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Projecting the 2019-2020 Memphis Grizzlies rotation

Things that make you go hm.

2019 Las Vegas Summer League - Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

We have officially entered the dog days of the NBA offseason.

Summer League is over. Most free agency decisions have been made. The Association is prepared to enter in to its long summer’s nap, ready to wake back up when September ends.

It’s time for irresponsible prognostication.


Nine minutes for Brandon Clarke?


In fairness to the good folks over at FiveThirtyEight, projecting the roles and minutes for rookies and a team with such roster overturn like Memphis is nearly impossible. But the roles of some of these guys, and the lack of context, is noticeable. There is a near 100% likelihood that not all these players are even on the roster, much less getting minutes for the Grizzlies.

Why not put a human touch on such an exercise, instead of that of an algorithm? Do I think I can do better than a MACHINE!!???!!!

You better believe it. Challenge accepted.

The time has come to craft a far-too-early rotation for the Memphis Grizzlies...but first, some ground rules.

  1. Andre Iguodala won’t be on the roster. He will be traded. Stop asking for him to be waived, Lakers fans.
  2. Ivan Rabb likely won’t be here either. Brandon Clarke has shown he’s able to be the next big off the bench, and Memphis has multiple bigger wings that can play the four in Taylor Jenkins’ sure-to-be switch heavy defense. Rabb probably doesn’t fit.
  3. Marko Guduric may well be in Memphis, but he’s not a Grizzly yet. For whatever reason the team hasn’t confirmed this reported signing yet. There’s no reason to doubt the reports of others, but he’s yet to be announced. So for the sake of this exercise, he’s out.

So, assuming these things, here’s the projected roster. Yuta Watanabe and John Konchar are on two-way contracts, and will not be considered here due to that status.

POINT GUARD: Ja Morant, Tyus Jones, De’Anthony Melton

SHOOTING GUARD: Dillon Brooks, Josh Jackson, Grayson Allen

SMALL FORWARD: Kyle Anderson, Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill

POWER FORWARD: Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, Bruno Caboclo

CENTER: Jonas Valanciunas, Miles Plumlee

14 players, one open roster spot, and some intriguing options. There are 240 minutes to carve up among these guys.

Here is how it should be done.

Let’s start at the top, with the locks to be starters on the squad.

The Starters

2019 NBA Awards Show Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images

JAREN JACKSON JR.: 33 MINUTES PER GAME. Jaren will not only be the starting power forward, he also will be the main back up at center and will see at least 10 minutes per game in that role alongside Brandon Clarke and other smaller stretch four types. He will be looked to for leadership both on and off the floor, and - bold prediction time - will be a dark horse candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. He won’t win, because Memphis will be bad, but Jaren will likely not have a sophomore slump. He will actually thrive, like De’Aaron Fox did for the Kings. Better scoring, rebounding, and all-around impact. It’s coming.

JA MORANT: 32 MPG. Ja will get plenty of opportunity to be in the Rookie of the Year running from the get go as the starting point guard for the Grizzlies. If he can score on a consistent basis, he should be a finalist to be sure, but there’s reason to be hesitant that he will indeed be that offensive force in that particular way from the jump. He has some work to do on his perimeter game, but Memphis is no longer in the business of going with veterans over young players. Ja will get to grow nightly and develop that range through live reps.

JONAS VALANCIUNAS: 28 MPG. Jonas averaged 27.7 minutes per game last season for Memphis in 19 games played, the second highest average of his career (he played 28.2 minutes per game in year two in Toronto back in the 2013-2014 season). Expect the middle ground for him this coming season as he looks to build upon the elite production as a scorer and rebounder he flashed for the Grizzlies towards the end of last season.

DILLON BROOKS AND KYLE ANDERSON: 26 MPG. The wing is easily the most difficult spot to predict in terms of starters. In reality, any number of players could fill these roles - Jae Crowder, Josh Jackson, and even perhaps Grayson Allen could be starters depending on how the roster shapes up. Jackson and Crowder are far more likely than Grayson, and any combination of Jackson/Crowder/Brooks/Anderson would make sense theoretically. Here, we go with Anderson and Brooks with an eye to developing long-term chemistry alongside Jaren and Ja.

Also, Dillon’s scoring and Kyle’s facilitation would fit rather nicely for the starts of games. With a lack of shooters, and a desire to switch more defensively, Brooks and Anderson bring the best of both worlds across the board.

145 minutes down, 95 to go.

The Reserves

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Utah Jazz Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

TYUS JONES: 23 MINUTES PER GAME. This would fit what Tyus did in Minnesota, and would also all but guarantee Jones playing at least 7 minutes a game alongside Ja Morant in a two point guard lineup. I like that combination - Tyus as the initiator, allowing Ja to come off screens and curl back to the basket, and perhaps even get some easy looks as a cutter to the rim. A Jones/Morant/Crowder/Caboclo/Jackson Jr. lineup, for example, would provide multiple shooting options and lots of lanes to attack the basket both on and off the dribble for Morant.

Tyus can both take possessions away from the opponent (1.2 steals per game) and protect them for his own team (.7 turnovers per game). That is valuable to a team that is looking to maximize opportunity offensively, and Jones will get good run because of it.

JAE CROWDER: 22 MINUTES PER GAME. Ah yes, the veteran presence Memphis desperately needs. Jae is a pro’s pro, highly regarded everywhere he has gone as a versatile defender and reliable shooter for spacing purposes. He won’t light the world on fire, and there is a very good chance he isn’t a Grizzly once the trade deadline passes. He holds value to a contender pushing for the postseason, and the Grizzlies remain in the business of maximizing asset acquisition.

While he is here? He will teach these young Grizzlies on and off the floor how to prepare for NBA basketball, and how to compete to the best of your ability on a night it, night out basis.

BRANDON CLARKE: 21 MINUTES PER GAME. Clarke, the reigning Las Vegas Summer League MVP, is as good as we all hoped he would be as a defender and finisher at the rim. What will make the most difference for him as a rookie in terms of consistent playing time, however, will be his ability to do multiple things on the offensive end. His lateral quickness and switchability defensively is proven, and will lead to fun minutes alongside fellow defensive wunderkind Jaren Jackson Jr. But if he can take the flashes of passing out of pick and roll finishes and bits of range beyond the arc and apply them against better competition?

It will be tough to keep him off the floor.

JOSH JACKSON: 19 MINUTES PER GAME. Josh Jackson is the biggest wildcard in this entire exercise. It’s realistic to see Jackson as a starter for the Grizzlies at either wing position - he has that type of talent, and could play at least two, and maybe three, positions from the 2 to the 4 spot. It’s also entirely possible he isn’t on the team six months from now after making another knucklehead decision. Here, we take the middle ground, betting on growth in his game as a scorer and facilitator/creator against reserves while not being asked to be as vital piece of scheme as he was in Phoenix.

Another brick in the wall, not the cornerstone. Hopefully that allows for him to feel more comfortable in his own basketball skin.

BRUNO CABOCLO: 10 MINUTES PER GAME. To round out this rotation, I go with the most unique and switchable player left on the roster. Bruno has shown real improvement as a shooter, and because of that he could realistically defend four positions depending on matchups and be a key defensive cog in the Grizzlies machine. Imagine an experimental Anderson/Jackson/Caboclo/Clarke/Jackson lineup - shooting would be hard to come by for sure, but every player could switch every pick and screen and that in and of itself could be a remarkably effective last defensive possession of the game look.

Bruno may or may not be in the future plans of the new-look Grizzlies front office. Safe to say, he has earned a chance to show one way or another through a role on the team if he can be depended on.

Dark horse minute grabbers

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
  • If De’Anthony Melton can continue to show growth in his offensive game, he has the raw physical tools this leadership group and coaching staff clearly value to compete for playing time. The 11th man in this exercise.
  • Grayson Allen is capable “in theory” of both creating his own shot off the dribble and being a solid scorer beyond the arc for the Grizzlies. He has yet to show that consistently on the NBA level, so any hesitancy towards Allen in a meaningful role right away is fair. But he has the Duke pedigree and that “in theory” game that will be given some opportunity to grow with at least sporadicplaying time.
  • On a night to night basis Miles Plumlee could be depended on to eat minutes and fouls at the 5 position. Yes, he’s making more than $12 million this season to be that type of player. It’s best to ignore that reality - I am sure Plumlee is a nice guy, and let’s enjoy him while he is here.

This is all fluid, of course. It could very well be too many minutes for Josh Jackson. Jae Crowder may start as a vet leader while Kyle Anderson will help run the second unit with Tyus. Around and around you can go, which is one of the best things about this time of year - anything is possible.

Anything except nine minutes for Brandon Clarke. That’s impossible.

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