Currently, the Memphis Grizzlies feature two clear assets: a potential superstar point guard in Ja Morant, and a highly versatile and highly effective trio of frontcourt options in Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, and Jonas Valanciunas. While the current Memphis bigs certainly could play significant roles on a true title contender, the biggest need for the Grizzlies on their road to contention is finding support on the perimeter for Morant.
Fortunately, the Grizzlies have found a stable of intriguing talents in the forms of Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, Dillon Brooks, and De’Anthony Melton that could offer solid support for Morant for the foreseeable future. With Jones best utilized as the leader of the second unit, the trio of Melton, Winslow, and Brooks will be the most frequent options sharing the perimeter with Morant when he is on the court. As a result, the evolution of this trio into consistent complements to Morant is critical for the Grizzlies future.
Here are a few ways that Winslow, Melton, and Brooks can make that evolution highly effective:
This season, Memphis ranked second in the NBA in assists. However, a big reason for that was the Grizzlies bench, which ranked first in the NBA in assists per game and FG% among NBA reserve units. The Grizzlies starters ranked 23rd and 14th among NBA starting units, respectively. In the most critical times of the game, the Memphis starters will obviously be on the court, and Morant and Jackson Jr. will be the primary offensive options. While Morant is elite at finishing at the rim for a point guard and Jackson Jr. offers more effective range than most bigs, adding depth to their offensive games is essential for the Grizzlies to take their next step toward contention.
A logical source of depth is improving the outside shooing of the Grizzlies roster as a whole. As is the standard around the league, the Grizzlies are better shooting in catch and shoot situations (assisted) than they are in pull up scenarios (non-assisted). However, the Grizzlies were below average in these situations compared to the rest of the NBA. Both Morant and Jackson Jr. shoot better when catching and shooting than pulling up, yet they produced just 8.1 points per game combined in catch and shoot opportunities.
While the Grizzlies certainly want Morant handling the ball as much as possible, more production from both he and Jackson Jr. through catch and shoot opportunities could improve the Grizzlies offense.
A big key to make this a reality is effective facilitation from the other starters. With this in mind, both Melton and Winslow emerge as potential options. During the 2018-2019 season, Winslow was one of only eight forwards to produce an assist percentage of 20 or higher (in at least 1900 minutes played.) This season, Melton also produced an assist percentage above 20, and was part of some of the best Grizzlies three-man and four-man offensive lineups. If Melton and Winslow can become consistent secondary playmakers to free up Morant, Jackson Jr, and others for high percentage shots, Memphis could consistently feature an above average NBA offense.
Outside shooting was a big question mark for Memphis before this season began. As a result, the hope was that someone would emerge as a decent source of scoring from mid-range and beyond the arc. As the season progressed, Brooks emerged as the best option to fill that role.
During the 2019-2020 season, Brooks was one of 45 players to make 125 or more threes while shooting 35% or better from beyond the arc (along with Jaren Jackson Jr.). While Brooks ranked 33rd in 3PFG% among this group, he also finished 43rd or lower in FG%, 2PFG%, eFG%, TS%, and WS/48. The significance of these stats shows that his numbers are much more a product of quantity (based on the Grizzlies faster pace of play) than quality. He basically “checks the box” as the outside shooting option for the Grizzlies, but is much more of a mere volume shooting presence than a true asset and threat to other teams.
Though Brooks has his faults, he is the most consistent mid-range and three point (outside of Jackson Jr.) shooting option currently on the Grizzlies roster. Though Brooks may be most effective as a reserve, his skill set is the best current resolution to one of its roster’s biggest needs. With Melton’s shooting struggles (less than 35% shooting on shots 10 feet or more from basket) and Winslow’s health concerns, Brooks helps to create space for Morant, Jackson Jr. and others to work with by being a scoring option away from the basket.
That is a big asset for a team that lacks options that can create their own shot. If Winslow can regain his scoring from last season (43% from the field, 1.5 3PG, 38% from three), both he and Brooks can add another layer to the Grizzlies offense that will keep defenses honest.
Clearly, the Grizzlies need Morant to be at his best on offense as much as possible when playing the NBA’s best teams. As a result, they will need plenty of effective defensive minutes on the perimeter from Melton, Brooks, and Winlsow to keep Morant fresh. Fortunately, Melton and Brooks proved they could get that job done on many occasions this season.
The Grizzlies have had 26 different four man lineups play at least 100 minutes together this season. Among the six combinations of that group with the best Defensive Ratings, one or both of Melton and Brooks were a part of every one. They were both involved in four of the six lineups with the best NET Ratings, as well. One or both of Melton and Brooks were also apart of 10 of the 11 three-man lineups that registered the best Defensive Ratings and the seven lineups with the best Net Ratings. The three man lineup of Morant, Melton, and Brooks produced the fifth best Defensive Rating and third best Net Rating among the Grizzlies three-man groups that played 200 or more minutes.
While Brooks is an intelligent and physical defender who can make life uncomfortable for any assignment, Melton offers an elite ability to create turnovers on the perimeter. During the 2019-2020 season, Melton was the only player in the NBA to produce a steal percentage of 3 or higher and at least 1.4 Defensive Win Shares in less than 1100 minutes played. Melton is also one of only two players since the start of the 2018-2019 season to produce a steal percentage of 3 or higher and a block percentage of 1.5 or higher (min. 1900 minutes played). Along with Winslow being involved in some of the Miami Heat’s best defensive lineups over the previous two seasons, its clear this trio can make a significant and needed defensive impact when on the court.
There are multiple ways in which these three players can make Memphis better. With the commitments the Grizzlies have already made to Winslow, Jones, and Brooks, along with a likely extension for Melton this summer, Memphis clearly feels they have surrounded Morant with the support he needs. If Brooks can improve his playmaking while Winslow and Melton improve their shooting, along with all three remaining effective on defense, the Grizzlies can become a sustainable winner over the next few seasons.
However, the production of Winslow, Brooks, and Melton thus far in their careers does not offer overwhelming confidence that two of these three options can play significant starting roles on a roster favored for a title run. While Winslow could be a reasonable starting option at small forward, Melton and Brooks may be better as reserve options on a true contender. As a result, though the Grizzlies have created a stable of solid support for Morant on the perimeter, they certainly should remain focused on seeking a true starting upgrade to complement Morant in time, especially one with a highly effective 3 and D skillset.