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Development Through Defense

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Though their offensive potential is exciting, the strength of this Grizzlies roster is winning through defense.

NBA: Summer League-Memphis Grizzlies at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The new-look Grizzlies roster has created a ton of buzz this offseason. A big reason is due to how quickly the Grizzlies have transformed an older roster that peaked several years ago to one that is teeming with youth and potential in just a few months. That potential is not limited to the players individually. The Grizzlies have added several players who complement each other quite well and can play a style of basketball that will be successful for many years to come in the modern NBA.

The highlight potential of the Grizzlies offense is a big source of the aforementioned buzz. With their youth and athleticism, the Grizzlies’ offense could be quite entertaining as it develops. And while the roster’s evolution on offense will be critical, it is the Grizzlies development on defense that could play the biggest role in determining how quickly this franchise can again become a winner. The reason being is that many of the best talents on Memphis’s roster have just as much, if not more, upside on defense as they do on offense.

That defensive potential is not just through one player or two, but pertains to the roster as a whole. Each position and role has the potential to feature multiple players who can add significant defensive value when on the court. The beauty for the Grizzlies is that anyone from anywhere can make an impact on defense at anytime.


THE POST

Some of the most well-known analysts across the NBA have expressed sheer joy at the thought of a future with Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson Jr. playing defense together for the Grizzlies. As well they should. The athleticism, intelligence, length, and leaping ability both players possess will be a nightmare for opposing offenses for years to come. And that nightmare is just not limited to the rim, as both players can cause significant disruption guarding the perimeter as well.

As Peter Edmiston of the Athletic pointed out, Brandon Clarke showed his high basketball IQ during the NBA Summer league. When he was not dominating the opposition on offense, he was making life miserable for them on defense. Redirecting shots, passes and traffic that came into the lane was a direct result of coordinated and effective body movement by Clarke each possession.

Jaren Jackson Jr. showed this same ability last year. Their ability to move is the result of both physical traits and intelligence that are above average to elite. While one guards the rim, the other can help on the wing or perimeter. Just as their movement and length impacts shots and passes in the lane, these traits are also the key source of their success to be able to switch and defend smaller players on the perimeter.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

So What About Jonas Valanciunas?

Sure, Valanciunas likely is a liability if he has to extend out to the perimeter and is forced to switch. Most post players with his body type are. That is why the ability for Clarke or Jackson Jr. to extend from the rim benefits Valanciunas as well. It allows for him to protect the rim. Over the past three seasons, Valanciunas is one of only six players to have played 4,000 minutes and register a defensive rebounding percentage above 30% and a block percentage above 3%. In other words, Valanciunas can be highly effective in the post. Plus, limiting his movement will keep him stay fresh longer into games and the season.

The Grizzlies can create a clear advantage with their post defense in the immediate future if they utilize Clarke, Jackson Jr., and Valanciunas correctly.


THE WINGS

At this point, it seems Kyle Anderson, Jae Crowder, Josh Jackson, Dillon Brooks and Bruno Caboclo will likely be the main wing options for the Grizzlies next season. While each player offers intriguing potential on offense, Anderson, Crowder, Jackson, and Caboclo also have shown the ability to add significant value on defense.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

For any duo that played 700 or more minutes together in the same lineup in the 2018-2019 season, Kyle Anderson and Jaren Jackson Jr. produced the best defensive rating in the NBA. Using that same minutes baseline, Josh Jackson was in three of the four best defensive duos for the Phoenix Suns. Jae Crowder has played a significant role as a starter and key reserve on top ten defenses in both Boston and Utah over the past five years.

However, it is Caboclo who may naturally have the most defensive upside of any of our wings. The video above not only shows Caboclo’s immense shot-blocking talent, but proves he can alter or block a shot in nearly any situation. Caboclo can consistently be a stopper due to his length and improving intelligence. His evolving IQ should also help him to continue to improve his ability to defend passes and positioning.

These numbers and highlights show that Jackson, Anderson, Crowder, and Caboclo essentially make their teammates better on defense. For instance, it can allow the Grizzlies bigs to focus more on rebounding, a clear weakness of the franchise over the past few years. Whether it is challenging shots, disrupting passes, or making it tough for offensive players to move and establish position, all four players can take over a defensive possession in a variety of ways.


The Backcourt

Through the additions of Ja Morant, Tyus Jones, and De’Anthony Melton, the Grizzlies clearly placed an emphasis on talents that could facilitate ball movement to keep the offense productive. Furthermore, Memphis also acquired three talents that can facilitate turnovers on defense.

For each of his four years in the league, Jones has ranked in the 85th percentile or higher in creating steals compared to other NBA point guards. While in limited minutes, De’Anthony Melton ranked in the 96th percentile in steals, 100th percentile in blocks, and 81st percentile in defensive rebounds. This provides a glimpse of the significant all-around defensive potential he possesses.

Morant is a work in progress when it comes to his defensive projection. However, he does possess the intelligence, quick reaction, and athleticism to intercept passes on the perimeter. The result is a one-man fast break with elite finishing skills at the basket. Both Jones and Morant may be liabilities one-on-one against bigger guards. However, their ability to cause deflections and intercept passes should help the Grizzlies create an advantage in the turnover battle. It also means they could make a momentum-shifting play at any moment in the game.

Beyond their direct defensive impact, Morant, Jones, and Melton will also help the Grizzlies take advantage of turning turnovers into points. Whether they cause the turnover themselves or get the ball after a key block, rebound, or steal, all three point guards have the ability to run the fast break quite well.


The Grizzlies’ overall athleticism, leaping ability, and potential to finish at the rim is quite intriguing. Each of those traits is heavily featured during a fast break. Combined with the passing ability of these three point guards, the Grizzlies could be one of the most efficient fast break teams in the league. This could be a direct way for the Grizzlies to earn unexpected victories versus more talented teams in the future.

While the Grizzlies offensive potential may create immediate headlines and highlights, it is their development through defense that could determine their culture into the future. The Grizzlies have several players that can make a defensive impact anywhere at anytime. Furthermore, with Clarke, Josh Jackson, Caboclo, Jones and others coming off the bench, the Grizzlies ability to play great defense is not just limited to their starters. This roster possesses the ability to create a disruptive defense that can be a clear advantage for Memphis all 48 minutes of every game.

If Taylor Jenkins and his staff can help the roster buy into playing defense consistently, that ability will turn into production. That production will lead to wins as well. And if Memphis can effor and talent levels match consistently, those wins could happen quickly. As a result, a sustained culture based on winning through defense will again be born.

Except this time, it could be a lot more fun to watch (and play on 2K).