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Seeking wing depth for the Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies actually have wings for once!

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NBA Restart 2020 - All-Access Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The city of Memphis knows wings and they have some depth in that area. Just think about it. You got Wing Guru, Ching’s, Crumpy’s, Tiger Hot Wings, Elwood’s Shack, Mr. P’s and even Central BBQ just to name a few. I most certainly missed or overlooked some great wing places which further proves the point that Memphis knows wings and has some wing depth.

The basketball franchise that resides in the city of Memphis, however, has struggled to produce wing depth through its two plus decades of residency. There have been some top-heavy wing rotations in franchise history such as the Rudy Gay and Oj Mayo years, but there has never been a year like the upcoming 2020-21 season, on the wings.

The Memphis Grizzlies currently roster Dillon Brooks, Justise Winslow, De’Anthony Melton, Grayson Allen, Desmond Bane, Kyle Anderson, Sean McDermott, John Konchar, Mario Hezonja, and Marko Guduric who all play on the wing. Now, there’s a great chance both Mario and Marko are waived, so they won’t factor into the wing rotation.

With eight guys to play two spots, maybe even nine guys factoring in Tyus Jones playing alongside Ja Morant, the minutes crunch gets tight. So what are some options for Taylor Jenkins at the start of the season and when the team is at full strength?

Small Ball Revolution

The Memphis Grizzlies PR department recently released that neither Jaren Jackson Jr. nor Justise Winslow would be available for the start of the season. The expectation is that Winslow would be ready soon after, but that Jaren would miss some time — think around MLK day type time. So the opening night lineup would be short two presumed starters on a fully healthy squad.

Brandon Clarke proved in the bubble that he is significantly more comfortable operating off the bench, and maybe more specifically with Tyus Jones as his running mate. Taylor Jenkins might (and should) opt to leave him in that bench beast role, because the future success of the Grizzlies will rely on him being that.

Newly-drafted Xavier Tillman Sr. could be a candidate to start alongside Jonas Valanciunas, but with an extremely shortened preseason, Jenkins will most likely turn to a more experienced player in the starting lineup. Justise Winslow would have been a sneaky fun candidate to start at the four, but due to his injury status it seems the de facto starter should be Kyle Anderson.

So to start the season, with Anderson possibly sliding over to the four and Winslow out, that leaves six guys for two spots, with Konchar and two-way player McDermott at five and six. Therefore, some combination of Dillon Brooks, Desmond Bane, Grayson Allen and De’Anthony Melton will hold down the two wing spots in the early portion of the season.

Suggested Rotations

Morant - Brooks - Bane - Anderson - Valanciunas

Jones - Melton - Allen - Clarke - Tillman

Outside of Dillon Brooks, the answer for wing starter is really a mystery. Arguments could made for the three players listed above, but it all depends on the coaching staff’s goals for the early portion of the season — win now or develop rotations and chemistry for the bench to win when healthy?

The trio of Jones-Melton-Clarke off the bench is one of the more lethal bench trios in the entire league, so it could factor in the decision of the coaching staff to just let that group ride and continue to grow together. The decision then comes down to starting Grayson Allen, the player who benefited the most from the bubble, or Bane. Were Jenkins to use the same logic for not starting Tillman, this screams a starting lineup containing Brooks and Allen, two three-level scorers. A Brooks-Allen-Anderson selection would give Morant two secondary playmakers, which is a Jenkins delight.

The case for starting Desmond Bane is simple. He is an absolute sniper that will better provide spacing AND can also defend 4 positions. You saw in the bubble, at times Grayson was guarding fours and while he did an honorable job, it’s not ideal. Bane and Anderson combined can take on some defending responsibilities from Dillon Brooks, which on nights he is going nuclear, could afford him some rest on the defensive end. Allen also makes the starting lineup even smaller, whereas Bane keeps some size in the lineup, which is more and more coveted in today’s NBA.

Full Strength

At full strength the lineup should not really be in question:

Morant - Brooks - Winslow - Jackson Jr. - Valanciunas

However, when it comes to bench minutes, things begin to get squeezed. Memphis and Brooks could both mutually benefit from reduced minutes to hopefully enhance his efficiency, so the minutes situation could be a little more friendly but eight guys for two spots is very tight.

Memphis just paid Melton and traded up to get Bane, so you would think the priority might be getting those two run. Allen earned his chance with his phenomenal play in the bubble, while Anderson may go from starting to odd man out.

The good news for all the wings on the fringe: Jenkins has been known to run out an 11-man rotation. So if the starters plus Clarke, Tillman, Tyus and Melton are all given, there remains one spot between Bane, Allen, Anderson, Dieng, and Konchar. Dieng probably will not be a factor this season, he’s more JV injury insurance. A gambling man would put safe money on Allen winning that tenth spot with the early season games as a try out between Bane, Anderson and Konchar (and McDermott?) for the 11th spot. Based on the talent level of Bane and the Grizzlies’ move to grab him, Bane would be the favorite for spot 11.

Anderson simply does not fit what Jenkins wants to do on the wing, but Konchar does. Would Jenkins be willing to go 12 deep for the plus play of Mr. Jitty?

Remember last season plugging Marko Guduric into a wing rotation with Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill? What a luxury the front office has given the coaching staff with plenty of options and depth.

Whether it will be the development of future contending wing pieces, or assets to attain those pieces, this season on the wing will be foundational for the future of the franchise.

Be on the lookout for a rotational breakdown by the minute from the captain Joe Mullinax as the season approaches.

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