Versatility and multi-positional basketball have become the name of the game.
Are they a stretch-4? Can this big man switch on defense in the pick-and-roll? Can this wing spread across and cover multiple positions?
Those are just a few of the many questions when evaluating talent in the modern NBA.
Not long ago, the Memphis Grizzlies might have been the least versatile team in the Association, as they possessed very little multi-positional players. Their two best players were one-position players, and it definitely gets a pass since they were elite at those spots. The team’s 5’s couldn’t play down to the 4 without destroying the spacing. JaMychal Green and Jarell Martin were too small for the 5, but didn’t possess the perimeter skills for the 3 — no matter how hard J.B. Bickerstaff, David Fizdale, or Dave Joerger tried.
Every player was pretty much stuck at one position, leaving the Grizzlies in the dinosaur age of basketball. Now, with the magic touch of Zach Kleiman and company, the Grizzlies have the versatility to thrive in the modern NBA, and as a position-less basketball extraordinaire, I’m totally here for it.
It all starts with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke — two of the three cornerstones for this team. These two big men came into their respective drafts as elite defensive prospects, possessing the superb ability to switch in the pick-and-roll, guard multiple positions, and block shots. Their defensive impact automatically give them a high floor, but the offensive games impose a sky-high ceiling.
We knew Clarke was an uber-efficient finisher around the rim, but we didn’t know how skillful he was on the perimeter. With Jackson Jr., he was highly regarded as an outside shooter, but he shocked us all with a refined post arsenal and a silky-smooth game off the dribble.
Surrounding Jackson Jr., Clarke, and Ja Morant, the Grizzlies have a collection of versatile players that could essentially be plugged in multiple positions and used in a variety of ways.
To get it out of the way, Jonas Valanciunas, Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen, and Miles Plumlee aren’t exactly versatile. Valanciunas will probably be the team’s second- or third- best player next season, giving the Grizzlies a bruiser that can generate a bucket in the half court in either the high or low post, but he’s solely a 5. Jones will be the team’s backup point guard, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him play next to Morant as well. Allen is strictly a 2, and I don’t see him playing anywhere else. How many minutes will he play? I’m not sure, but he has the highest minute variation on the team. Plumlee is insurance for Valanciunas, which is why I’m wanting to keep him.
I really like the DeAnthony Melton acquisition in the long run. He’s a big guard that can play the 1 or 2, and he has the makings of an elite defender.
Where the Grizzlies’ versatility runs deep is on the wings, as they possess a plethora of players that can play multiple positions. Dillon Brooks has the size to play either the 2 or 3. The Grizzlies also have 5 wings that can go all the way down to the 4. Josh Jackson, Kyle Anderson, Bruno Caboclo, Jae Crowder, and Solomon Hill all have the size and skill sets to play the 4, while all serving that role in different capacities. Jackson would be more of a “let’s run” kind of 4. Anderson could be more of a playmaking 4 with his dishing ability both as a secondary facilitator and a passer out of the short roll. Bruno Caboclo, Jae Crowder, and Solomon Hill are all essentially 3-and-D wings, just to different extremes.
So what does this mean for the Memphis Grizzlies?
Coach Taylor Jenkins has a wealth of young, versatile players where he has different lineups for a multitude of situations.
As I mentioned before, the Grizzlies could run with a Morant-Jones backcourt at times. It might be small, but we also just saw a team win a title with Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet playing big minutes together. If the Grizzlies want to beat opponents up in the halfcourt, they could trot Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jonas Valanciunas together, and have them take turns abusing defenders in the post.
If they need a more switchable frontcourt that can run, they can roll with Jackson and Clarke — something many fans and members of NBA Twitter are already eager for.
If the Grizzlies want to switch heavy, they have a plethora of players that fit that style. Seriously, could you imagine a 5 of Morant, Melton, Anderson, Clarke, and Jackson Jr.? I pray for the Grizzlies’ offensive spacing, but the opponents will be praying for ways to score on them. If players get in foul trouble, they have suitable options where there may not be a substantial dropoff — mainly talking about the wings here. Regardless of who’s out in that positional area, the Grizzlies could still run a pace-and-space kind of system.
In addition, Coach Jenkins will have the luxury of experimenting to see if he can strike gold on something. Jenkins can find where Kyle Anderson positionally fits, whether it’s as a small forward, a playmaking-4, or even a point guard. He can run Tyus Jones and Ja Morant together to see how good the offense can be with two great playmakers on the court together.
Nobody knows what Josh Jackson is right now, and many people might label him as a bust now. However, Jenkins could test him in different situations to see where he thrives. Is he better as a sixth man where he can be the go-to option? Is he a complementary player next to better players, where he can focus on cutting and running the floor? What’s his technical position?
We’re going to see Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson Jr. together at some point. However, can we see Clarke as a backup-5 in a role similar to Montrezl Harrell? Coach Jenkins also wants to experiment with Jackson Jr. bringing the ball up the court. At times, they could go with a bigger lineup without a traditional point guard and let Anderson and Jackson Jr. take turns initiating the offense. Sounds like a perfect strategy against a big team like the Philadelphia 76ers.
The multitude of situational lineups and the luxury of experimentation both wouldn’t be possible without the versatility of this roster. Granted, it’s not going to run the league next season. However, it’s nice to have some players that can fulfill many roles and play multiple positions.