Without a doubt, the future of the Memphis Grizzlies depends on the development of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. Not only individually, but also as a duo. However, the success of this off-season goes beyond just those two. The Grizzlies have done an amazing job bringing in additional pieces that can grow with Morant and Jackson Jr. to create a very talented core for the future.
The great thing for Memphis is that these additions can also add value to the pick and roll. That value is not just limited to executing it when Morant and Jackson Jr. are on the court. Many players on the roster can be involved in the pick and roll, directly or indirectly, throughout the entire game.
The first member of the roster that jumps off the page due to his pick and roll potential is Brandon Clarke. Clarke offers significant upside as a scoring option, particularly as a roll man. His success out of this exact scheme was a reason he was the Summer League MVP. The source for his success and future potential out of the pick and roll is the same reason for his effectiveness as a defender.
It is his intelligent footwork.
As can be seen in several of the highlights above, Clarke’s ability to pivot through the defenders and create space from the ball-handler to find a clear path to the basket is incredible. His finishing and dunking ability when at the rim rivals any rookie that has come into the league over the past few years. Clarke’s combination of footwork and finishing ability makes him an elite option for lobs and high percentage looks at the basket for the ball-handler coming off a screen.
It may seem one negative of this scheme for the Grizzlies is that the options would be limited to only two players. However, that is not the case. As the roster grows together and develops chemistry, the idea of the pick and roll can be expanded beyond just a duo running it. For Morant, Jackson Jr, and Clarke, a dynamic duo can transform into a terrific trio.
Whoever does not set the screen for Morant between Jackson Jr. and Clarke could be a close-to-the-rim-passing option for a lob or a bounce pass. With their ability to move, Jackson Jr. and Clarke also can find success on the baseline or perimeter getting free from a slower defender to be a passing option for a three or open jump shot. Both Jackson Jr. and Clarke have shown the ability to be reliable pick-and-pop options to hit open threes.
Furthermore, all three players could be involved in an expanded version of the pick and roll, known as the double-high pick and roll. The basic idea in this version is that instead of one screen setter, you have two. This play has gained popularity across the NBA in recent years, and can be executed through several variations. The video above shows several different ways this scheme, known in a lot of places as “Horns Flare”, can be successful (I know, I know, please forgive me for using the Clippers as an example.) The fact that so many different yet simple scoring options can be created from this one scheme is what makes it so useful.
For Memphis, the amazing thing is that their roster allows for them to be even more creative with this concept than other NBA teams. As Jackson Frank brilliantly illustrated in this wonderful piece on the Grizzlies rebuild, Clarke and Jackson Jr’s shooting potential and ability to move gives them rare versatility for NBA bigs.
In the “Horns Flare” concept, you typically have one of the two bigs roll to the basket while the other pops to the perimeter. For most teams, their bigs can do one or the other. In the case of the Grizzlies, both Jackson Jr. and Clarke can do both. This offers the Grizzlies the ability to create different looks and options out of this scheme that other teams cannot. This is just another layer to a Grizzlies’ offense that has the chance to be much more resourceful than it has been in the past through the pick and roll.
Besides the versatility and creativity of two or more players executing the pick and roll, the one thing all of these options share is that a major source of their success comes from the screens that are set. The Grizzlies have been in the bottom third of the league in screen assists and points created off screens as a team each of the past three seasons. While Clarke and Jackson Jr. should help those numbers improve, their strengths lie in executing the play after the screen is set.
Enter Jonas Valanciunas.
Last season, Valanciunas finished in the top 25 of the league for individual screen assists and points created off screens per game. Valanciunas may not pop as much as Clarke or Jackson Jr., but his strong ability as a finisher makes him an effective roll man. Furthermore, as shown above, he will likely give Morant, Tyus Jones, and other Memphis ball-handlers the most space to work with coming off screens. This is extremely important since each of the Grizzlies primary ball-handlers are still working on becoming reliable shooters. The extra space will provide a better opportunity to get a good shot at the basket.
If the ball-handler does not have a sensible shot, Valanciunas’s screens also provide the space for the ball-handler to operate as a play develops. With Jackson Jr.’s and Clarke’s athletic abilities, they can effectively move and run a play away from the ball. The extra space the ball-handler has to work with gives the off-ball movement the time to produce an open passing option. The end result in a very good shot opportunity, as Jackson Jr. and Valanciunas display above.
For a roster that currently is limited at creating its own shots, developing space through schemes and screens is critical. The wonderful thing is that this version of the pick and roll above is not limited to one player; the Grizzlies have several options that can fit multiple roles. When some combination of Jackson Jr., Clarke, and Valanciunas are on the court together, any three of them of them can be a screen setter plus a roll, pop, or off-the-ball scoring option. The flexibility of the Grizzlies front court could be a clear advantage for Memphis against other teams over the next few years.
The Grizzlies also have plenty of depth and potential to effectively execute the pick and roll in their back court. When Morant is not handling the ball, it likely will be Tyus Jones manning the point for the Grizzlies. Similar to Morant, one aspect of Jones’s game is his elite decision making when it comes to passing. Jones’s play making ability in space will certainly elevate the offensive potential of Memphis’s second unit.
The video above shows how effective Jones can be as a scorer and a passer off the bench. While Jones may not have the overall scoring or finishing potential of Morant, that does not mean he is exclusively a passer coming off a screen. Per Cleaning the Glass, Jones has been in the 75% percentile or higher for frequency of shots taken 4-14 feet from the basket in each of his four seasons, compared to other NBA point guards.
Furthermore, he has been above average in making those shots in each of the past three years. It seems Jones focuses on the short mid-range game as a featured part of his scoring arsenal to overcome his limited finishing potential due to his size. Like I suggested for Morant, Grizzlies fans may quickly have feelings of nostalgia watching Jones loft floaters in the lane, reminiscent of Mike Conley.
As mentioned above, the impact of the pick and roll on the Memphis roster extends beyond the players directly involved. Overall, Memphis has one of the weakest rosters in the NBA in terms of perimeter shooting talent. As a result, success shooting the ball will likely be based on scheme instead of skill. If the aforementioned players can establish success with the pick and roll, it forces the defense to collapse on the lane to prevent good looks. As a result, players such as Dillon Brooks, Bruno Caboclo, Grayson Allen, and the newly signed Marko Guduric will have more open looks on the perimeter.
This is another key reason why the pick and roll could be a featured scheme for head coach Taylor Jenkins and his staff. At his introductory press conference, Jenkins mentioned the phrase “pace and space.” Essentially, he wants to play fast and create good shot opportunities. The pick and roll fits this idea perfectly. It is simple enough to quickly execute, yet can be customized in so many ways that it can create space against many defensive looks. Furthermore, for the Grizzlies roster specifically, the pick and roll features the strengths of Jenkins’ best players and, to an extent, overcomes the weaknesses of the rest of the roster.
As Jenkins also mentioned, he wants to win through defense, a focus that fits the strengths of the current roster. If Jenkins can combine a dynamic defense with the simplicity and flexibility of an offense that features the pick and roll, it improves the Grizzlies chances to become a winning franchise in the near future. Featuring the strengths of the roster on both ends of the court is a great way to develop both individual skill sets and roster chemistry. The concepts should be simple to learn, and fun to implement. As a result, for the Grizzlies and their fans, the pick and roll will hopefully be source of points, poster shots. and prosperity for many years to come.