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Projecting the Grizzlies rotation in the Orlando Bubble

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The Memphis Grizzlies have typically gone with an 11-man rotation. History suggests though that playoff teams go with smaller rotations.

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Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Coach Taylor Jenkins has typically rolled with an 11-man rotation this season. It doesn’t matter how shorthanded they would be either. We’ve seen him go 11-deep with guys like Solomon Hill, Grayson Allen, Josh Jackson, or even Marko Guduric or John Konchar.

It’s not super common for playoff teams to roll 11-deep, but the Memphis Grizzlies have, and they had some success.

Once De’Anthony Melton entered the rotation, the Grizzlies went on a run towards the 8-seed, powered by their depth. The bench finished in the top-10 in steals (4.2, 1st), assists (12.1, 1st), rebounding (18.4, 7th), scoring (42.7, 6th), and field goal percentage (49.2%, 1st). In addition, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Dillon Brooks provided a nice perimeter scoring punch alongside Ja Morant and Jonas Valanciunas.

It’s a strong indicator of the job Coach Jenkins has done to plug and play his players in spots that best maximize their talents.

As the Grizzlies enter the bubble, the rotation will need to shorten. It’s not criticism towards the end-of-rotation players; it’s just what playoff teams do during this time. Guys like Jaren Jackson Jr., Ja Morant, Brandon Clarke, Dillon Brooks, and Jonas Valanciunas need to play big minutes. And if it comes at the expense of other’s minutes, it is what it is.

With that said, there’s not a clear rotation number goal — yet alone, a clear rotation. However, the Grizzlies have the depth and versatility to deploy numerous lineups.

General minute assumptions: Justise Winslow probably won’t play anything more than 25-28 minutes. Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant should be playing roughly 34 minutes, and Brandon Clarke and Jonas Valanciunas should get 25.

These minutes aren’t something I necessarily want to happen, rather they are a ballpark estimate.

If the Memphis Grizzlies kept going with an 11-man rotation, it’s probably look something like this — with the assumption everyone’s healthy.

11-man rotation possibility

There are some things to like about an 11-man rotation, though it goes against the status quo for playoff rotations. The Grizzlies have depth, and in this unique situation where no one has played high-intense basketball for 4 months, why not use your depth to your advantage?

Are there flaws? Probably. Kyle Anderson and Josh Jackson aren’t necessarily in the same tier as a (healthy) Justise Winslow and Dillon Brooks. Both players could help win ball games, but Anderson’s limited spacing and Jackson’s inconsistency could be costly even in a 10-12 minute spot. Wouldn’t you rather get Brooks closer to 30 minutes and feed the extra minutes to Melton or Winslow?

Another scenario where an 11-man rotation could be used is if Winslow isn’t as ready to take over the starting small forward spot. If that’s the case, he could probably receive 15-20 minutes off the bench. Kyle Anderson or Josh Jackson would presumably start, but if Coach Jenkins isn’t comfortable giving either of them 30 minutes, the one off the bench could take spot minutes at the 3.

I do like the 11-man rotation, simply because the Grizzlies can do it. However, all the bubble games will be treated like the playoffs, which means the rotations will probably be shorter.

When judging a player’s potential, a question that always comes up is, can this player be in an 8-man rotation? Most teams cut their playoff rotations to 7 or 8. For the Grizzlies, it’ll likely be ... Ja, Brooks, Winslow, Jaren, Jonas, Jones, Melton, Clarke.

8-man rotation

On paper, it looks fantastic. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. get 38 minutes, while you’re dishing out big minutes to your 8 best players. It’s deeper than that though.

For starters, the Grizzlies’ top three wings on the team (Brooks, Winslow, and Melton) probably can’t hold it down for them in the bubble. Now, if Winslow was 100% himself and could go 30-35 minutes, that’s a game-changer. It makes an 8-man rotation possible. In addition, they’d be sacrificing size with Melton at the 3, which puts pressure on Brooks to hold down big minutes at both wing spots. That’s without mentioning that Brooks leads the league in fouls, which draws concern over him being able to reach that 35-38 minute threshold.

People will point to rebounding as a concern, but the net rating of the combinations is promising. Since December 9th, Clarke and Jackson were a +7.2 on the floor together. Clarke also excelled with Valanciunas, as the Grizzlies were a +12.8 when they shared the floor together. The real question, like with Brooks, is can Jaren stay away from foul trouble?

This one can work, but it doesn’t seem wise to run an 8-man rotation, given the question marks regarding the wing rotation, foul trouble, and health.

The 9-man rotation seems like the most likely route; it was also what Mike Budenholzer - Coach Jenkins’ most recent mentor - went with in Milwaukee last playoffs. For the Grizzlies, there are multiple directions they could go.

If they wanted to go with 4 bigs in the rotation, you could see something like this.

9-man w/ Dieng

This rotation is the trickiest one, and the one that’d probably take place if they play the Lakers. Gorgui Dieng is a good 4th big man to have, but there will be opportunity costs into leaving him in the 9-man rotation. With Jackson and Dieng both needing minutes at the 5, Valanciunas’ minutes need to be cut, which is tough given he’s an elite rebounder and the team’s most efficient player by PER and Win Shares.

9-man rotation with Josh Jackson

If the Grizzlies opt for a perimeter punch at their 9th spot, they should roll with Josh Jackson. As Site Manager Joe Mullinax alluded to in his column on Jackson and Kyle Anderson, Josh has the edge over Anderson, as he’s a more willing shooter and better offensive player. As we’ve seen, just letting it fly adds more spacing to the offense.

In addition, Jackson was a productive player in his limited time with the Grizzlies. He offered a nice scoring punch off the bench, while wreaking havoc on the defensive end at times. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Grizzlies outscored their opponents by 7.9 points when Jackson was on the floor. If that proves to not be a fluke in Orlando, Jenkins need to find minutes for him.

The Grizzlies could also go with continuity, defensive versatility, and extra playmaking by rolling with Kyle Anderson 9th. Because he’s not much of a floor-spacer, they must be strategic with how he’s implemented in the rotation and who he’s playing alongside.

Brandon Clarke is a great frontcourt partner for Anderson, as the Grizzlies outscore their opponents by 4.4 points when they share the floor together — per Cleaning the Glass, the differential is +3.7 when Clarke is at the 5 and Anderson is at the 4. Though Anderson hasn’t been a great option at the 3 — outscored by 8.4 when playing there — he thrives at that spot when on the floor with Tyus Jones and De’Anthony Melton, possessing a point differential of +12.3 in 314 possessions. Anderson is not the most glamorous option, but when used in the right spots, he’s the most effective.

If the Grizzlies rolled with the 9-man rotation, neither of these options would be terrible. It’s probably more situation based. You’d roll with Anderson or Jackson against the Pelicans or Celtics, and Dieng against the Blazers and the Raptors.

The 10-man rotation is the most feasible. It gives Winslow more opportunity to catch his breath, and it’s easier to allocate extra minutes to end-of-rotation guys if the starters are faced with early foul trouble. Who are the 9th and 10th guys though?

In most non-Laker situations, Josh Jackson seems like the best option for the 9th spot. Unlike Anderson and Dieng, he can win a game for them in the bubble. There’s an unpredictability factor to his game, where he could either score 15 points, or make a few nice reads, or generate a big defensive player — or he could just flop. With his willingness to shoot the 3, his defensive versatility, and secondary playmaking, he needs to be in a 10-man rotation.

Between Dieng and Anderson, it comes down to this: If Jackson gets 35 minutes, and Clarke and Valanciunas each get 25 minutes, there are 11 extra frontcourt minutes left. Who would you rather have?

  • A “small forward” that allows adds defensive versatility and playmaking — who’s a +6.6 as a point-4 .
  • Or, the big 5 that could anchor the 2nd unit, switch in the pick-and-roll, and space the floor — who’s arguably a neutral +/- player.
10-man rotation with Anderson
10-man rotation with Dieng

There are some luxuries and tradeoffs with this decision.

With Anderson, you have an additional playmaker at the 4, and you’re also maximizing him where he’s used best — a challenge for this team for the past two seasons. At the 4he’s in a better rebounding position where he can grab and go start the offense. Pairing him with versatile defenders such as Clarke, Josh Jackson, and De’Anthony Melton could be nice as well, since they could all switch off screens. A downside though would be that they may be at risk of losing the rebounding battle and extra rim protection.

With Dieng, you’re not sacrificing size nor spacing. In fact, he probably spaces the floor better than Anderson, as he shoots 3s at a higher volume. He’s a great rebounder and rim protector to have in the 2nd unit. Having opponents try to score on Clarke and Dieng at the rim would be hard as hell.

Again, a 10-man rotation is more situational than anything. If the Grizzlies are playing a team with more size in the 2nd unit, roll with Dieng. If they are playing a more perimeter-oriented offense, go with Anderson.

Memphis Grizzlies v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

This is a problem the Grizzlies have never had.

Some may point to depth, which is kind of true in that they have 11-13 guys that could take rotation minutes — depending on how you feel about Anthony Tolliver and Grayson Allen. However, I see it more as little talent discrepancy between the 9th guy and the 11th or 12th.

Who’s it going to be?

  • The former 4th overall pick who offers shot creativity, spacing, and defensive versatility.
  • The Swiss-Army knife, non-glamorous forward that doesn’t shoot much, but can defend and pass like hell.
  • Or, the big traditional 5 that can protect and finish around the rim, space the floor, and switch off screens.

Regardless of the option, Coach Jenkins has deserved the benefit of the doubt to not only make the right call, but to maximize each player in their given roles.

Stats found on and Cleaning the Glass.

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