The Memphis Grizzlies have been on a little hiatus after a positive test on the team has had 5 straight games postponed. The little over a week off has given us at Grizzly Bear Blues to really take a look back at the start of the season for the Grizzlies.
It’s admittedly just a short sample size of 13 games, but there are certainly plenty of things to takeaway from the first 18% of games this season. To help me take a look back at the beginning of this season, I’m joined by four of our terrific GBBers - Senior Writers Shawn Coleman and Ben Hogan as well as Writers Jesse Cinquini and Greg Ratliff.
What has been the biggest surprise for you in the first 13 games?
Associate Editor Brandon Abraham (@bcabraham)- The Grizzlies depth has been the biggest surprise to me so far this season. I knew going into the year they had solid depth, but I did not expect them to survive the 3 weeks without Ja the way they did. Even in the losses, the role players stepped up big time and made close games out of what should have been blowouts. The Grizzlies depth will ultimately be a blessing and a curse as some rotation guys will lose minutes once the team is healthy. Still, the “next man up” mentality the Grizzlies have has proven to be extremely valuable and showcased the depth and talent of this team.
Senior Writer Shawn Coleman (@StatsSAC)- The biggest surprise for these team has certainly been the overall improvement in individual defense. Players such as Dillon Brooks and Tyus Jones have certainly surprised with their impact so far, while stalwarts such as Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton have made momentum changing plays each game they have played. The identity of this team is terrorizing opposing backcourts, and for that to emerge with their best players injured is a wonderful development.
Senior Writer Ben Hogan (@NotTheGolfer)- The play of the rookies. In the past, it’s been easy to not expect much from rookies with the history of the Grizzlies in the draft. But, this front office has changed expectations dramatically. Desmond Bane has looked the part of an NBA 3-pt specialist (at least 1 three in his first 9 games) while showing flashes of a solid rotational player. And Xavier Tillman looks like he’s been in the league for a few years already. The future is now in Memphis.
Writer Jesse Cinquini (@CinquiniJesse)- I was high on Desmond Bane well before the Grizzlies drafted him, but I never imagined he would get off to a historically hot start from beyond the arc. His 48.9% mark on 3.6 attempts per game is nothing short of otherworldly. Oftentimes neophyte shooters need time to acclimate to the deeper NBA three-pointer, but Bane has had the range from day one.
Writer Greg Ratliff (@GregRatliff)- A nice surprise early this season has been the effectiveness of the Grizzlies defense. As of Wednesday night, the Grizzlies had the 2nd best defensive rating behind only the Los Angeles Lakers and have done so with a majority of their “stars” out of action for various reasons. They’ve had to keep their opponents from scoring and have done a great job with that.
What has been the biggest disappointment for you in the first 13 games?
Abraham- It feels weird to say this, but the guy with 9 double-doubles in 12 games may be the biggest disappointment for me. JV clearly still has value, but he just hasn’t looked as comfortable compared to his first season and a half in Memphis. He’s struggled catching the ball on pick and rolls, and hasn’t been able to take over offensively like we’ve seen him do, scoring over 16 points just twice this season. His double-doubles are nice, but they feel more like empty stats instead of the game-changing numbers we are used to.
Coleman- While the team has gained a defensive identity in recent weeks, the overall struggles from three continue to exist. In fact, the regression from Brooks and Jones, and the recent struggles for schemes and strategies to find looks for Desmond Bane is a bit frustrating. Fortunately, Grayson Allen has regained his form and Memphis has made enough threes to get by. Perhaps when their best talents return, they will find some consistency from deep; however, it needs to develop fast as the schedule remains tough over the next few weeks.
Hogan- The uncertainty surrounding the returns of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justise Winslow. I know this is nitpicking, but it feels like anytime the question is asked, the answers have been vague. I know that timetables can shift when it comes to injuries, but I thought Winslow would have returned by now. I’m starting to wonder if he will be back before the 2nd half of the season starts.
Cinquini- I believe Brandon Clarke to be the clear-cut answer here. Clarke has seen an uptick in minutes and usage due to the absence of Jaren Jackson Jr. With his expanded role, he has seen his field-goal percentage plummet tremendously from his rookie year, all while averaging fewer points and rebounds per 36 minutes. Throw in Clarke’s new hitch-ridden jumper, and it becomes evident that he has not lived up to expectations.
Ratliff- Brandon Clarke. His numbers have dropped like crazy this season. Now, I get that the shooting numbers he put up as a rookie were pretty outstanding, but as GBB’s Parker Fleming said in this article a couple weeks ago, it’s a huge difference. The bright side is that it’s way early in the season to worry too much. If the trend continues, then we can worry more.
How would you grade Coach Jenkins’ job so far this season?
Abraham- I’d have to give Coach Jenkins an A so far this season. He was able to navigate through some early season injuries, including losing Ja for a nearly 3 weeks. He’s also shown some growth from last season, with him riding the hot hand more in crunch time instead of relying on his normal guys. Some of his rotations are still quirky, but the Grizzlies are 7-6 largely due to the job Coach Jenkins has done having his “next man up” ready.
Coleman- I give Coach Jenkins a B+. It is no small feat that he has guided this team to a 7-6 record, especially they way that he has done it through playing defense that also contributes to the offense. However, Jenkins has at times struggled to find answers offensively. Part of the reason for that certainly is being without his best offensive talents. Overall, this stretch to start the season completely validates the fact that Jenkins is a big reason this team continues overachieve.
Hogan- B+. He’s already had some unexpected things thrown at him the season — Ja’s injury and players forcing him to play them more minutes. He’s handled it pretty well. Before the covid break in the season, I think Jenkins put on his best coaching performance of the season in the win over Phoenix. He’s now making adjustments in-game instead of defaulting to the starting lineup in crunch time. Some questionable rotation decisions (Melton a DNP-CD for one) prevents the A.
Cinquini- This truncated campaign is still young, but I would be far from astonished if Coach Taylor Jenkins is in the Coach of the Year discussions by seasons end. The fact that the Grizzlies are sitting with an above .500 record is a testament to the impact of the by-committee philosophy that Jenkins has instilled with this group. Considering Memphis, sans three of their five best players, is in the playoffs if the season ended today, I give Jenkins an A. He has made the most out of what he’s had to work with.
Ratliff- I think Taylor Jenkins has done a good job dealing with keeping the team focused through all the drama surrounding the team. All the COVID protocols and injuries have to be taking an immense toll on the entire team and Taylor and the entire team have been able to push through that and be a competitive team.
Which offseason move (re-signing/draft pick/trade etc.) are you most excited about so far this season?
Abraham- I anticipate the move to draft Desmond Bane will be the popular one here, so I’m going to go with the selection of Xavier Tillman with the 35th overall pick in the draft. X has been big already for the Grizzlies and figures to be a piece of a really nice core down low for the Grizzlies with him, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke. X’s defensive versatility and offensive awareness makes him an ideal partner with both JJJ and BC down low.
Coleman- The draft picks, and just how much Bane and Xavier Tillman have really fit in with this team in terms of addressing needs and delivering better than expected impact. Bane has clearly emerged as the best natural shooter on this team; Tillman makes a positive impact every time he takes the court, especially anchoring the defense. It has resulted in even more depth for the Grizzlies, depth that is both versatile and talented for the present and future.
Hogan- Xavier Tillman. As I mentioned with my answer to one, the ease the rookies have adjusted to the league is pretty impressive. Tillman just gets better and better with every game he plays. His play has also allowed the Grizzlies to look ahead and possibly use Dieng or maybe even JV as a trade chip for the deadline.
Cinquini- Xavier Tillman has made a two-way impact from the jump. He possess a tremendously high defensive IQ for a rookie and has perhaps been the Grizzlies’ best interior defender thus far. Offensively, he has been feasting from the paint and the mid-range, where he’s converting 70% and 55% of his attempts, respectively. Tillman is a winning player. By all indications, he appears to be a long-term fit in Memphis.
Ratliff- Xavier Tillman doesn’t have as much run as some of the higher picks in the draft but he’s currently 2nd in PER (17.98 on ESPN or 18.1 on Real GM). My favorite stat though is he’s currently 2nd in Offensive Rating behind only Tyrese Haliburton. Tillman is producing at a clip of 121.4 points per 100 possessions. The Grizzlies front office may have hit another home run in Tillman.
Thanks to Shawn, Ben, Jesse and Greg for joining me for the roundtable! Be sure to check out GBB tomorrow as four GBBers join Associate Editor Parker Fleming to take a look at the rest of the season!