Welcome to “The Long View!”
Zach Kleiman and company like to look at the road ahead for the Memphis Grizzlies, striving to achieve sustainable success. So whenever I’m covering games live from FedExForum, I’ll be dissecting each game with the long view in mind. Is a certain set or lineup something the Grizzlies can take down the road in high-stakes playoff games? Who’s looking like a long-term complementary piece next to Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.? How must the Grizzlies adjust from here, and keep in mind for the future?
Stuff like that will be broken down here.
Last night’s game against the Atlanta Hawks wasn’t a good one. Trae Young got to the foul line whenever he wanted. The Grizzlies let Kevin Huerter and DeAndre Hunter combine for 35 points, while Nathan Knight had 14 points in 9 minutes (I’ve never heard of this player until today, and I’ve never seen that kind of production off the bench).
As the Grizzlies look to bounce back from a 2-loss homestand, which things stuck out with a sense through the long view?
The specialness from Ja Morant and Trae Young
We can get this out of the way now. Ja Morant and Trae Young are two of the most special young talents this league has. And it seems to be the goal for each of them:
“We’re both young talents trying to be the face of the league” - Ja on Trae Young— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) December 27, 2020
They’re similar in the way in which they control the flow of the game and whip some stellar dimes. They contrast in their scoring approach, as Ja attacks the basket more whereas Trae loves to fire off the dribble from deep.
These two young stars could be this next decade’s great point guard duel, and last night was just a glimpse of what to expect going forward.
Finding opportunities for Brandon Clarke
Brandon Clarke’s jumper has been the biggest storyline for his game thus far. There’s a noticeable hitch, and it’s not as smooth as it was last year — though you could argue he never had a textbook jump-shot.
Did someone mess with his shot, or did he? Is he still bothered from the preseason injury that held him out of training camp? No one knows, but that’s not what I want to focus on here.
The offense hasn’t generated lots of looks for Brandon Clarke thus far. They need to find ways to where they could get him exploding towards the basket on rolls. Or create open looks around the elbows for him, or maybe get him going downhill.
For a second-unit starved of scoring, Clarke is theoretically the best option off the bench )alongside Desmond Bane probably). So maybe those options I just mentioned could get him going to resemble more of All-Rookie Brandon Clarke from last season.
He’s getting the shots he’d take last season, and they’re just not falling.
Coach Jenkins switched him to play more of a small-ball 5 role in the second half, and told the media in last night’s postgame press conference that he did that to try to be quicker and to get Clarke going offensively.
It could be the best role for him, since it does provide him more spacing and pace — as opposed to playing the 4 next to Jonas Valanciunas or Gorgui Dieng. As he navigates this struggle, it could tell a lot about how Clarke needs to be used going forward. Is he going to be a featured option in the second unit? Or will he be just an energy guy alongside the starters, or a combination of them? Will he regain his touch from both around the paint and from deep?
I wouldn’t give up on Clarke just yet. He missed training camp due to injury, and he could be getting his legs back under him. He also has displayed a strong work ethic to his craft since his early college days. This slump isn’t the verdict on him.
Get Bane’s volume up
I’m not going to go all in just yet on the “Desmond Bane needs to start” train yet. He never got Summer League or a normal training camp, and after not playing basketball for 9 months, he’s been thrown into the NBA. He also still has some work defensively, as he picked up easy fouls and was also taken to the rack by Solomon Hill.
However, I will say that the offense needs some design to allow Bane to let it fly from deep more often.
Over the past 2 games, he’s shot 4-of-6 from deep, going 2-for-2 in tonight’s outing. His mechanics are smooth, and when he’s open, he’s been knocking those 3’s down. Now I’m fascinated to see what Coach Jenkins does to rev up the volume here to unleash Bane as the team’s premier 3-point threat.
As the team is desperately seeking bench scoring, Bane could serve as that resource, as he’s the only second-string player with his shooting prowess. A lot of the Grizzlies offense is designed through drive-and-kick, but I’d love to see Bane used in some elevator screens or dribble hand-off’s.
Though a small sample size, it’s lovely to see the Grizzlies draft a shooter — something we haven’t seen in over a decade. The more he shoots, the more I daydream of him playing alongside Ja Morant in big moments just canning 3’s off Ja-ggle worthy dimes.
As Coach Jenkins continues to get Bane’s feet wet, it’s going to be awesome watching his comfort level on the court grow and grow. And with the Grizzlies missing some key players, Bane should be fed more reps.
The Grizzlies will travel to Brooklyn for a matchup with the Nets on Monday.