With the additions of Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke in the 2019 NBA Draft, the Memphis Grizzlies are getting a lot of positive attention lately. Along with Jaren Jackson Jr., the Grizzlies now have one of the more exciting young cores across the league. While it could still be a few years before they are true playoff contenders, this team will certainly be a consistent source of highlights for years to come.
For reasons such as this….
The reasons above are a just a few of many that have fans, media members, and analysts highly anticipating these three players playing together. However, there is another member of the Grizzlies’ roster who could play a significant part in the evolution of these players and the team in both the present and future. His name is Kyle Anderson, and in particular, the skill sets of Anderson and Morant could benefit each other quite well.
The key skill that would be involved is the passing ability of both Morant and Anderson. The Grizzlies obviously drafted Morant because of his exceptional passing ability and athleticism. As a result, they will want the ball in his hands as much as possible. However, it usually is a positive if an offense has a second trusted facilitator on the floor. It allows the offensive team to give the defense different looks, and allows for effective improvisation against any defense the opposition may set.
Kyle Anderson’s first year in Memphis was a mixed bag of positives and negatives. While he certainly did show flashes of being an effective defender and playmaker, he also was limited to 43 games due to a variety of injuries. This included a shoulder injury that kept Anderson out of all but two of the Grizzlies’ last 41 games. The injury is one that Anderson had been bothered with for years, and it finally had reached a point where surgery was needed to correct it.
Despite his setbacks, Anderson displayed both his high level of basketball IQ and his ability to facilitate when on the court. Last season, Kyle Anderson was one of only four players in the NBA to play more than 1,250 minutes with a usage rate below 13% and an assist rate above 15%. This proves that, while Anderson may not be used every single possession, he is effective when he is utilized. As seen in his triple-double against Brooklyn last year, Anderson is effective both in the paint and on the perimeter with his passing.
While the low utilization may cause concern, it is easy to explain because of Anderson’s style of play. Partly due to limited athleticism, Anderson is not an elite shooter, scorer, or ball-handler. Anderson makes up for these limitations by being quick and decisive with the ball in his hands.
This is where Anderson can make Ja Morant develop into a more complete player, and vice versa. Ja Morant was a highlight reel in college, especially when driving or cutting to the basket for finishes. As seen above, several of Morant’s best finishes were assisted. Morant was able to get to the basket by effectively using his athleticism away from the ball. He was able to get past his defender and get free to receive the pass and finish.
That is the part of Morant’s game that could further develop due to Anderson’s passing ability. Morant could be quite successful getting around his defender for high percentage shots set up by a pass from Anderson. Examples of this include Morant using his lethal first step to get by a flat-footed defender to receive a pass on a cut to the basket. Another option could be Morant receiving a pass from Anderson on an off-ball screen for a good look at a jump shot. If Morant were to remain in motion, as in the play against Marquette above, he could use Anderson as a give and go option to get by his defender for an easy finish. Anderson could also be an effective distributor to Clarke and Jackson Jr. in small spaces in the post.
Morant’s passing ability could also make Anderson a more versatile scoring option as well. When Anderson was not a facilitator, he found some success scoring through offensive rebounds and dump-off passes by navigating the baseline. With his intelligence and Morant’s vision, Anderson could become very effective at positioning himself within twelve feet of the basket.
Morant could find him on quick strike passes to the baseline for high-percentage looks close to the rim. Anderson could be free for a dump-off pass for an easy 8-10 foot jump shot if Morant were to get into the lane. If Morant were to find trouble in the lane, Anderson could be an outlet to help Morant get the ball back out to the perimeter. Anderson could get the ball to an open shooter who has space now that the defense’s focus is on the paint.
No matter who passes or who receives, any offense has many more options to use with two effective passers on the court. This is especially critical for the Grizzlies, who likely will struggle to have effective shooting options in the next year or so. Good chemistry forming between Anderson and Morant enhances them both as scorers individually, allows for others to have better looks on shots, and helps to create space with lineups who may lack an individual who can do it on his own.
Overall, Morant having good chemistry with Anderson could be even more vital to his development than his chemistry with Jackson Jr. or Clarke. In the case of the latter two, it is Morant’s passing ability to find Clarke on lobs or find Jackson Jr. for an open shot or when he rolls in pick and roll situations that will determine success. With Anderson, Morant can find success either as a passer with the ball or a scorer without the ball, thus making him a more versatile option for the offense.
Kyle Anderson’s usage level likely will not change all that much from last year. However, if he can prove healthy, his utilization could become more successful for the Grizzlies offense. If Taylor Jenkins, who has been described as a tactician, can find ways to have Morant’s and Anderson’s versatile skill sets gel, it will allow their overall games to evolve. This means that Ja Morant will become a more versatile scorer and offensive weapon, it will help minimize the impact of not happen a skillful shooter, and will make the offense better as a whole.
While he is known for playing the game in slow motion, Kyle Andeson’s game may be the magic potion that could make the Grizzlies offense even better than most currently anticipate.