The Memphis Grizzlies have officially hit the 10-game mark, and it’s been both ugly and surprising. It’s ugly, because a worst-case scenario has unfolded — they have to play without Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson. That sort of situation turned this fanbase, and probably a few of us blog-boys, into Chicken Little’s — expecting a lost season that yielded a high draft pick. However, Coach Jenkins has put this team in position to be in close ball games, and the team has shown incredible resilience to hit a 4-6 start (3-4 without Ja Morant).
Throughout this 10-game sample though, we may see numbers deflated and inflated for multiple reasons. Roles returning to normal, shooting slumps or hot-stretches, injury, or a progression (or regression) to the mean. Regardless, it’s going to be interesting to monitor the early-season trends from this season once a healthy Grizzlies rotation starts to shape out.
As we’ve hit the double-digit mark, I did a buy-and-sell on some of the early season trends thus far. And to maintain consistency, I only highlighted the players that have played in all 10 games thus far (excludes Ja Morant, Grayson Allen, Xavier Tillman, De’Anthony Melton, and John Konchar).
Selling: Brandon Clarke’s Inefficiencies
One of the easiest early-season trends to not buy into is Brandon Clarke’s inefficiency. Last season, Clarke was arguably one of the most productive rookies in NBA history. Maintaining a true shooting percentage of 66.3% was always going to be a tall feat, but a decline this sharp is truly mind-blowing:
Brandon Clarke’s Percentages (2019-20 vs. 2020-21)
The story of his percentage drop has been the change in Clarke’s jumper. He shifted his elbow in and brought the ball more in front of his face, while also having an awkward jump coupled with it:
This reworked jump shot of Brandon Clarke pic.twitter.com/e13RmkkZu2— Fastbreak Breakfast (@fastbreakbreak) December 24, 2020
Clarke’s 3-point percentage is around 28% now, and when factoring in his projected volume going forward (around 2 a game), it’s fair to suggest that he hovers around 30% from triple this season.
Where you should see Clarke’s efficiency start to rise is inside the arc. Last season, Clarke shot 70.7% from within 10 feet, using his remarkable floater to rise up over the defense. This year though, that number has plummeted to 53.1% (43-for-81).
That won’t last long.
Clarke has said multiple times that he’s been working on getting his legs back under him, after missing training camp with a groin injury. Last week, he had also acknowledged that he’s missing shots he routinely makes, and he shouldn’t let it bother him.
What’s been a silver lining is, Clarke’s averages are still in the same ballpark as his rookie year numbers without coming close to his efficiency. That shows areas of growth, as his comfort level and aggression have increased from year 1 to year 2. You can even notice from these past few games that Clarke is reverting to his old ways of diving to the rim, finishing over the top of the defense, and getting out on the break.
As he continues to find his rhythm, and when he returns to feasting on bench units, Clarke’s efficiency will begin to rise above 50% from the field, and a leap may follow.
Buying: Desmond Bane’s 3-point shooting
Desmond Bane is a flamethrower from deep. It’s truly remarkable how the Grizzlies swooped him up at the 30th pick — and crazy how Danny Ainge traded him as well.
This season, Bane is shooting 47.5% from 3 on 4 attempts per game, ranking 16th in percentage among players qualified for the 3P% leaderboard. His volume is around the top among all rookies — tied for 2nd in makes (19) and 4th in attempts (40). He’s also shooting a sensational 57% on non-corner 3s, which falls in the 98th percentile among wings per Cleaning the Glass. He’s also connecting on 48.5% of his catch-and-shoot 3’s and 60% (3-5) on his pull-up 3’s.
Granted, is shooting 47.5% from 3 on 4 attempts a game a lot to ask out of a rookie who didn’t experience a normal 1st-year experience? Sure. But given the nature of the Grizzlies offense, and Bane’s role in it, it’s easy to envision him trending around the 41-47 percent mark for the entire season.
The Grizzlies’ system revolves around drive-and-kick actions that generate looks at the rim and from the 3-point line. It should only become more potent whenever Ja Morant and Justise Winslow — arguably 2 of their 3 best players — as well as Jaren Jackson Jr. (the team’s best perimeter weapon) return to the lineup. He probably won’t start, but he’ll be surrounded by an abundance of playmakers in the second unit like Tyus Jones, De’Anthony Melton, Brandon Clarke, Kyle Anderson (or Justise Winslow), and Xavier Tillman. As he becomes more comfortable on the NBA floor, and learns to pick his spots for relocation, Bane should continue to find clean looks from the arc and provide the spacing the Grizzlies absolutely need.
Buying: Jonas Valanciunas’ Statline
Jonas Valanciunas is still a consistent double-double, amassing 8 double-double’s within the first 10 games. Though his importance to the team still remains, the numbers feel empty, as his impact hasn’t been as resounding.
He’s starting his season off shooting a career-low 52.5% from the field, while averaging 14 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 1.9 assists. His efficiency could rise a bit, but it’s easy to say that his raw-number stat line will remain the same.
For one, he won’t have to face the Lakers’ smothering frontline, or Cleveland’s new-found suffocating interior presence (2nd in opponent field goal percentage within 5 feet). Having to go up against Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, and Larry Nance Jr. 4 times in an 8-day stretch is not fun for many of the NBA’s big men.
Secondly, as the Grizzlies are short-handed, teams are collapsing on Valanciunas in the post and forcing them to work from the perimeter. Subsequently, the attention he’s receiving down low is altering his shot and forcing him to miss shots he usually takes, as he’s shooting 59.3% from inside 10 feet (as opposed to 64.7% from last year). Teams won’t be able to do that to him whenever its cornerstones get back. Jaren Jackson Jr. is too deadly from deep, and his budding live-dribble game makes him a threat to get into the paint. In addition, leaving a man off Ja Morant allows him to accelerate to the basket off the catch.
Finally, he can return to running the pick-and-roll with a playmaker like Morant. They developed a good pick-and-roll dynamic, as Valanciunas trails closely to the point guard awaiting for a quick dump-off for a bucket. As Ja continues to generate lots of attention at the rim, the veteran big man should find cleaner looks around the basketball, as he’s done throughout his Memphis tenure.
Though his efficiency may rise, and his volume may go down, it’s seems like a lock to predict that Jonas Valanciunas finishes the season in the 14-11-2 neighborhood of averages.
Selling (and Buying): The Good and the Bad with Kyle Anderson
Kyle Anderson has done a sensational job as the next man up for the Memphis, fulfilling a multitude of roles as each name is added to the injury report.
There’s been some good and some ugly with it.
He’s gotten to showcase why he’s such a talented playmaker for his position, averaging 4.1 assists and possessing a 19.3 assist percentage (85th percentile among forwards per Cleaning the Glass) — both career-marks. He’s also averaging career-best marks in points (13.5), rebounds (7.3), and field goal attempts per game (11.5).
The ugly: his field percentage has taken a huge dip, as he’s shooting 41.5% from the field — the lowest mark since his rookie season.
It’s easy to see why his percentage have taken a hit. He’s seeing much more defensive attention than he’s ever faced in the NBA, and he’s also taking on much more responsibility than before. That added responsibility has also spiked his numbers.
I’m selling on the fact that Anderson is a 13-7-4 forward in the NBA and that his field goal percentage will remain this low. Once other players are back, his scoring will take a dip, but his efficiency will rise, as he can return to being more deliberate with his shot selection.
Though the numbers won’t stay the same, I’m buying that Anderson will continue being a major factor as a secondary playmaker and community rebounder. Whether he’s in the starting lineup or off the bench, Anderson will be a player that’ll help the Grizzlies’ go-to weapons find their spots for routine shots. And his rebounding is imperative alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke.
Kyle Anderson’s play has been a nice storyline. Once the calvary returns, the numbers may not reflect it, but his impact will remain resounding.
- Dillon Brooks’ assist numbers. “Dillon the Playmaker” illustrates the growth Brooks has made to his game, as he’s averaging a career-best 3.0 assists. It’s hard to suggest if it’ll sustain whenever he shares more time with Ja Morant and Justise Winslow, and his role on the court becomes more “3-and-D” rather than primary initiator.
- Tyus Jones’ assist numbers. I promise I won’t stick with assist numbers here. Tyus Jones is one of the best second-unit floor generals in the game. His assist numbers have seen a spike as he’s taken on a starter role, but it’s going to be interesting to see what happens when Ja Morant returns and his minutes shrink.
- Gorgui Dieng’s statline. Breaking the criteria here, but I’d hold on Gorgui Dieng’s numbers increasing or decreasing, as his role going forward is unclear. He’s had a strong start to his contract year, but it seems to be that he’s lose his “backup 5” spot to rookie Xavier Tillman. If that’s happening now, it’s tough to see him find a role on a healthy squad. But you never know.
It’s going to be fascinating to see what sticks and who breaks out as the season continues, and the Grizzlies’ cornerstones return. Which early season trends are you buying or selling?