One of the biggest storylines for the Memphis Grizzlies coming into this season is, how they’re going to operate the beginning of the season without Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justise Winslow (though we haven’t really seen him in this system).
That alone places a huge emphasis on depth, as it draws questions about who starts, what the bench looks like, and who’ll shore up the losses of Jackson and Winslow. The looming storyline — and arguably the biggest — is how the NBA operates and goes forward this season in a pandemic and without a bubble.
“There’s going to be unknowns and new challenges we’ve never faced in a typical NBA season,” head coach Taylor Jenkins told Grizzly Bear Blues in Friday’s Media Week Zoom call.
Through the pandemic and the shortened offseason, injuries and positive cases are bound to happen (though as of yesterday’s call, the Grizzlies had a full practice, aside from presumably Jaren and Justise). It’s going to make depth crucial, and we’re already seeing that.
The injuries to Jackson and Winslow already change the starting lineup, and Coach Jenkins told the media that he’s still experimenting with lineups around Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, and Jonas Valanciunas. The different routes they can roll with highlight the team’s depth. They could run with Grayson Allen or De’Anthony Melton at the 2, while pushing Brooks to the 3. Brandon Clarke or Kyle Anderson could take the 4 spot, and both could potentially start at that 3 and 4 spot. Maybe even Desmond Bane, a popular candidate in Grizz Twitter, though it’s hard to see him getting the starting nod right away.
Going forward though, it’s fair to say that players 1-17 will see an extended look this season, with the hurdles and outside forces in play. And it’s a focal point for Coach Jenkins and his coaching staff. He said that, every single day, they’re going to make sure everyone on the roster — 1-17 — is ready to play at a given notice.
We’re, at the end of the day, trying to put the best lineups out there to compete, to win every single night, and that’s relying on all 17 guys - even if in a given game, it’s 10 guys that might play.
That could mean a lot of different things for the Grizzlies. Gorgui Dieng may need to spell some minutes at the 5 some nights, and other nights, Jontay Porter or Xavier Tillman will get an extended run. Through that, the Grizzlies could answer questions regarding the backup — or starting — 5 of the future, while also allowing the league to assess Dieng and his expiring contract as a trade asset.
The Grizzlies wing rotation will also be tested as well, as plenty of these players will receive extra run and could prove themselves as contributors on the next great Grizzlies team. For guys like Grayson Allen, it’s proving his bubble performance from deep wasn’t a product of the unique circumstances. For Desmond Bane, it’s showing that he can space the floor at a high level and thrive as a two-way threat right out of the gate. For De’Anthony Melton, it’s backing up his contract, while also showing an improved jumper. For John Konchar, it’s showing that he does have a willingness to shoot from deep.
It could even spell a bigger look at the Grizzlies’ two-way players, Killian Tillie and Sean McDermott. Though the outlook for the G-League season is still in question, given the circumstances within the pandemic and the physical implications on a condensed offseason, the Grizzlies’ two-way guys may see NBA minutes. For those guys in particular, their floor-spacing will be paramount when it comes to finding minutes and emerging as potential main-roster NBA players down the road.
With the abnormal circumstances, strength in numbers is crucial... but it’s not something that’s just the focus in a COVID-shortened season, and Coach Jenkins let the media know that it’s a big picture thing too:
That just can’t be the case in a COVID shortened season, that’s got to be the case every single year, so that’s us knowing we got to take our program to the next level … that’s on the coaching staff, performance staff, and that’s our players embracing this model.
While this season will be crazy and unprecedented, it could pay off in the long run, as the Grizzlies look to build a strength in numbers and to achieve sustainable success. It’s also a pillar of some of the great cultures in today’s NBA similar to the San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, and Toronto Raptors. When everyone’s on the same page, and players up and down the roster are tuned in and ready to go, it creates a great synergy and culture within the organization.
And with through this “everybody stay ready” mindset, it could involve some leaps. Added responsibility for Ja and Clarke can be massive for their projected franchise cornerstones — though on different levels. One or two of the wings could break out and stand out amongst the crowded wing rotation. Xavier Tillman or Jontay Porter could start making things interesting within the center rotation, particularly for the futures of Valanciunas and Dieng. Tillie and McDermott could prove themselves as NBA players, as opposed to G-League guys.
This season is going to be weird, but the level of preparation and the energy coming from Taylor Jenkins, Ja Morant, and this Grizzlies squad are encouraging signs going into this season and beyond.