We are officially halfway through the 2019-2020 campaign, and it is safe to say that the Memphis Grizzlies are ahead of schedule to this point. 38 wins would be 10 over what was expected of them from the wise guys of Las Vegas, and even the most optimistic Grizzlies fan has to be surprised by what this young crew has been able to achieve. The fact that Ja Morant is the Rookie of the Year front-runner isn’t too surprising - even if Zion Wiliamson were completely healthy, he figured to at least be in that mix. What is surprising, though, is how just about everything that could go right for the Grizzlies, to this point, has.
They are relatively healthy, with a staggering nine players on pace to play at least 70 games this season. Every player that has played at least 400 minutes so far has done something redeeming to this point, from the low man on the list to the top minute getter on the roster. Taylor Jenkins and his staff have created an environment where the offense flows freely, the defense is becoming more of a priority, and the players are able to learn and grow from experience and the mistakes that sometimes come with it for young players.
The first quarter of this season, for the sake of argument 21 games, were what many expected from this team - fun, but bad, basketball. The 20 games since? A 13-7 record, and a team in the midst of the third best winning streak in the NBA. The turnaround has been remarkable.
Is it sustainable? Maybe not - they’re not truly the Golden State Warriors at their peak pace offensively. But the team can, and will, continue to get better in other ways. Because of that, the second half of the 2019-2020 campaign may look a lot different than the first...and in a good way.
To grade the 11 players that have logged at least 400 minutes played so far this season, as well as the coaching staff, I had GBB staffers submit grades. The following are the averages of those marks. We will go in order of minutes played, from 11 to 1. Part 1 will deal with the reserve players, and part 2 will be on the 5 more often than not starters as well as Coach Jenkins and his staff.
We begin with the 11th man on the minutes list. All stats that follow are provided by basketball-reference.com.
Grayson Allen: 445 minutes played in 26 games, 43.9% shooting (38.1% from three), 87.5% free throw shooting, 7.6 points per game, 2.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 110 offensive rating, 116 defensive rating, 11.4 Player Efficiency Rating, .056 win shares per 48 minutes
Grayson has been a player whose second quarter of the season was better than the first. He’s also a good example of injuries and their impact - he has missed the most time this season due to injury. When he has played, he’s been a valuable end-of-rotation piece. He’s a wing shooting the three ball far better than he did with the Utah Jazz as a rookie, and while he’s not quite a neutral defender he’s shown potential on that end as well. He’s under-appreciated in this run of success for the Grizzlies - his ability to score the ball and help as a wing ball-handler keeps the ball moving for a second unit that thrives off ball movement.
Grayson’s 3rd year rookie contract was opted in to, so he figures to be part of the Grizzlies plans one way or another. If a veteran gets moved for “cap relief”, he could see his role expand moving forward.
GBB GRADE: C+ (2.9)
THEY SAID IT: I was high on Allen especially when compared to Jevon Carter and he’s shown why. Been decent from three and has so far avoided controversy since the regular season started. - Greg Ratliff, GBB Senior Writer
De’Anthony Melton: 520 minutes played in 30 games, 45.7% shooting (31.6% from three), 86.9% free throw shooting, 8 points per game, 3.9 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.2 steals, 112 offensive rating, 107 defensive rating, 18.2 PER, .129 win shares per 48 minutes
Only three Memphis Grizzlies have a positive net rating through 41 games this season - Brandon Clarke, Jonas Valanciunas, and De’Anthony Melton. Only three Grizzlies have a win shares per 48 minutes higher than .125 - Clarke, Valanciunas, and Melton. Now, for a change up - only four Grizzlies have a PER over 18. Their names? Valanciunas, Clarke, the “newbie” Ja Morant, and...you probably guessed it...De’Anthony Melton.
So why is Melton 10th on the minutes list? It took injuries to other Grizzlies, like Allen, Solomon Hill, Kyle Anderson, and Jae Crowder, for De’Anthony to crack the rotation. Coach Taylor Jenkins surely has his reasons - we’re not privy to practice film or in-depth knowledge of how the schemes of Memphis should be run. But now that Melton has shown himself worthy of a rotation spot, hopefully minutes will continue to come his way. He’s capable of impacting the game in so many different ways. He’s a facilitator. A dribble-drive penetrator. Arguably the best perimeter defender on the roster.
He’s proven not only is he worthy of a larger role. He’s worthy of investment moving beyond this season. He should be part of the Grizzlies core moving forward. That will likely become more evident as 2020 grinds along.
GBB GRADE: A- (3.9)
THEY SAID IT: Melton has become a great defender & stat stuffer with an excellent motor & consistent aggressive play. Now pushing to be the starting SG. - GBB Writer EdMemphis
Kyle Anderson: 598 minutes played in 35 games, 45% shooting (21.2% from three), 63.4% free throw shooting, 4.8 points per game, 3.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 109 offensive rating, 111 defensive rating, 12.6 PER, .078 win shares per 48 minutes
Kyle is a player whose spot in the rotations has also been a bit in question. His shoulder issues from last season do not appear to be lingering, but at the same time he isn’t the cleanest fit with what the Memphis Grizzlies are looking for in terms of style of play at this stage. Sure, he’s a facilitating forward who in theory can play all five positions on the floor depending on matchups. He isn’t a three point shooter, however, and the nickname “Slow-Mo” doesn’t inspire confidence in a pace and space future.
On a roster that needs veterans, Kyle Anderson contributes to the team in unique ways. He’s a creator off the dribble and in transition despite his lack of speed. His length and height allow for him to defend essentially the entire frontcourt, making switching easier to expect when struggling with pick and roll sets. He could be a valuable playoff piece when you’re playing the same team at least four times in a row...
But Memphis isn’t “supposed to be” making the playoffs this season. Jae Crowder gets the most attention for a trade deadline deal due to his expiring contract and journeyman career. But could Anderson be a dark horse to be on the move?
GBB GRADE: C+ (2.8)
THEY SAID IT: He’s been a nice addition to the team, but it feels like there’s no room for him in the future. - GBB Writer Darren Jeans
Solomon Hill: 741 minutes played in 39 games, 40% shooting (36.9% from three), 73.1% free throw shooting, 5.7 points per game, 3.3 rebounds, 2 assists, 108 offensive rating, 113 defensive rating, 10.6 PER, .059 win shares per 48 minutes
Considering he is essentially in Memphis because he’s not Chandler Parsons, Solomon Hill is doing quite well for himself.
An impressive run of success for Hill from beyond the arc and as a passer/defender in multiple frontcourt positions has made Solo much more valuable now than he was just six months ago. He appears to be an end-of-the-rotation player on just about any NBA team moving forward, and as his contract expires this upcoming offseason the Grizzlies have a valuable deal coming to an end to dangle out there for trades.
It would, of course, not bring back much in terms of value for Memphis. A 2nd round pick and a player on a worse contract (i.e. another year of similar money on the books) could be useful...but would the ends justify the means? Hill has comparable numbers to other wings on the roster, including Jae Crowder, and while he’s perhaps more limited defending wings than Crowder he still has that capacity at this stage.
He’s a sneaky player to watch as the second half of the season gets under way. Taylor Jenkins clearly trusts him. Should we?
GBB GRADE: C+ (2.8)
THEY SAID IT: Hill’s role with the team on and off the court overlap a lot with Jae Crowder. He’s been more reliable than I thought coming into this season. - GBB Writer Lauren Harvey
Brandon Clarke: 744 minutes played in 35 games, 62.7% shooting (40% from three), 80.3% free throw shooting, 12.3 points per game, 5.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 128 offensive rating, 111 defensive rating, 22.3 PER, .183 win shares per 48 minutes
We need to talk about Brandon Clarke.
Do you know how many players in the history of the National Basketball Association has shot over 60% from the field overall, 40% from beyond the arc, over 80% from the free throw line, and posted a PER over 22 and win share per 48 minutes over .180 while playing in more than 10 games?
One. Brandon Clarke.
Ja Morant gets the headlines, and rightfully so. But Brandon Clarke is looking every bit the steal of the 2019 NBA Draft. I was “smart” enough to have him 4th on my big board for that draft, behind Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and R.J. Barrett. Clarke at the moment looks to be the 3rd best player, and if Zion is unable to come back from his knee injury Brandon would be the 2nd.
Memphis, at worst, got two of the top-5 to 10 players in the 2019 NBA Draft.
So why is he playing so few minutes? Injuries have something to do with that - the Grizzlies were cautious with both him and Morant earlier in the season. Surely, with the level of production Clarke is putting up, these numbers minutes wise will only continue to increase. Perhaps he isn’t ready to start, or get 30 minutes a night. But his current 21.3 minutes per game isn’t enough. You can argue he is statistically the best player on the roster.
The game is more than numbers. But Brandon Clarke is undoubtedly the third man of the Grizzlies young core, and should be a part of Memphis’ nucleus for the next decade.
GBB GRADE: A (4.0)
THEY SAID IT: The steal of the draft is proving why with his super high efficiency. A super nice piece alongside Jaren and Ja for the future.- GBB Senior Writer Brandon Abraham
Tyus Jones: 788 minutes played in 41 games, 43.8% shooting (32.3% from three), 75% free throw shooting, 6.3 points per game, 1.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 111 offensive rating, 114 defensive rating, 13.8 PER, .079 win shares per 48 minutes
There has certainly been an adjustment period for Tyus Jones. He came to the Grizzlies via free agency this past summer, and at first he looked like a fish out of water. Coming from the Minnesota Timberwolves, where pace was not as much of a priority and the roster makeup was different in key spots (hello Andrew Wiggins), the things that led to Memphis choosing to invest in Jones rather than the back-up point guard on the roster already (Delon Wright) were not shining through. He wasn’t protecting possessions and generating assists at the same rate as he was in Minnesota the first 20 or so games of the season.
Since then? He is looking like the Tyus of old. In his last 21 games he has only committed 15 turnovers while completing 95 assists. That is good for a pretty absurd 6.33 to 1 assist to turnover ratio over that span of time. That’s what the Grizzlies need for him to continue to be - a steadying presence offensively that can control the game and create offense for others while being a threat to score himself. De’Anthony Melton is a better wing off the ball, so the recovery of Tyus has been really good to see.
Oh, and remember, despite having played a lot more NBA basketball Tyus Jones is only about 5 months older than Brandon Clarke. There’s still room for the 23 year old to improve as he gets more comfortable in Memphis.
GBB Grade: B (3.0)
THEY SAID IT: Even though he had a rough start, he’s found his groove and is playing like the Grizzlies’ best backup point guard since the Lowry/Conley days. - GBB Associate Editor Parker Fleming
Be sure to check back Friday for Part II, where the starters and Coach Jenkins will get their grades.