Three weeks ago, the NBA’s desire to start the season right before Christmas seemed a bit ambitious. There were plenty of pros and cons to consider and areas of uncertainty that had to be figured out. However, as it has done many times this year, the NBA went right to work and ironed out all the details effectively, setting important dates and parameters in place to support the start of the season.
The end result has been the start of what could be one of the wildest two-week stretches in the history of the league.
Though the rest of the NBA has produced plenty of crazy action through rumors and trades this week, the Grizzlies did a lot of their heavy lifting Wednesday night during the draft. While the Grizzlies will likely make a few more moves to finalize the roster in the near future, it seems as if much of the roster will remain the same. As a result, it appears Memphis will keep its identity from last year in place as it heads into the 2020-2021 season.
A major part of that identity is a highly valuable and productive frontcourt.
Without a doubt, the present and future of the Grizzlies centers on Ja Morant. His superstar potential and every growing brand is the exact talent this franchise and its fans have been dreaming of for the past two decades. Though Morant is clearly the best individual talent on the roster, the Memphis bigs are the main source of production and quality.
This unit is responsible for many of this roster’s best traits. The Grizzlies best volume shooter, Jaren Jackson Jr., is the starting power forward. According to advanced metrics, the two most impactful players for Memphis are Jonas Valanciunas and Brandon Clarke. Valanciunas is the main reason the Grizzlies were quietly one of the better rebounding teams in the league last year, while Clarke may be the best individual advantage the Grizzles can feature due to his efficiency and production off the bench.
As a unit, this trio provided plenty of tangible value on both ends of the court during the 2019-2020 season. Memphis was 10th in the league in terms of FG% within five feet of the basket. They also were seventh and first in the league in second chance points and points in the paint, respectively. The Grizzlies also produced the fifth lowest opponent’s FG% within five feet or less of the basket last season. While the Grizzlies backcourt certainly offered value getting into the lane, passing, and finishing at the rim, the Memphis bigs really helped to define the strengths of this team as last season progressed.
Beyond the the quality of their play, there also is plenty of present and future stability with this group. For one, Taylor Jenkins has created highly effective roles and schemes for Valanciunas, Jackson Jr. and Clarke that allows for each player to be highly productive, both individually and in lineups together. Gorgui Dieng can provide quality minutes as a backup or spot starter as well. Besides Dieng, each of these players is under contract for next season, with Valanciunas, Jackson Jr. and Clarke under control for two or more years into the future. In other words, arguably the best part of this Grizzlies roster will remain in place for the foreseeable future.
Without a doubt, Memphis has clearly shown a preference in featuring a strong frontcourt. However, despite the unit they already have in place, the Grizzlies have continued adding young and intriguing depth. In March, the Grizzlies signed Jontay Porter. On Wednesday night, the Grizzlies added Xavier Tillman and Killian Tillie to the franchise. Through the addition of these specific talents, the Grizzlies invested in potential that could help in improving two of their biggest needs for the future, secondary playmaking and perimeter shooting. While these young players may not make an immediate impact, Taylor Jenkins now as a plethora of options with skill sets that fit his preferred style of play. Though the near future will determine if Porter remains with the Grizzlies, the significance in adding these young talents is that it makes their frontcourt more versatile overall on the court and provides the franchise with plenty of options off of it.
This commitment to adding to their frontcourt supports the Grizzlies consistent intent that their focus remains on the future. As a result, with the depth that has been added, it seems likely that one or more trades could be made. And, once again, the Grizzlies best source of present value that could be turned into future assets is their frontcourt.Joe Mullinax detailed how Valanciunas could make sense for a few contenders around the league. Though the possibility may be unlikely, Valanciunas could still be an option for other teams as free agency progresses. With his contract, Valanciuanas could certainly be an attractive options and valuable piece to utilize for a contender over multiple playoff runs.
With his $17M salary this season, Dieng could also prove to be a valuable trade chip in the right deal. That could come in the form of being an attractive expiring contract to another team, or as a source of salary matching if the Grizzlies feel a piece for their future could be acquired externally. Of course, holding onto Dieng allows the Grizzlies themselves to take advantage of his expiring contract in potential moves next summer.
The Grizzlies have continued to make their frontcourt a true strength over the past 18 months, and have created a group that is talented, deep, and versatile. Especially with the draft now concluded, it seems that Jackson Jr., Clarke, and Valanciunas will remain in their roles as the main trio of frontcourt options. Tillman and Tillie will provide intriguing and talented depth, with Porter providing the same if he remains.
Though Dieng may be traded, the uncertainty of Jackson Jr.’s availability at the start of the season means that the Grizzlies added depth will be needed immediately. Regardless of what could occur, the Grizzlies heavy investment in their frontcourt has resulted in a versatile and valuable group. This group can now not only provide value in various ways on the court, it will likely be a source of present value that can be turned into needed future assets off of the court.
For a team that has its clear focus on the future, wise investments in the present can pay off huge dividends down the line. This is why the Grizzlies have continued to add to a clear strength, so it can remain the gift that keeps on giving as Memphis moves closer to contention.