The Memphis Grizzlies are not supposed to be here. It even seems to us Grizz fans at times that league does not really want them to be here.
On the cusp of leading his team to the playoffs in his rookie season, Ja Morant is still seemingly overlooked by the league and media in favor of the apparently already anointed next savior in New Orleans Zion Williamson.
This Grizzlies team is different than the teams that made the seven-year playoff run known as the Grit and Grind era. Jonas Valanciunas, Justise Winslow, and Kyle Anderson are the only players on the roster with playoff experience — minimal, but experience nonetheless. Valanciunas will be looked at as the leader for this push, as Winslow has never played a second with this group of players and Anderson may find himself out of the rotation when it matters.
The GNG Era also featured an uber-talented starting line up of the Core 4 plus guys like Rudy Gay, Tayshaun Prince and Courtney Lee making their cameos. While Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. could go down as two of the top 3-5 talents in franchise history, they are in their rookie and sophomore seasons and not seasoned in the league like the Core 4 guys were.
However, what this next generation of playoff Grizzlies features is depth. If you were tasked to build a bench lineup and your pool of players were only bench guys between this team and the GNG era, you would quite possibly find yourself selecting more of the current Grizzlies than those of the past.
The 2019-20 Memphis Grizzlies rosters three of the best back ups at their position in franchise history.
Brandon Clarke is not even a debate. There is not another backup power forward for Memphis that is in the same universe as him. The other two are a bit more debatable.
Tyus Jones, in one short season, has forced his way into the conversation as the best backup point guard in Grizzlies history. While impressive, it honestly would not have taken all that much to win that title. A solid back up point has been an elusive piece for this franchise. One could argue for Beno Udrih, and a healthy Mario Chalmers — both guys past their primes who were more like cult heroes than building blocks.
The third player is Gorgui Dieng. He only has one player to compete with for the title of best back up center — Kosta Koufos. Here is a blind comparison for their time in Memphis and then career overall:
- Player A (per 36): 12.5 points, 11.3 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 50% field goal % (0% from 3)
- Player B (per 36): 13.4 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, 52% field goal % (22% from 3)
- Player A (per 36): 12.5 points, 11 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 4.5 fouls, 53% field goal % (0% from 3) 54% free throw shooting
- Player B (per 36): 12.9 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 3.7 fouls, 50% field goal % (34% from 3) 79% free throw shooting
Who would you rather have?
If you have watched the Grizzlies for any length of time, you will have seen that Dieng will shoot from behind the arc, while Koufos lived on the block. Dieng gets the edge for a couple reasons. His ability to spread the floor is the main distinguisher, but his perimeter defense solidifies him as the top guy. Koufos could not guard on a switch at the same level that Dieng currently does, something vital in today’s NBA.
The impact of De’Anthony Melton off the bench should not be overlooked, but it will be a little bit more to supplant OJ Mayo or Quincy Pondexter, both sixth men for the Grizz during the GNG era.
Perhaps the biggest factor for the Memphis Grizzlies surpassing all media expectations and Vegas predictions has been their depth. At times, Taylor Jenkins would roll out an 11-man rotation — whether it was to give guys a chance to prove themselves or the flow of the game called for it.
When the NBA returns to play, Memphis will be at full health, minus Grayson Allen (maybe). An abbreviated mini-camp leading into the conclusion of the regular season will allow Taylor Jenkins to incorporate Justise Winslow into the system, providing more depth.
The Grizzlies will be hard pressed to pull the 1-8 upset, like they did against the Spurs in 2011, but they could steal a game or two from the Lakers. The playoff experience, or lack thereof, for Memphis will be in the spotlight as playoff LeBron, a fully rested LeBron James, so it will be their depth that gives them hope.
According to the Player Efficiency Rating metric (PER), only the Dallas Mavericks have more players that play above the league average PER of 15 (and played more than 15 games) than the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis has 7 of those such players while the Lakers only have 4. While James and Anthony Davis amass more talent than whole teams combined — looking at you New York— when one or both are off the floor, bench play will have a massive role.
In order for the Next Gen Grizzlies to find their way into the playoffs, whether by play in or clinching on their own, their depth will have to make up for lack of experience.