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Figuring out the Grizzlies wing log-jam

The Grizzlies have decisions on the horizon

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NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

You can never have too many friends. But whether it’s the NBA or Wing Guru, you can have too many wings.

Although it’s definitely not a bad problem to deal with, the Memphis Grizzlies now have more young wing players between De’Anthony Melton, Grayson Allen, John Konchar, and Desmond Bane than they know how to properly use. There are only so many minutes to allocate, and it’s not yet clear who will take precedent in the pecking order as the season progresses, especially once Justise Winslow returns from injury.

While it’s intriguing in a vacuum to have this many young players competing for minutes, what makes this dilemma so fascinatingly frustrating is how vastly different each of these players are from each other.

NBA: Preseason-Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Melton is an analytic-wonder that thrives as a secondary playmaker and is already one of the most disruptive guard defenders in the league, but his shooting, as he painfully demonstrated in Orlando, leaves much to be desired. Allen, on the other hand, struggles defensively due to his lack of size and lateral quickness, but he established himself as one of the best pure shooters on the team in Orlando. Konchar, beyond being the coolest dude to ever live, analytically appears to be a winning, impactful player, but his NBA skill-set is still very much in question. And while Bane may superficially seem like the most complete two-way player of the bunch, he’s still a relative unknown going into his rookie season.

To be sure, the Grizzlies will eventually have to make some difficult decisions. But fortunately for them, I am here to help! This is how I—not necessarily the Grizzlies coaching staff—currently rank each member of the Grizzlies’ log-jam in the rotation and what each of them needs to do to separate themselves from the pack.

1st: De’Anthony Melton

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Memphis Grizzlies Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In the interest of transparency, I really wanted to burn it down and give Grayson Allen the top spot on this list. Firstly, I still feel bad because I wrote about how he lacked decency back in college when I had never actually met him. That was wrong! Secondly, as it stands right now, he is better at the most premium skill in modern basketball (shooting) than any other guard/wing on the Grizzlies’ roster.

However, for all of his warts and flaws, De’Anthony Melton was far too impactful to be anything other than number one. I don’t think I can establish his impact any better than I did a few months ago:

...he was tied for second on the Grizzlies this year in defensive box plus-minus (2.0) and was third in defensive win-shares (1.7) while often taking difficult assignments on defense. His production on defense was extremely impressive as well, as he was second in the league in both steals per 36 minutes (2.4) and deflections (4.8) behind only Matisse Thybulle. He was also impactful defensively on the glass, as he averaged 6.9 rebounds per 36 minutes, which ranked first among Grizzlies guards and also ranks 58th all-time among guards 6’5” and shorter.

For lack of a better way to describe it, Melton just makes the Grizzlies better in almost every way. Last year, he had the best plus/minus on the entire team, and he made the team better in every statistical category when he was on the court. Whether his shot is falling or not, his impact truly goes beyond the mere box score.

Yet it would certainly be nice if his shot fell more often. Another excerpt from my piece on him from September:

He simply cannot and will not shoot, which would normally be considered a debilitating issue for guards in the pace-and-space NBA. Even with two other elite playmakers in Ja Morant and Tyus Jones, he struggled mightily from every single area of the floor (outside of at the rim, where he shot a superb 62%), as he shot 28% on a meager 2.3 3PA per game and only 32% from mid-range, which was down from the 46% he shot in that area as a rookie. For the season, he shot 40.1% from the field—which, if I might add, is lower than what notoriously inefficient gunner Dillon Brooks shot this year.

Until Melton becomes a more consistent and willing shooter from almost every area on the court, he will continue to be a superb reserve that can occasionally fill in the starting lineup. But he simply won’t be able to become more than that.

2nd: Grayson Allen

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Memphis Grizzlies Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Grayson Allen had a rollercoaster of a season to say the least. He struggled mightily during the first month of the season before he got hurt. When he came back from injury, he began to find a nice groove as a shooter and secondary playmaker, only for him to get hurt again. And then once he returned to action in the Orlando bubble, he quickly became the Grizzlies’ best shooter in the absence of Jaren Jackson Jr, shooting an eye-opening 47% from three on 50 attempts.

Regardless of what the Grizzlies’ collection of other young wings/guards do, Allen will almost certainly have at least the role he did last year in which he played just over 18 minutes per game. His shooting is simply too valuable, especially on a Grizzlies team that was often starved of consistent quality shooting last year. And there’s more than a large enough sample size to know that his elite shooting ability is legitimate; beyond his immaculately impressive bubble performance, he shot 40% from three on 3.7 attempts over 38 games, and he also ranked in the 97th percentile for spot-up shooting.

But in order for his role to increase and for him to rise above the others in the mix, he has to find ways to more consistently impact the game when his shot isn’t falling. In a way, this makes him the anti-De’Anthony Melton. As solid as his effort may be, he will always struggle to even be an average NBA defender, and he’s still more of a pure shooter than a truly viable secondary playmaker. Improving in these areas will be crucial for him if he is to develop into an elite role player.

3rd: Desmond Bane

NBA: Preseason-Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

In theory, Desmond Bane is the most complete player among the Grizzlies’ mismatched collection of young wings, and he could rise to the top sooner rather than later. But I need to see more before I make the bold proclamation that he is absolutely better than two key contributors in Melton and Allen.

To a certain degree, Bane hypothetically represents the best of both worlds between Melton and Allen, as his game appears to have little in the way of real weaknesses. Shooting? As a senior at TCU, he shot 44% from three on 6.5 attempts. Secondary playmaking? He averaged just under 4 assists while thriving as a pick-and-roll initiator on a team that lacked other NBA talent. Defense? Despite his negative wingspan, he carved out a reputation in college as a tenacious team defender and high-IQ on-ball defender.

If all of those traits carry over to the NBA, then I will not be shocked in the slightest if he is in the starting lineup by the all-star break. The early returns from his two preseason game have been promising, as he has averaged 11 points while shooting 7-13 from the field and 3-6 from beyond the arc. But he will have to prove himself over a larger sample size before I’ll say that he’s ready to consistently contribute at a high level.

And if he does, then the punishment he will deal other NBA teams will be most severe.

4th: John Konchar

NBA: Preseason-Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

If the word “absurdity” were an NBA player, it would have to be John Konchar.

Here’s a Jitty stat from his lone year in the NBA: in the 19 games he played last year, he averaged 9.5 rebounds per 36 minutes, which would have been the sixth best rebounding season in NBA history for a player 6’5” or shorter had he qualified, with Elgin Baylor, Russell Westbrook, and Oscar Robertson being the only players ahead of him. I imagine that you didn’t click on this website today expecting to see me compare John Konchar to Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson or Russell Westbrook, and let me tell you, I’m just as disturbed as you are.

Like Melton, he’s an analytic-lovers dream, as he posted the best BPM (4.5) on the team last year as well as having the second-best WS/48 (.182). His extremely high basketball IQ and his affinity for playing every play like it’s his last enabled him to be impactful last year.

However, it’s still far from certain whether he is skilled enough to be a viable role player on a good team. He either can’t or won’t shoot, as he only took two attempts from three per 36 minutes last year. He isn’t comfortable being asked to create with the ball in his hands, as evidenced by the fact that he had the lowest usage rate on the team.

There can be a place on the Grizzlies for Konchar going forward, but he’s going to have to do more than just please the math nerds in order to do so.

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