‘Tis the Christmas season.
You better watch out. You better not cry, NBA basketball is back, and Santa Claus is coming town and making a special stop at the FedExForum. He’s going to fill every stocking he finds and the Grizzlies are going to love him so. He’s going to leave a new PS5 controller for Grayson Allen, new Ja Morant sponsored PSD gear for Taylor Jenkins, and the first game checks for the rookies. And he’ll ask Ja Morant won’t he dunk over his sleigh tonight - sending Donner & Blitzen home with tears in their eyes. While Santa’s here though, there will be other Christmas wishes to fulfill for his friends on Beale Street as some Grizzlies players have special requests for the jolly man in red.
Let’s take a look an inside look at the top priorities on some of the Grizzlies Christmas wish lists.
Ja Morant: THAT
That performance last night vs. the Spurs with one turnover. Nothing else needs to be said. We need those.
Dillon Brooks: Preseason Dillon sticks around (with an added Veteran Benefit of the Doubt)
Dillon Brooks is entering his fourth season in the NBA and to a degree he is still figuring it out. He has been a streaky player on offense. As he attempts to resurrect his days of being an Oregon Duck when he was one of the best scorers in the country, sometimes that leads to horrible shot selection. This happens and will continue to happen, even though he’s started to adapt his game this preseason to become more of a self-aware playmaker. He recently stated that a goal of his was to make an NBA All-Defense team and be in the running for Most Improved Player.
Dillon Brooks was asked about which part of his game to take a new leap.— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) December 18, 2020
He said his goal is to make an All-Defensive team and be in the hunt for Most Improved player.
This is possible if the Dillon Brooks that appeared in the preseason can last over the course of the regular season. Through the 4 preseason games, Brooks was more selective with his shots taking shots within the offense as well as doing his best to facilitate to others instead of forcing contested jump shots. If the Grizzlies can keep this version of Brooks as a Christmas gift, it makes them a better team.
Dillon Brooks has embraced his role as a pest to the stars as one of the Grizzlies best perimeter defenders in the early stages of his career. In order to achieve his goals for the season, his wish and the next step in his development must be decreasing his foul total. Dillon Brooks finished as the league leader in personal fouls last season with 278 personal fouls 46 fouls, ahead of the 2nd place finisher who coincidentally is teammate Jaren Jackson Jr. While some of the foul calls are most definitely warranted, Brooks is the recipient of more ticky tack fouls than any player I have ever seen. For Christmas, Brooks would love to start receiving the benefit of the doubt as an above-average perimeter defender that he isn’t fouling the stars he has been assigned to but instead is playing the aggressive defense with active hands that has benefited the Grizzlies since his arrival.
Jaren Jackson Jr., Justise Winslow & Jontay Porter: Health
Jaren Jackson Jr. very well could have the same wish as Dillon Brooks as far as fouls and foul calls, but there is a more pressing manner at hand that he shares with new teammates Justise Winslow and Jontay Porter — that is health in their young careers.
Jaren Jackson Jr. has shown that he can be an All-Star level talent but he’s yet to play a full season. His rookie season was derailed due to a quad injury, while a sprained knee and torn meniscus effected his sophomore season and will keep him out to begin his third season. Justise Winslow is in the same boat as a litany of injuries have kept him on the sidelines as, he’s only played over 70 games once in his 5-year career. Then there is Jontay Porter, a heralded prospect out of high school, who hasn’t played in a basketball game in 2 years and 9 months, thanks to knee injuries that date back to his time at Missouri.
Injuries suck, and are no fault of the players themselves, so hopefully Santa will bless them with good health upon their returns. These guys worked hard to get to the league and deserve their chance to put their best efforts forward. The Grizzlies are also a better team at full strength so let’s work this out with Mr. Claus for these guys (and the team as a whole).
Kyle Anderson: “Slow Mo” Keeps His 3PT stroke
After a pump fake in the bubble, we once again ask “Who is this Kyle Anderson and what did you do with the old one?” Kyle Anderson is finally healthy after having time to heal from shoulder surgery. While “Kyle Anderson sharpshooting extraordinaire” disappeared once the real games started in Orlando, he has reappeared in the NBA preseason, shooting at an outstanding 53.3% from deep.
“Sharpshooter” Kyle Anderson adds a wrinkle to a Grizzlies offensive attack that was going to drastically miss the three-point prowess of Jaren Jackson Jr. in the starting lineup. So for Christmas, the Grizzlies would much rather Anderson stay hot from deep instead of turning as cold as the North Pole. Hopefully, Santa will allow Kyle Anderson to add the consistent perimeter jump shot to a skillset that already allows him to be a defensive cheat code and offensive playmaker.
John Konchar & Xavier Tillman Sr: Expand the rotation
Last season, Taylor Jenkins started his first season as an NBA head coach with a 12-man rotation before eventually shrinking it to 9-10 players before the end of the season. On December 9, Taylor Jenkins announced that he would start this season with a 10-man rotation.
Injuries to Justise Winslow & Jaren Jackson Jr. to start the season offers other players new opportunity but the Grizzlies have a problem a lot of teams wish they had – depth. Upon the return of Brandon Clarke last week, Taylor Jenkins seemingly made the cut playing his opening night 10-man rotation. There were always going to be players that were virtual locks for the rotation injuries or not but as the rotation seems to currently stand there are some really talented guys left on the outside looking in.
The analytical dream that is John Konchar struggled from the perimeter in the first two games against the Minnesota Timberwolves, but made an impact in literally every other way — stuffing the stat sheet with winning basketball, and doing the Konchar thing of being in the right place at the right time. He didn’t see the floor last Thursday night’s preseason game. The thing is I don’t think he should play over anyone that played Thursday either.
After a less than stellar introduction, Xavier Tillman Sr. caught the injury bug at the worst possible time and is trending in the opposite direction of fellow rookie Desmond Bane in the rotation. It also doesn’t help that Gorgui Dieng has had a great start to the year in the backup center role, which will make it hard to supplant him. If Taylor Jenkins stays consistent with the 10-man rotation, two more players will be on the chopping block upon the return of Winslow and Jackson Jr.
The Grizzlies depth will be extremely beneficial with the pandemic soaring leading to potential absences, the ever-present chance of injury, and for the simplest reason that this 72-game season is going to be a sprint. I believe the Grizzlies can succeed either way, but as the season nears, Konchar and others will be begging for the rotation to expand so they can contribute on the floor too.
The preseason’s over and rosters are set; Coach Jenkins has the Grizzlies playing at their best. The season is here, too bad we can’t be in the Forum to cheer on the Grizz led by the Rookie of the Year. Santa’s made his list and checked it twice. He’s going to make sure the Grizz are extra nice. He will grant the Grizzlies’ wishes and get them just right to make sure they can join in the playoff fight. Before he does like Ja and takes flight, he will say Happy Holidays to all and to all a good night.