Coach Mike Budenholzer is one of the most brilliant coaches in basketball.
Though he missed the playoffs in Atlanta in his first season — mainly due to a major Al Horford injury — the Hawks became a legitimate Eastern Conference threat under his control. He brought a style of play there that garnered the nickname, “Spurs East.”
In Milwaukee, he took a middling Eastern Conference team and transformed them into a legitimate title contender. In the process, he gave Giannis Antetokounmpo the spacing to thrive and dominate.
He’s also done extraordinary in elevating the play of role players or fringe NBA guys. Guys like DeMarre Carroll, Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, and Malcolm Brogdon are prime examples. To a lesser extent, he’s made players like Pat Connaughton and Sterling Brown decent role players on good teams.
Even Kenny Atkinson and Quin Snyder, two branches from his coaching tree, have done well with developing role players. Atkinson’s job with players like Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Caris LeVert has been awesome. Likewise, Snyder has done great molding Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale into solid role players, but he’s also been brilliant empowering Donovan Mitchell and Gordon Hayward to take on go-to roles.
With Taylor Jenkins, I’m eager to see if this Budenholzer magic rubs off on him.
His Summer League coaching performance was promising. The offense sometimes waited until the shot clock ran all the way down to shoot, but that may have been a product of the talent on the court, not coaching. His offense had a lot more spacing than past Grizzlies’ systems, and the ball moved with purpose, especially in the dribble-drive.
I’m interested to see how he develops the young guys, primarily the role players. Sure, it’s fascinating and intriguing to watch how he empowers Jaren Jackson Jr., Ja Morant, Brandon Clarke, and even Jonas Valanciunas.
Can he do the same with the supporting cast though? If so, what could Coach Jenkins turn them into? I came up with some Budenholzer counterparts for current Grizzlies to build an idea, or best-case, of what they could become.
Bruno Caboclo - DJ Wilson
DJ Wilson doesn’t stand out as an enticing counterpart. He’s a fringe rotation player on a great Milwaukee Bucks team. However, the young forward’s defensive potential entices me.
When I watched him against Memphis this past season, I was wondering who this guy was and why he was absolutely everywhere on the defensive end of the court.
That’s what I’m begging for out of Bruno Caboclo. I just want him to wreck havoc defensively.
He has the tools to do so. He’s mobile for his size. With his 7’7” wingspan, he’s a nightmare matchup for perimeter players, and he can also use that length to bother shots at the rim — even against bigger players.
If Jenkins can pair his decent outside shooting with reckless defensive activity, the Grizzlies would have an intriguing five-position 3-and-D wing on a cheap deal, making him an enticing fit with a Jaren-Ja-Clarke core.
Grayson Allen - Pat Connaughton
Grayson Allen and Pat Connaughton are both good basketball players in theory. They have above-average athleticism that translates to above-the-rim finishing capabilities — don’t believe me, see here and here. They can both put the ball on the floor as well and shoot from outside. Granted, they don’t have the athletic tools to be enticing, multi-positional defenders, but they’re going to hustle their asses off on that end.
This past season, Budenholzer turned Pat Connaughton into a reliable rotation player, reliable enough to play in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals — which baffled me, to be honest.
Grayson Allen can be a decent NBA role player similar to Connaughton. Don’t let the Summer League tripping fool you; Allen displayed the ability to put the ball on the floor and either find open teammates or finish with craft around the paint. His 3-point shooting was abysmal, but with more open looks, and with better playmakers around him, those shots could start falling.
If he can find his 3-point shot and be somewhat of a positive defensively, Grayson Allen could be a rotation player next season and beyond.
Dillon Brooks - Kent Bazemore
Dillon Brooks and Kent Bazemore came from different NBA upbringings. Brooks received big minutes from the moment his career started, taking on a heavy role for a bottom-feeding Grizzlies team. Meanwhile, Bazemore more known for his bench celebrations than his play on the court.
Once arriving on the Hawks, and when DeMarre Carroll was no longer on the team, Bazemore received a larger role and flourished into a good NBA player.
Though Bazemore has more size and athleticism, I see similarities in their approach to the game. Neither rely on athleticism or elite ball-handling to thrive, but instead capitalize with aggression and feel for the game. Neither player should be the second or third scoring option, as we’ve seen the result — the team is winning under 25 games. However, both are capable of being the fifth-best player on a good team.
That’s the hope with Dillon Brooks. You want him to be a guy that could be the fifth-best guy on a Grizzlies team. He’s a dual-positional wing that can guard multiple positions and score at three levels. Those are the kinds of wings teams need to succeed in the modern NBA.
If Jenkins can follow a model similar to Bazemore with Brooks, he’ll unearth a nice complementary player alongside his new core.
Kyle Anderson - DeMarre Carroll
“Real” Grizzlies fans remember the DeMarre Carrol era. The “Junkyard Dog” was highly regarded for his defense coming out of the draft, but his offense was subpar. I vividly remember a team sagging off on him from mid-range, and he still couldn’t connect.
However, he went to Atlanta, and Budenholzer helped him evolve into one of the better 3-and-D wings in basketball. In his two seasons in Atlanta, he shot 36.2 and 39.5% from deep on 3.7 and 4.3 attempts per game, respectively. His defense and emerging outside shot paved the way for a big contract, as he became known as a “LeBron stopper” — which doesn’t exist, to be real.
Though Anderson offers more in his skillset than Carroll, especially prior to his time in Atlanta, his outside shot is a hinderance. If he can bump his 3-point percentage up to even the 33-35% range on 4 attempts a game, that’d be huge both for his game and the Grizzlies’ offense.
A big wing that can facilitate the offense, serve as a secondary playmaker, defend at an elite level, and shoot 3’s is a huge get for any team. Though he’s a forgotten piece in the midst of this amazing offseason, a Carroll-type leap from deep gives the Grizzlies a legitimate starting small forward for the future.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m giddy just thinking about what Taylor Jenkins could potentially do with the star players on the Memphis Grizzlies.
Does he empower Jaren Jackson Jr. to take more ball-handling and facilitating responsibilities in a Giannis-lite way?
How is Ja Morant going to look in a pace-and-space, dribble-drive attack?
Does Jonas Valanciunas follow Brook Lopez down the “Splash Mountain” path?
Do Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson Jr. become a bouncier version of Paul Millsap and Al Horford defensively?
All of those possibilities make me want to run through the wall like the Kool-Aid Man. However, I expect great things out of them regardless of who’s the head coach.
What can Taylor Jenkins do with prominent rotation players like Kyle Anderson, Dillon Brooks, Tyus Jones, or Josh Jackson? Can he turn fringe NBA players like Bruno Caboclo, Grayson Allen, or DeAnthony Melton into legitimate rotation guys?
The ability to maximize the talent of rotation players is indicative of a great coach. The other branches within the Budenholzer coaching tree have his development magic, and I’m hoping the “Taylor Jenkins” branch bears the same fruit.
Stats found on basketball-reference.