Coming into this game, I didn’t know what to expect or to really take away. The Memphis Grizzlies were without their two best players (Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.), and they were without two rotational wings (Justise Winslow and De’Anthony Melton — though active, team held him out for conditioning reasons). The primary reason for my early skepticism was their opponent, a Los Angeles Lakers team that somehow got deeper and more dangerous this past offseason.
However, I came away extremely impressed with the effort on display, as well as the system Coach Taylor Jenkins has installed. Particularly towards the end of the 1st quarter, the ball was zipping, and the Grizzlies were carving up the Lakers defense for easy buckets. Desmond Bane was letting it fly from 3, the debuting Xavier Tillman was finding easy buckets at the rim, and the offense was just flowing.
Because of how the system was flowing, and how efficiently the ball was moving, it felt like the short-handed Memphis Grizzlies had a legitimate shot to top the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Ultimately, they fell short, because LeBron James is a demigod who can flip a switch for half a quarter and turn the entire outcome of a game.
The result wasn’t what they wanted, but the returns on this game are still great. Tyus Jones is continuing to return to form, Desmond Bane continuing to impress everyone early in his career, and guys like Kyle Anderson, Dillon Brooks, and John Konchar sharing the ball well in the absence of the team’s best playmaker.
All that wouldn’t be possible without the system in place.
“I’m proud of the way our guys fought,” Coach Taylor Jenkins said in the post-game media availability. “For the most part, really proud of guys just stepping up. It was great to see X’s [Xavier Tillman] first game of the season. I thought he gave us some great contributions, and that’s how we are built. Next guy up. We just have to rely on our depth every single night, just play competitiveness and unselfishness. I thought we had great effort tonight, just came up a little bit short there in the fourth quarter with not making the plays.”
The system revolves around multiple playmakers initiating a drive-and-kick motion offense to generate open shots at the rim or from the 3-point line. So when your team is full of playmakers that can space the floor and make right decisions, the offense will continue flowing if key players miss time. You saw that last year when Jaren Jackson Jr., Justise Winslow, and Brandon Clarke were missing time prior to the hiatus, and you’re seeing it now.
What does it mean going forward?
In the grand scheme of things, you’ll continue to see more of the same, in terms of players being able to step into a larger role in that “next man up” mentality. All while not skipping a beat, because they fit the archetype this front office is looking for. Down the road though, you’ll see no dramatic changes or drop-off to the system. As these players may get priced out or phased out of Memphis’ plans, they’ll be able to continue operating as a well-oiled machine, because of the talent the front office is looking for and the system that’s in place by the coaching staff.
That’s not saying they don’t miss what Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Justise Winslow, and De’Anthony Melton bring to the table — because they absolutely do. Not having players that can go out and create their own bucket like Ja and Jaren was a glaring sore spot in this game. Not having enough enough versatile defenders to hold the Lakers’ big men and Dennis Schroder stood out as well. However, it gives me faith though that the Grizzlies have a system in place that maximizes the player’s skillsets and puts the team in position to swipe a game any given night.