forward position. This year though, that number has dropped to 14, as he’s playing 72 percent of his time at the 4 and 15 percent at the 5. The move has also boosted his production, as he’s at career-best levels in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and field goal attempts per 36 minutes.

“It’s just a little bit getting used to, little bit of an adjustment. Our offense is pretty interchangeable, so it hasn’t been that much, but still some things I need to learn at the 4,” Anderson said about the position change. “I just notice things that I do wrong, and maybe spacing-wise, I got to get used to being the 4-guy out there.”

Anderson’s game does fit the “playmaking-4” prototype, as he has a fantastic feel for the game. He’s a great passer for his position, and though he’s known for “Slo-Mo,” he uses that feel to pick and choose his spots when attacking the rim.

These attributes are highlighted in transition off rebounds, since his size and playmaking abilities allow the Grizzlies’ perimeter players to get out and run while he facilitates the fast-break offense.

By the metrics, Anderson is one of the team’s better defenders. Among players that have played at least 100 minutes, he’s 2nd in Defensive Rating (111) and 1st in Defensive Box Plus-Minus (+1.3). His defensive versatility plays a large factor in that, as his size and basketball IQ allow him to serve as a switchable defender off screens.

Finding a way to utilize Kyle Anderson was imperative for this team. He has the skill to be a major role player on the next great Grizzlies, and it’s nice to see Jenkins and his staff find a role for him as that point forward off the bench.

Denver Nuggets v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Brandon Clarke at the 5

Coming into the league, no one really knew Clarke’s position as a pro. People were concerned with how he’d space the floor as a 4, but at 6’8” (with a 6’8” wingspan) and 220 pounds, there was that same level of concern with how he’d do at the 5.

So far, he’s erasing all those doubts.

He’s leading the team in 3-point percentage, shooting 50.0% (8-16) from 3 on 1.3 attempts per game, so the floor-spacing hasn’t been a worry. As mentioned above, Clarke as the backup-5 has produced positive results.

How he’d transition as a small-ball 5 from college to the pros was always going to be an interesting development, and it’s becoming a part of his evolution as a player.

“The size, really. Guarding guys that are bigger. Having to play against more length and more size has probably been the biggest change. It’s been fun getting to change my game and get better playing against bigger guys,” Clarke said on adjusting from being a 5 in college to the NBA. “I worked on my floater a lot really. That’s a shot that’s really hard to block, so it’s a shot that I shoot a lot. Also just knowing how to guard bigger guys and taking on that challenge every night.”

Though Clarke is undersized at the position, he plays a lot bigger than he’s listed. Defensively, he possesses excellent timing when protecting the rim, as well as the quickness to defend perimeter players in space off switch situations. You can see the work he’s put in on his floater — I mean, seriously he did this against the 7’2” Rudy Gobert:

Prior to the season, I talked about Clarke being the x-factor of the future as the piece that turns this team from a good one to a great. Like Draymond Green and Pascal Siakam that fit this mold before him, Clarke has already flashed similar versatility and game to fit this role.

Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. are at front and center for the Grizzlies rebuild and the big picture for greatness, but Brandon Clarke and Kyle Anderson are the catalysts of the Memphis Grizzlies modernization.

The Grizzlies want to be versatile while playing with pace, in space, and with multiple playmakers on the floor. Anderson and Clarke embody those qualities, as they are non-traditional big men that have the size and game to play those positions with little-to-no problems.

It also serves as an indicator of how the Memphis Grizzlies will look going forward — a versatile, pace-and-space team that, at all times, deploys 5 players on the court that can play-make, defend multiple positions, and space the floor.

Stats found on basketball-reference and

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