The Memphis Grizzlies entered the NBA bubble confident and with all eyes on the playoffs. Although the new play-in wrinkle was seen as unfair by most, the team felt that they had enough to continue to prove their detractors wrong and continue to exceed expectations. Sadly for Memphis, Disney was far from the “Most Magical Place on Earth” as the Cinderella Grizzlies lost the glass sneakers off their feet losing their 3 ½ game lead for the eighth spot as they went 2-7 in the NBA bubble. Negative headlines prevailed from the bubble as the injuries plagued the Grizzlies and the injuries piled up nut there were still a number of positives to take from the bubble.
Now that there has been time to let what happened in the bubble breathe let’s take the look at the biggest surprises and disappointments from the bubble.
Surprise: Grayson Allen
Grayson Allen is someone whose reputation precedes him. Instead of a former McDonald’s All-American, multi-time NCAA All-American and NCAA Champion, Allen has been defined by a few incidents that occurred during his college career. There were still many questions what his fit would be in the NBA entering this season. He showed flashes of what could be and what made him special at Duke as a situational role player for the Grizzlies prior to an injury in late January.
In the bubble, Grayson Allen took advantage of the opportunity presented to him to show that he is still the player that won those honors. Allen carved out a role that could solidify him a spot in the Grizzlies rotation moving forward as he was arguably the Grizzlies best perimeter scorer in the bubble averaging 12.4 PPG on 50% shooting and 47.1% from three. This level of play moved Grayson Allen from situational role player to first guard off the bench in relief of Dillon Brooks or Ja Morant as he became a dependable knockdown three point shooter that could hold his own defensively. On a team that struggles to shoot from distance, it will be difficult for Taylor Jenkins to remove Allen from the rotation if he can sustain this level of play as an athletic 3&D guy for the Grizzlies off the bench.
Disappointment: Josh Jackson is MIA
Before the season shutdown, Josh Jackson had begun to find himself as his role in the Grizzlies rotation. The former lottery pick saw his minutes increase and role expand putting together a run of five games of double digit scoring off the bench as well good defense including a season high 3 blocks vs. the Atlanta Hawks on March 2nd. The expectation was that Josh Jackson would return as a key contributor on the wing for the Grizzlies in their quest to hold on to the eighth seed.
This did not happen.
The bubble was not kind to Josh Jackson as he looked like a player who did not understand his role on a team that drastically needed him to be the playmaker from March. Instead, he struggled to find his jump shot throughout the scrimmages and early seeding games as he saw his minutes dwindle to the point he was no longer in the Grizzlies rotation. A primary member of the rotation in March shrank to a player who only saw minutes during garbage time of Grizzlies games.
After quieting doubters after his call-up from the Memphis Hustle in January, there are once again questions surrounding Jackson and his future with the team. Jackson had become comfortable in Memphis even conjuring a mentor-mentee relationship with Tony Allen, but will his relationship with the team be one that is short lived as it seems that the staff is out on him? These are questions that will get answered as Jackson becomes a free agent this offseason.
Surprise: Jonas Valanciunas the X-Factor
The impact of Jonas Valanciunas in the bubble was one that went beyond the box score. His 16 point, 12. 1 rebound per game averages in the bubble are similar to his regular season numbers that saw him as one of the league’s leading rebounders but in the bubble he became a focal point of opposing defensive schemes. He was vital to the Grizzlies success especially after Jaren Jackson Jr.’s injury. Valanciunas has been a key member to the Grizzlies as a veteran presence down low since his arrival from Toronto but rarely to the extent seen in the bubble. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. are the typical targets of opposing defensive schemes.
This changed in the bubble, as teams like Toronto and Portland adapted different man, zone and even box and one schemes to manage his impact on the offensive side of the floor while attempting to get him into foul trouble defensively. When the Grizzlies found ways to overcome these situations by feeding the big man and keeping him in the game and out of foul trouble, the Grizzlies were able to thrive with Valanciunas being +19 and +18 in the Grizzlies two wins in Orlando.
A Grizzlies team that is trying to slowly become more perimeter oriented will benefit immensely if defenses continue to show Valanciunas this much attention moving forward as it will provide a number of open jump shot opportunities.
Disappointment: Sharpshooter Kyle Anderson vanishes
Kyle Anderson has never been a player that teams had to game plan for as a volume three point shooter. He averaged 0.7 three point attempts per game over the course of his career with a slight increase to 1.3 attempts this season with the Grizzlies, only making 28% of them. That is why it was a shock to most that upon the Grizzlies return Anderson had become a volume three point shooter in the opening scrimmages. Anderson was open to the media that jump shooting had been a primary focus of his quarantine work outs and it showed. The hitch in his jump shot was no longer apparent as he made threes closer to his college rate of 48% than his prior NBA rate of 31%, including 4 made threes in the scrimmage vs. the Spurs.
While Kyle Anderson did not play “bad” in Orlando with a 40% field goal percentage while shooting 38% from three, the style of play that at times made Anderson look like the best player on the floor was never seen again after the scrimmages. The Grizzlies could have benefited from more threes from Anderson as teams like New Orleans and Portland did their best to close Memphis off from the paint. Hopefully “scrimmage Kyle Anderson” was a glimpse of what Kyle Anderson can be in the future for Memphis now that the hitch is gone and he has fully healed from his shoulder surgery.
The Memphis Grizzlies came up short in the Orlando bubble but there were positives (even in the negatives) that, if they build upon them, will help the Grizzlies continue to build for the future as what seems to be an abnormally long off-season is about to begin.