WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
Dillon Brooks, the unofficial spirit animal of the Memphis Grizzlies franchise, has yet to play in the preseason. That may change tonight - he is listed as Questionable due to thigh soreness as opposed to Out - and because of that upgrade in potential availability, this game is far more interesting than perhaps it was Sunday morning before that news was made public.
No offense, Detroit Pistons. Jerami Grant is awesome. Cade Cunningham and the rest of that roster should give you reason for optimism. But this is still a preseason game. The Pistons do not matter. The Memphis Grizzlies are focused on themselves - as they should be and the Pistons surely are as well - and with Brooks’ potential 2021-2022 debut, some roster and rotation questions may come closer to answers.
That matters most. Let’s dive in to why.
Who is the fifth man?
Ja Morant, of course, is a starter. Same with Jaren Jackson Jr. and the aforementioned Brooks. Steven Adams may only play 24-ish minutes a game and likely won’t close a majority of games, but he makes sense as a starter on this roster. And it appears that Kyle Anderson, at least through early preseason games, is slated to be a key reserve/sixth man for Head Coach Taylor Jenkins and that staff.
So that means either De’Anthony Melton or Desmond Bane will be the starting two guard for the Memphis Grizzlies. And fortunately for Jenkins, both players are making this a tough decision. Because they’re both playing at a very high level right now.
The leader in the clubhouse may be Bane, given his likely continued ascent to the ranks of elite three point shooter and how much Jenkins values that ability alongside Morant. That’s not to say that Melton is a bad shooter from beyond the arc by any stretch - he clearly has improved his stroke. But Bane has always been a sniper from range, and as he adds layers to his game off the dribble and in the mid-range his offensive prowess will only continue to increase.
Melton remains a vital piece of the puzzle, and he has earned the conversation to be a possible starter. There’s not really a wrong answer here - both players will be key rotation cogs. But will Brooks’ possible return to the starting lineup help begin to answer the question of Melton or Bane? It seems likely at this stage.
Is Brandon Clarke longed for this Grizzlies world?
This question may be better answered in a longer article/feature, but one of the surprising developments of the preseason so far has been Brandon Clarke’s lack of clear role in the rotation. This likely has more to do with the bigger wings like Kyle Anderson eating minutes at the “power forward” position and the somewhat shocking early dependence on Ziaire Williams in the playing time mix than Brandon, but if Clarke is going to have to beat out Xavier Tillman Sr. for Center minutes that may be a tall task. While Brandon has not had enough opportunity to play at that spot and say he “cannot do it”, he is pretty clearly a better fit at the “4” at this stage of his career. His defensive versatility and rim-running is maximized there - at least for now.
But it the Grizzlies like Kyle Anderson getting most of those minutes (as they should, if Kyle figures in to the plans for this season and maybe beyond) Clarke has to improve as a legitimate big man. If he doesn’t? Tillman will get that run - as will Jaren Jackson Jr. - and a player that I was told about 18 months ago was “untouchable” in any trade dealings may be on the outside looking in of the rotation.
There’s still some basketball to be played, and the depth of Memphis will surely be tested as it always is in a season like the one the Grizzlies and the rest of the NBA are about to deal with. Clarke being moved doesn’t make much sense in the here and now. But Brandon will be due for a contract soon - he’s extension eligible the same time as Ja. Decisions must be made.
Time remains for Clarke. But the clock is ticking. Tonight is another shot for him to show why he needs to be on the floor.