When the Grizzlies final roster cuts were announced, the lack of true big man options off the bench appeared to be a cause for concern, but also an opportunity to see who on the roster can be part of a new core going forward. The idea of Kyle Anderson or Bruno Caboclo as a small-ball five was an interesting thought and could likely flame out spectacularly, and that would’ve been OK.
This season was always a free swing; compete hard, begin to cultivate a culture of winning, and hope the cornerstones of the franchise get better. Five games in, and this season has mostly been what fans should expect: a team that can hang for stretches but will have trouble closing games.
Given the low stakes, I’d like the Grizzlies to embrace the weird a bit more. Kyle Anderson played the five almost the entire overtime in the Nets game. While he clearly fits better as a 4 next to Brandon Clarke or Jaren Jackson Jr., given the foul trouble of Jaren and minutes restrictions on Jonas Valanciunas, I’d like to see more of that or Bruno getting playing time at all.
Bruno in particular is a tough sell. He has been absolutely dreadful in what little minutes Taylor Jenkins has given him this season. That said, the front office let a player like Ivan Rabb go to see what they had in Bruno. If he is not going to get opportunity with Jaren in foul trouble and Jonas with a minutes restrictions, then when will he? Bruno played fairly well down the stretch last season and continued his solid play this summer in the FIBA world cup highlighted by a game-saving block of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Entering into a contract year, the expectation was that Bruno could build on this and at the very least be a rotation player. While he hasn’t exactly made the most of the opportunity he’s had, I expected a player with his versatility to get a fair amount of minutes.
The argument can be made that this is Bruno’s fifth year in the league, and if he were to carve out a meaningful rotation spot, he would have done so already. But, he showed undeniable flashes this summer, and there’s no excuse in a rebuilding year not to give him more run. At some point, those flashes will need to give way to consistent performance, he’s going to need to need to hit shots at a respectable clip, and he will need to up his defensive intensity if his size and length are going to cash in on their promise. The best time to find out is in his contract year. The sample size is small, but let’s hope Jenkins gives Bruno a longer leash than he has.
Kyle Anderson is in a different situation. There were questions about his health going into the season, but he picked up where he left off prior to his shoulder injury, defending multiple positions adequately and utilizing his playmaking and opportune scoring to provide a steadying presence on a bench that desperately needs it. He’s looked healthy, and his production reflects this. Despite his strong start to the year, his results in small ball lineups have been mixed.
There’s the aforementioned Nets overtime thriller, but he was also part of the lineup that got absolutely destroyed by Anthony Davis in the Lakers game. That’s not on Kyle, he needs to be deployed in small-ball lineups when the matchup is favorable, but it just so happened circumstances put him in a tough situation. While Jaren’s foul problems won’t be solved this year, they will improve to the point where they will allow Jenkins more flexibility with his rotations. This will put Kyle in better situations in small-ball lineups and give the Grizzlies a better grasp on his role going forward. He won’t always be tasked with stopping Anthony Davis and has been one of the Grizzlies’ most reliable players thus far.
The bench big situation is ultimately a minor piece of a much larger puzzle for the Grizzlies this season. It is early, and the coaching staff is as green as the roster. It can be easy as a fan to get caught up in rotations and wins and losses when you are invested in a team, even only five games into a season. It is easy to get frustrated by Jaren’s foul trouble or lapses in defending the three point shot. I am confident that as the season goes fans will see what is most important: progress.