Grit and Grind was a mantra coined by the Memphis Grizzlies. It’s unique and special to this franchise and city. Teams grinding and playing with grit is not.
The current mantra for the team is “Next Man Up” and it is a phrase uttered by both the coaching staff and the players of the Grizz for a few years now. As much as they embody the phrase, this mentality has been a part of sports for years.
Injuries happen. To every team, in every sport. The Atlanta Braves lost one of the top players in baseball to a torn ACL in Ronald Acuna Jr. and rather than allowing that to be the end of their season, they adopted the next man up mindset all the way to a World Series Championship.
Not to say that the Memphis Grizzlies are on the fast track to holding the Larry O’Brien trophy, but they are not only down soon-to-be All-Star Ja Morant, but Memphis has lost Brandon Clarke, Kyle Anderson, Ziaire Williams and now Jaren Jackson Jr. and Steven Adams for different stretches of time. All of these players have missed games since Morant went down on November 26th.
The defense was sputtering. The play was erratic, and you never knew which Grizzlies team was going to show up on a nightly basis. That was with Ja Morant. You would assume that losing a player on pace to possibly even crack an All-NBA Team this season, things would only plummet.
Things didn’t plummet. In fact, the Grizzlies went from the worst defense in the NBA to the best during the stretch Morant has been missing. That is only possible due to true organizational depth built by Zach Kleiman, all the way down to Southaven with the G-League Memphis Hustle.
John Konchar. Next Man Up.
Jarrett Culver. Next Man Up.
Killian Tillie. Next Man Up.
(All stats are prior to the Philadelphia game)
Killian Tillie is a second year 2-way player that has battled some injuries during his tenure with Memphis. We are all becoming witnesses to what a healthy Tillie can be. Somewhat of a tweener, KT has had minutes at both the 3 and 4 this season, with his best minutes coming at the 4.
At home, Tillie has an Offensive Rating of 136 and Defensive Rating of 107 while averaging 5 points on 68.9% True Shooting. On the road, he has struggled mightily with an Offensive Rating of 27. Yes, 27. What has been the most impressive part of Tillie’s extended minutes is his ability to defend on the perimeter. In a nine minute stretch in the loss to Dallas, he accumulated 2 steals and a block, which led to his season high in minutes at 19.
Exactly two-thirds of his shot attempts this season are threes, and he is currently hitting them at a 38.5% clip. His best games so far have been the wins against Houston and Sacramento and the losses against Dallas and Atlanta.
I admit, I have never, not once, been a believer in Jarrett Culver as an impactful rotation player in the NBA. His offensive woes vastly outweigh his defensive potential. 28% from three and 40% overall during his two seasons in Minnesota is abysmal and does not make up for whatever point of attack defending potential he may have.
But Jarrett Culver has shown flashes in a couple of games this season. According to the staff he has earned some minutes due to his work put in with the Hustle, and against the Lakers he looked like a different player than the one who couldn’t dribble and stay on his feet against the Hawks in the preseason.
Everyone played well against the Thunder in the historic 73-point win, but his 15 non-garbage-time minutes against the Lakers were massive for both the Grizzlies and Culver’s confidence. He finished with 8 points, 2 steals, 2 assists and 3 rebounds, showing a small taste of what scouts thought they saw of him at Texas Tech.
Meanwhile, the owner of the best nickname in the NBA, John Konchar has been getting “Jitty” with it lately. Konchar was already in the rotation as a regular before the Morant injury, only not entering in two games this season. Since that game against Atlanta in which he produced his second best game of the season, Konchar has been everything the Grizzlies need him to be and more.
This is how I describe Jitty to someone who has never seen him play: He always in the right spot at the right time making the right play. He is reliable and does all the little things to help you win a basketball game.
45 points 34 rebounds 14 assists 10 steals and 3 turnovers on 63.6% shooting from 3
That is Konchar’s totals in this 8 game stretch. At best he was your 11th man on your roster. Eleventh. No team in the league can say their eleventh man is doing this over an 8 game stretch without 3 rotation players and an MVP candidate. Konchar leads the team in FG% of players that have played at least 5 of the 8 games without Morant at 65.4%.
The other component of next man up is about the guys who were already in the rotation. It takes everyone taking their game to another level to make up for what is gone. Here are the top 3 players at each category since Ja has been out:
Points: Jaren Jackson Jr. (21) Desmond Bane (18.6) Dillon Brooks (17.3)
FG%: John Konchar (65%) Steven Adams (60%) Jarrett Culver (55%)
3PM: Desmond Bane (3.1) Jaren Jackson Jr. (2.7) De’Anthony Melton (1.8)
3PT%: John Konchar (64%) Desmond Bane (46%) Killian Tillie (44%)
REB: Steven Adams (11) Jaren Jackson Jr. (5.4) Desmond Bane (5.3)
AST: Tyus Jones (7.1) De’Anthony Melton (3.1) Kyle Anderson (3.0)
STL: Tyus Jones (1.8) Dillon Brooks (1.7) De’Anthony Melton (1.5)
+/-: Jaren Jackson Jr. (+17.3) Steven Adams (+12) Tyus Jones (+11.5)
If you look up and count, that is 9 different players contributing at a high level in a category during this stretch. This is depth at it’s finest. This does not even include the various moments Xavier Tillman or Santi Aldama have had a positive impact, meaning even more Grizzlies playing real rotation minutes that matter.
So many players have this team currently first in the Southwest Division and 4th in the Western Conference. It’s almost Christmas, this team is finding their stride and All-NBA caliber point guard Ja Morant is due back soon.
Watch out NBA.