The NBA Restart has been worst case scenario for the Memphis Grizzlies. They have yet to win a game in the bubble and recently lost Jaren Jackson Jr. to a season ending injury. If there is a positive spin to this past week, it is that they are still clinging on to the eight-seed for playoff implications. Any kind of experience this team can gain will go far to their development which is why making the playoffs is so critical.
With that said, the Grizzlies’ offense needs to find a way to start clicking again. One player that will be a huge factor to the consistency of the offense is Jonas Valanciunas. JV highlights his talents well no matter who is on the court with him. He can anchor the bench unit while the other starters get some rest, or he can be a great secondary option with the starters on the court. This article will go into the contrasting styles that Valanciunas can display depending on which unit he is on the floor with.
A summed-up version of Jonas Valanciunas is that he is a walking double double who plays the old-school style at the center position. He is among the league leaders for putbacks and second chance opportunities. On defense, he may be a step slow on any kind of screen-and-roll action, but he knows how to earn each rebound he collects which keeps him on the floor as an important asset. The Grizzlies know where JV is the best, and Coach Jenkins tries to set him up at the best possibility low in the post to succeed.
The first style that Valanciunas can offer the Grizzlies offense is that he brings to start each and every game they play. It is the style of more pace-and-space with Ja Morant leading the offense. Valanciunas over the years has gotten better in a high screen-and-roll style offense where he has to move around a bit more than he is used to. This sets the offense up better as it spreads out the defense giving areas to attack for Morant who, of course, loves to finish around the rim.
This is a perfect example of how Valanciunas and Morant can exploit a defense in a simple screen-and-roll action. JV sets a solid screen giving Ja a full a head of steam going up against a slower defender around the rim. Morant has an impressive finish here, but this outcome is something that the Grizzlies need to take advantage of. Also, if anyone collapses and helps, Morant has an easy pass out for a corner three. This all starts with JV coming up for a high screen and following Morant into the paint without clogging the paint with defenders.
However, as mentioned, this is still not always what happens with Valanciunas. He would much rather be down in the low post waiting for a post-up or rebound. Occasionally, he brings his defender down and cannot get out before Ja tries to drive the paint and score around the rim.
Here, in this clip, it shows the importance of being able to clear the paint by spreading the defense out as much as possible. There was an attempted high screen, but then the screen was just left when Valanciunas headed back to the low post. That meant that Derrick Favors could just sit in the paint waiting for Ja to drive to the basket. He was two on one taking that shot around the rim because Favors could easily shade off with JV still being right there next to him. If the screen was executed higher or was further out, Morant would have had a cleared path to the basket. More times than not, JV will help clear the way for Ja to attack and not clog the paint.
Although, without Ja on the court, it is a different story that requires Valanciunas to switch into his other style of offense. In this lineup, he is basically the main offensive option for the Grizzlies. If he can get the ball low enough in the paint, he will just bully and back his way down for a bucket. JV is able to turn back the clock and play his game of old school, low-post basketball.
Both of these are lovely clips of low post basketball. Valanciunas rolls off of a screen in that second clip perfectly to get the mismatch the Grizzlies want. Once the ball handler finds him, it turns into an easy bucket.
Finally, in this last clip, it is the attention Valanciunas draws as he rolls from his high screen-and-roll action with Kyle Anderson that gives Grayson Allen the space to take and make that shot. Conley shades over just a bit too much to help on JV. This style of working it through Valanciunas is not goal of today’s NBA, but it will have to be the Grizzlies’ offense while Ja gets his rest.
Even with Jonas Valanciunas playing two different styles, the Grizzlies’ supporting cast are going to have to show up for the Grizzlies to earn this eighth seed. JV and Ja can not carry the entire offense, and JV most certainly can’t be the go-to at the center position. They will need Kyle Anderson, Dillon Brooks, and Grayson Allen to show up and knock down shots around the arc. With each of these schemes, the defenses will want to collapse. Once that happens, it opens up for the teammates to come through. It will be on Coach Jenkins to be able to stagger minutes to have the right options out there for the team. The Grizzlies will have an uphill battle for the last week of the regular season, but all hope is not lost.