We are now mere days away from the Grizzlies season resuming and the NBA returning. Though these are unprecedented times, one thing that is clear across the nation and the world is that sports fans are glad to have sports back. It also seems NBA players are glad to be back, and are ready to once again play the sport that they love.
Though the return to competitive basketball is something every NBA player has been waiting for, some players have been waiting a bit longer than others. A significant storyline for nearly every team in Orlando is the return to health of a key roster talent, and in some cases like Memphis, talents. Both Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson Jr. have missed significant time this season, including right before the season was suspended. Though both were likely returning in mid March, each of them have now had more than four extra months to recover. Obviously, their returns are a big positive for Memphis due to their talent and roles on the team. However, they are not the only Grizzlies who are glad to be back to full health.
In the Memphis game against the Detroit Pistons on January 24th, Grayson Allen landed awkwardly on a fall and left the game due to a hip injury. A few days later, the Grizzlies provided an update that indicated Allen was out indefinitely, but was expected to make a full recovery. An unusual wrinkle to this story occurred over a week later, as Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Allen’s college coach at Duke, suggested that Allen could miss the rest of the season due to the injury. Though no clear time frame was ever clarified by the Grizzlies, Allen was expected to miss an extended period of time as he healed.
While this clearly has been the most significant occurrence in his debut season in Memphis, this injury was just the latest twist in an up and down second NBA season for Allen. After coming to Memphis in the Mike Conley trade following a disappointing rookie season in Utah, Allen was expected to have a reserve role in the Grizzlies rotation. However, his usage has been far from consistent. He has experienced stretches where he averaged 20 minutes a game, while also being inactive for many games in a row. While Allen finally seemed to gain some consistency right before Christmas, other guards were producing more effective minutes off the bench.
Despite the injuries and playing time inconsistencies, there have been a few positive developments for Allen this season. As has been well documented, Allen had developed a notorious reputation regarding his personality and playing style over the past few years before arriving in Memphis. This even was on display during the 2019 NBA summer league. However, over the past year, there have been no issues regarding Allen on or off the court. In fact, there have been signs of maturation, such as providing 333,333 meals to those in need. Furthermore, Allen seems to have an infectious and fun personality, which fits perfectly with a Grizzlies roster that is full of youth and effervescence.
Beyond Allen’s improvements off the court, he also has experienced some positive play on the court. On a per-game basis, Allen increased his minutes per game from 10.9 in his rookie season to 16.6 this season. In an expanded role, he has improved across the board in terms of his production. In nearly 500 minutes of play, Allen shot 44.9% from the field and 36.3% from three. Though over half of Allen’s shot attempts have remained beyond the arc, he has significantly improved his accuracy from all levels of distance. Furthermore, his per-36 numbers of 4.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists suggest Allen can contribute in multiple ways as a combo guard on offense. He also can create havoc through effective perimeter defense at times due to his tenacity and intuition.
In terms of what he can control, Allen has added some positive value to his career since he arrived in Memphis. However, developments outside of his control have caused his role with the team to remain in a gray area. Injuries throughout the 2019-2020 season have limited Allen’s ability to display his talent in a consistent role. Furthermore, the emergence of De’Anthony Melton and Tyus Jones established a clear hierarchy for the Grizzlies back court — with Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks as the starters, and Jones and Melton as second unit guards off the bench.
The Grizzlies’ preference for the aforementioned talents also extends well beyond this year. The three-year commitment made to Jones last summer, the three-year extension awarded to Brooks during the season, and the expected effort to re-sign Melton for multiple years after this season means that the top four guards in Memphis will be in place for the foreseeable future.
Memphis also brought in Justise Winslow at the trade deadline, and can control him for multiple years into the future as well. While he is more of a wing/foward than a guard, the hope is that he will be a starter and offer plenty of perimeter production in time. Though these moves offer plenty of general clarity as to how the Grizzlies perimeter will look over the next few years, it also establishes further uncertainty as to how Allen will carve out a meaningful role with the team any time soon.
It would seem from the information above that Allen would be a good fit for the end of the bench as a more than capable fifth guard option. However, though it occurred in very limited playing time, John Konchar opened plenty of eyes with his across the board impact when on the court. As the numbers above indicate, he clearly made a more significant impact than Allen when on the court. Furthermore, considering how Melton, Konchar, and Allen were acquired last summer, it could be argued the current Memphis front office prefers Melton and Konchar over Allen. Though Allen has a valuable skill set, both Melton and Konchar offer similar qualities in their games, and have shown higher ceilings on the court.
In general, the idea that the futures of some players on the Grizzlies roster could be significantly impacted by what happens in Orlando seems flawed. Yet, the season-ending injury to Justise Winslow means several reserves could see expanded roles in the bubble. Names such as Melton, Kyle Anderson, and Josh Jackson will now be looked upon as key reserves and even starters. This could also mean more minutes off the bench for Konchar and Allen.
Since the Grizzlies will be playing more talented rosters in many of their games, they will eventually settle on lineups that give them the best chance to win. This is significant, because these lineup decisions will bring more definition and certainty to roles players will fill. Furthermore, since Memphis obviously wants to continue its progression towards contention, it will have a better idea of which players in the present will contribute the most to that cause going forward. This could impact present and future roster decisions and financial commitments. This also could offer a better idea of what current Grizzlies could be expendable going forward.
It should be noted that the Grizzlies picked up Allen’s third year option before this season, making him a part of the Grizzlies’ future plans at the moment. However, his usage, or lack there of, in Orlando could add clarity to how he adds the most value to the Grizzlies moving forward. Though only time will eventually reveal how Grayson Allen’s present and future will work out in Memphis, it certainly is one more storyline worth monitoring during the Grizzlies stay in the bubble.