Last Thursday was a significant day that nearly everyone associated with the Grizzlies had been anxiously awaiting.
Memphis made a trade with the Miami Heat that brought Justise Winslow and Gorgui Dieng to Memphis (Dion Waiters as well, though he was never expected to actually play for the Grizzlies). The Grizzlies were able to take assets with zero or declining value in Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, and Solomon Hill and exchange them for pieces that can easily help Memphis improve this year and beyond.
Logically, a lot of the attention from yesterday focused on the deal between Memphis, Miami, and Minnesota. However, the Grizzlies fourth acquisition of the day, in the form of front court reserve Jordan Bell, also carries significance that has room to grow.
Similar to James Johnson going from Miami to Memphis to Minnesota, Bell had a whirlwind of a time at the end of last week. As part of the Clint Capela/Robert Covington four-team blockbuster trade, Bell initially was on his way from Minnesota to Houston. It was a logical addition for the Rockets, who were in need of post players after trading away Capela and Nene. However, the Rockets decided that Bruno Caboclo, who they knew from his previous time in Houston, was a better fit than Bell for their present plans.
After cutting both Miles Plumlee and Ivan Rabb right before the season, Memphis showed a preference to feature smaller lineups. While the plan has certainly worked overall, the lack of post players to utilize against other teams’ bigs has been a growing concern. With both Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke approaching uncharted territory in terms of games played in a season, the extra depth provided by Dieng and Bell should be quite valuable for the rest of this campaign.
The Grizzlies defense has steadily improved as this season has progressed, especially as De’Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson have seen their roles grow. However, Memphis still has its areas of weakness that can be exposed in certain games. One area in particular is offensive rebounding. Since the start of 2020, despite being 14-5, the Grizzlies rank 25th in opponent offensive rebounding percentage allowed and 25th in second chance points allowed per game.
Though the Grizzlies rank favorably in several rebounding statistics, their lack of size is frequently exposed when opposing bigs have easy put back opportunities in the lane. This is especially true if Jonas Valanciunas is out of the game or away from a rebounding opportunity. With him averaging 25.9 minutes per game, an obvious focus of the Grizzlies was to improve their options to use when Valanciunas sits.
This is a major reason why the Grizzlies felt Bell and Dieng would be a better usage of funds for this year and beyond than Caboclo and Johnson. Bell and Dieng immediately become the second and third best rebounding options on the Grizzlies, while also offering similar to better defensive production than Valanciunas on defense. Furthermore, they simply have better bodies to bang with players in the post than Clarke and Jackson Jr.
While Dieng may get more minutes overall as a true back up center, his game mirrors Valanciunas on defense more than it does Clarke or Jackson Jr. Though Dieng can be effective at rebounding and rim protection, he naturally can be a liability once he gets away from the rim. As a result, Bell could be the more effective defensive option in certain situations and against smaller lineups off the bench.
When Bell was drafted into the NBA out of Oregon, the main attribute that made him an attractive prospect was his above-average athleticism for an undersized post player. His lateral quickness, leaping ability, foot speed, and instincts allow for Bell to be a good reactionary defender, both on the perimeter and the post. As seen in the video package above, whether defending a pass on the perimeter, trailing a driver into the lane, or protecting the rim with help defense, Bell can effectively disrupt the opposition’s offensive approach in multiple ways.
These athletic attributes give Bell the ability to switch away from the rim when opponents use a screen heavy scheme, and his rebounding presence limits second chance opportunities for opponents as previously mentioned. However, his strength on defense is his ability to protect the rim. Since his rookie season in 2017-2018, Bell is one of only 15 players who have played at least 1800 minutes and registered a block percentage above 5%. Several of the NBA’s most intriguing young post players are included in this group. This further validates that Bell, due to his athleticism and instincts, can be a defensive difference maker for the Grizzlies when on the court.
For many of the same reasons that Bell can be an asset on defense, he can also add value offensively in the right scheme. That type of scheme is an offensive approach that is fast paced, features plenty of off-ball movement, and is highly effective in the open court. As the highlight package shows above, Bell can move well away from the ball. He also has enough ball handling ability to be a driving threat past bigger opponents if he gets away from the basket.
However, perhaps Bell’s biggest strength is his awareness with his positioning. As his teammates are passing the ball, whether that be moving down the court or setting up a play, Bell can quickly recognize where the soft spot in the defense will be. As a result, he creates space for a high percentage pass to setup a high percentage shot, such as a lob or easy dunk/lay up. For a team such as the Grizzlies, who are near the top of the league in nearly all assist categories, adding another target who is skilled at getting open for passes is an advantageous addition.
As a player, Bell remains a talent who makes several of his good plays based off instinct as much as intelligence. He is simply not as much of an asset in half-court setups as he is for a team on the move. As mentioned above, regardless of set-up, Bell is effective as a target near the rim and rebounder. However, another way he benefits the Grizzlies is his ability to distribute the ball as a post player. Among players who have played 1,800 minutes since the 2017-2018 season, Bell is one of ten players who have registered an offensive rebounding percentage of 8.5% or higher and an assist percentage of 13.5% or higher. Similar to his impact on defense, Bell can add value in multiple ways on offense.
In terms of his position on the roster, it is very likely Bell will see around the same amount of playing time as he did in Minnesota. For reference, Bell’s role with Memphis will be similar to the minutes Ivan Rabb provided over the past few seasons. However, like many other options currently on the Memphis bench compared to years past, Bell is a clear upgrade that will add value on both ends of the court.
Overall, it is perfectly logical to suggest that Bell will play limited minutes for Memphis. However, if utilized correctly, Bell can still add significant value. With the likelihood that he will be featured against other reserves, Bell’s athleticism and abilities at the rim can make him highly productive. He also can help Jackson Jr., Valanciunas, and Clarke remain fresh and healthy as the season progresses. Bell also offers one intangible that could prove highly valuable during a playoff stretch: playoff and championship experience from his time with Golden State.
Over the past several months, regardless of the player’s role, the Grizzlies front office has made several highly successful additions to create a deep and productive roster. As this season progresses, there is a good chance Bell will add further validity to this increasingly undeniable truth.