Two seasons ago, I wrote about the lack of positional versatility among the Memphis Grizzlies. Point guards were strictly point guards, 4’s were 4’s, and centers were centers. With the way J.B. Bickerstaff coached as well, he never really leaned into expanding the horizons of his players by using them at multiple positions.
Now...holy smokes, I never thought I’d see the day. Nearly the entire Memphis Grizzlies roster possesses strong positional versatility. Most of the bigs — sans Jonas Valanciunas — can play either the 4 or the 5. The Grizzlies’ wing rotation can play both the 2 and 3, and the two point guards (Ja Morant and Tyus Jones) can co-exist together at a stretch.
I’ve officially seen the vision of my position-less basketball mantra for the Memphis Grizzlies. Coach Jenkins has deployed 4-guard lineups within the 2nd unit, running Desmond Bane and Dillon Brooks at the 4.
Music to my ears.
Though it’s unlikely the Grizzlies roll with 4-guard lineups every game, it illustrates the versatility on the wings. And the early return within the team is very nice.
“I like it,” Coach Jenkins said of the small-ball lineup. “We’re playing a little bit smaller, getting out [and] running, multiple guys that can penetrate and kick, play pick-and-roll’s, dribble handoffs. I was really encouraged by it.”
Coach Jenkins raved the lineups’ interchangeability and versatility, while sharing that it was something he and the coaching staff were looking to use over the offseason. The versatility on the wings makes these lineups work, and it starts with De’Anthony Melton, Kyle Anderson, Dillon Brooks, and Desmond Bane.
When asking the team about its versatility, De’Anthony Melton is brought up almost every time. And for good reason. He’s a 3-and-D wing stuck in a point guard’s body, and it bodes well for smaller, interchangeable lineups. His 6’8” wingspan allows him to switch across positions and jump into passing lanes. His secondary playmaking also makes him a perfect fit in Coach Jenkins’ pace-and-space system, as he ranked 9th among reserve guards (less than 10 starts) in assists per game (2.9), per basketball-reference’s Stathead database.
The most important skill he possesses in relation to small-ball basketball is his elite positional rebounding. It’s going to be important to have great rebounders across the floor in small-ball lineups, but especially ones with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke running the 5. Per Cleaning the Glass, Melton was in the 85th percentile in both offensive rebound and defense rebound percentages off field goal attempts — at 3.8 and 13.6.
Almost any Grizzlies lineup is successful with Melton in it, but small-ball units need Melton in it for them to run smoothly. His defensive versatility and rebounding are too valuable.
Kyle Anderson’s game fits a position-less mold. His vision and passing skills are superb for a player his size, as he played a decent amount of point guard at UCLA. He’s also a multi-positional defender who uses his great size (6’9”, 7’3” wingspan) to jump into passing lanes, bother perimeter players, and protect the rim.
His 3-point shooting has been a revelation thus far, and it’s going to be tough to keep him out of the rotation. When shifted down to the 3 (his primary position), he theoretically doesn’t cram the floor anymore with his budding jumper. Statistically speaking though, the system ran better when Anderson was playing the 4. The Grizzlies were outscored by 6.1 points when Anderson was at the 3; meanwhile, they outsourced opponents by 6 points per 100 possessions when he was at the 4.
Granted this could all change with his budding jumper, but his versatility really allows him to shift across positions, while fitting Jenkins’ system of having interchangeable players on the floor at all times.
Where the small-ball dream starts and ends with Desmond Bane and Dillon Brooks — you can call them, DB Squared as 92.9’s Connor Dunning dubs them.
Both Bane and Brooks are traditional 2-guards who make up for negative wingspans with physicality on the defensive end of the court. They are also both aggressive offensive players who put pressure on the defense by coupling 3-point jumpers with an attack mentality towards the rim.
Brooks was the permanent starting 2-guard last season, only holding down the 3 spot when the roster was riddled with injuries. He lies in the same situation to start the season, but he’s also playing the 4 this time. When asked about the transition to the 4 spot, Brooks told the media to go watch him at Oregon. He also sees himself as “another drive-and-kick threat” that’s good at finding mismatches, “creating pick-and-pop opportunities, [and] spacing the floor.”
Bane offers similar value as Brooks as a 3-and-D wing that can put pressure on the defense with his scoring and playmaking. The upside though is higher, since he’s projected to be an elite shooter and secondary playmaker. Earlier on, and under the mentorship of Dillon Brooks, Bane is understanding the value of versatility in today’s NBA and where the Memphis Grizzlies lie in the midst of it:
I think the NBA is becoming more versatile, so that’s the name of the game. Being to play multiple positions I think is beneficial to our team and the way we like to play. But we have guys that are interchangeable out there at all times - can handle, can shoot, can pass. I think that’s what makes us such a dangerous team.
Bane and Brooks are the major keys here. With their outside shooting touch, secondary playmaking, and physical defense, it gives Coach Jenkins even more possibilities to explore within the lineup.
The versatility on the wing for the Memphis Grizzlies allows the team to adapt to any situation.
As we’ve seen in preseason, when down Jaren Jackson Jr., Justise Winslow, and Brandon Clarke, players can shift down a couple positions without it hurting the team’s production. Although we still need to see how it works against better defenses than Minnesota and Atlanta.
If the Grizzlies are facing a bigger team, players can shift down to their traditional positions without destroying the team’s spacing. And when they need to go small, they’re ready to run. The Grizzlies have already showcased its interchangeability without arguably their 2 most versatile players — Jackson and Winslow.
The biggest takeaway here though is it gets the point guards off the ball for scoring opportunities. Both Taylor Jenkins and Dillon Brooks told me about the versatility on the wings create more chances for Ja Morant and Tyus Jones off the ball. That’s important going forward, because of the scoring upside these two bring.
Jones, though cold in the preseason, was one of the better spot-up shooters in the NBA last season. Ja Morant is the Grizzlies’ best perimeter scorer, aside from technically Jackson. It’s important to find as many easy scoring opportunities for him. In these situations, he has the playmakers to roam off ball for buckets, and the spacing in which he can dissect the defense.
“I think it works out perfect for our offense,” Kyle Anderson told Grizzly Bear Blues.
In a game where versatility is king, the pace-and-space Memphis Grizzlies are ready for any situation that lies ahead this season.