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Holding on with Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton

The Memphis Grizzlies miss Tyus Jones, but two players have stepped up and filled his shoes.

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Memphis Grizzlies v Utah Jazz Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s no secret that the Memphis Grizzlies miss Tyus Jones. It’s tough to replicate his offensive steadiness as a point guard, his outside shooting, and his ability to make his teammates better.

“We obviously miss Tyus,” Coach Jenkins said. “He’s a huge boost to the spirit of our second unit, with his ability to play so unselfishly on the offensive end, how he competes. Those are big shoes to fill.”

From the outset, Coach Jenkins decided to make the backup point guard spot a committee position, and Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton have been the main beneficiaries here. While minutes without Ja Morant have been less than ideal, Anderson and Melton have held down the fort without the Grizzlies’ star point guard. In the 67 minutes played without Morant on the court, the Grizzlies have outscored opponents by 10 points, possessing a 2.25-1 (36-16) assist-to-turnover ratio. Granted, it’s not a sexy offense or anything, but it’s much better than an alternative we’re used to when covering the Grizzlies — getting smoked whenever the starting point guard is out.

As the Grizzlies have had the one of the most difficult bubble situations, Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton done a fine job weathering the storm within the Grizzlies offense.

Memphis Grizzlies v Utah Jazz Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Over the course of his Grizzly tenure, whether it was J.B. Bickerstaff or Taylor Jenkins, it looked like it was tough to find the proper role for Kyle Anderson. He’s not necessarily the floor spacer fit for the modern-day small forward spot. His logical position is the 4, and there has always been a logjam there between Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, and — last year — JaMychal Green. In the bubble, we’ve seen what works for Kyle Anderson: point guard.

“I’ve been a point guard my whole life,” Anderson told Grizzly Bear Blues and other assembled media.That’s just my natural position. I’m an unselfish guy, so I think resorting back to it has been easy for me.”

Coach Jenkins praised Anderson’s work facilitating and organizing the offense in the absence of Jones. Anderson’s been a steady playmaker throughout the bubble, as he dished out 3.7 assists — 2nd on the team behind Ja — against 1.2 turnovers.

With his size, he can make plays over the top of defenders, whether it’s for an entry pass or for a kick to the corner for a 3. While he embodies the “Slo Mo” moniker, it masquerades his patience, poise, and basketball IQ in the open court.

As the Grizzlies continue navigating the bubble without Tyus Jones, they need as much Kyle Anderson as possible, especially with the ball in his hands.

Memphis Grizzlies v Toronto Raptors Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

As Site Manager Joe Mullinax illustrated, De’Anthony Melton needs Tyus Jones. He’s being asked to play outside his role as a secondary playmaker and transition threat. Make no mistake though, he’s a good playmaker. Of any player with 10 or fewer starts this season, Melton is 9th in assists per game (2.9) — ahead of higher-usage players like Tyler Herro, Jordan Clarkson, and Patty Millsper basketball-reference’s Stathead database.

Yes, there have been issues for Melton this bubble. He’s struggling to find his shot, and it could be attributed to him having to create more for himself, rather than getting set up off cuts and catch-and-shoot opportunities. He’s only converted on two of his 17 3-point attempts.

From a playmaking side though, he’s done a fine job distributing the basketball. He’s tallied 14 assists against 5 turnovers in the first 6 bubble games, good for a 2.8 assist:turnover ratio. He’s also demonstrated his playmaking potential with some good reads off drives — again, as Joe Mullinax has alluded to:

melton kick to corner

Melton’s ability to make reads in transition and out of the pick-and-roll is something to monitor going forward. As he enters free agency with summer, and could see a hefty payday, Melton’s prowess as a secondary playmaker will be on display. If he could prove himself as a combo guard that can handle facilitation responsibilities, while continuing to make plays on both ends of the court, he’ll be a valuable commodity for a team’s bench — whether it’s in Memphis or elsewhere.

He may need Tyus Jones now, but he’s getting reps to sharpen his playmaking chops, which is going to be huge for his development.

Memphis Grizzlies v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

A lesson we’ve learned over the past several seasons is to not take a good backup point guard for granted. Jones is a damn good backup point guard, as he generates assists at a great rate, takes care of the ball at an elite level, and fires catch-and-shoot 3s at a modest rate (42.7%).

His production is hard to replicate, but the team is doing a really good job of holding down the fort. “Obviously, as I said at the outset, we really miss Tyus,” Coach Jenkins said. “You don’t have to compare the production between the two. It’s not really fair, but I think our guys are going out there and doing a really good job.”

Though the Grizzlies only have one other traditional point guard, they’re doing a solid job weathering the offense whenever Morant steps off the court for a quick breather. This “point guard by committee” situation indicates that the Grizzlies have a plethora of versatile playmakers capable of stepping into different roles. In different Memphis season, this would’ve been a nightmare experiment.

Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton aren’t traditional point guards, and that’s fine. They’re good basketball players that can make good reads for the best looks, control the pace of the game, and organize the offense. If there’s any other takeaways here, it also shows that the Grizzlies can afford to put Ja or Tyus off ball to capitalize on their offensive strengths — cutting for the former, and 3-point shooting for the latter.

Taylor Jenkins and Ja Morant have preached “next man up” approach in the absences of Jackson, Winslow, and Jones. Nobody has embodied that mentality more than Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton.

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