The Memphis Grizzlies are back from the All-Star break, looking to survive the “40 games in 68 days” storm and push through into the playoffs. They started out this road with a home game against the Washington Wizards, a team they’d just defeated last week. Granted, it is a new day, and you never know what happens in the NBA, especially when a team has 2 All-Star caliber players.
Nonetheless, the Grizzlies responded to the challenge to get the ball rolling for the second half push. Though there were times the Wizards narrowed the gap, the Grizzlies ultimately responded the right way to pull through for the win.
Usually with “The Long View,” I take one thing and look at it through the long-term lenses. However, there were a few things that stuck with me in this game that it’s worth monitoring going forward.
Dillon Brooks in the optimized role
For those begging and pleading for Dillon Brooks to stop jacking up shots, you got your wish. For those who insist that we haven’t seen Brooks in his optimized role, you about got your wish too.
Brooks took a season-low 7 shot attempts, connecting on 4 of them. He did a really good job of letting the offense come to him and not forcing any ill-advised shots. Where he made his impact felt the heaviest was his defense on Bradley Beal. He played an instrumental role in throwing Beal off into a 6-22 shooting night.
In postgame, Brooks said that he wanted to see if Beal was up for the challenge to deal with his physicality for all 48 minutes. As we saw, he did a great job of bothering him and disrupting his game.
This “3-and-D” role is his best fit, not the scorer that has to create a ton of offense. Coach Jenkins talked about his offensive efficiency when it came to shooting and to playmaking, and Brooks backed that up tonight. Once again, he hounded the opposing team’s best perimeter player, as he’s done against guys like Beal, Devin Booker, and DeMar DeRozan.
Jonas Valanciunas is the Grizzlies rock
Jonas Valanciunas was a man among children in this game. He dominated the Wizards with 29 points, 20 rebounds, and 4 blocks. He joined Clint Capela as the only player this season to have a game with at least 20 points, 20 rebounds, and 4 blocks. He also had his second game with the Grizzlies with that stat line, as he did it for the first time in the 2018-2019 season against Orlando.
While many may gripe about his murky fit in today’s NBA with his defense in space and 3-point shooting, there’s no denying that Jonas Valanciunas is a damn good NBA center that’s sticking around by playing to his strengths. As he showed last night, he can dominate a game any given night and propel this team to victory.
You can’t say that about many other players.
His consistency this season has been huge, as they’re a young team that’s gotten hit with injuries and COVID-19 protocols (including Jonas himself). He’s really the Grizzlies’ rock. He can go get a bucket or a rebound when needed. He’ll be that enforcer that can get the team going with his energy and toughness.
I know people like talking about who could stick around with the next great Grizzlies team, and Jonas Valanciunas isn’t a popular answer. Don't deny his impact on his team though, as they aren’t in a spot to phase him out just yet.
Desmond Bane put on a career night in last night’s win, connecting on career-highs in points (20) and made 3’s (5). His sharpshooting is what stands out, as he was widely known as the draft’s best shooter. The extra stuff is what really stood out in the pre-draft process to a lot of experts, and he backed up the analysis tonight with these two particular sequences.
There was this sensational defensive activity in the pick-and-roll to tag and switch onto Bradley Beal:
Look at this sequence from Desmond Bane. Shows as Beal comes off, recovers to Bertans and pressures the ball. Helps and switches to Beal when he backcuts, keeps him in front and contests the shot. Sprints the floor to get the layup. pic.twitter.com/lZd3dkDSpn— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) March 11, 2021
Then there was this nifty little dump-off to Jonas Valanciunas off the drive — with some fantastic off-ball movement to ignite the play:
Desmond Bane and the value of off-ball movement pic.twitter.com/BtH47zfPRX— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) March 11, 2021
Desmond Bane continues to flash the upside that was tantalizing in the pre-draft process, and he’s showing quickly that he’s going to be a key cog for this team going forward. There aren’t many elite sharpshooters that can also put the ball on the floor to make the right play (a drive and/or a pass), while also being an impact defender.
Our Site Manager Joe Mullinax might have been on to something in his “Start Desmond Bane, you cowards” platform. It opens up different avenues for the Grizzlies offense, while expanding what he can become down the road.
Great win last night for the Grizzlies. Let’s look forward to the big test tomorrow against the Denver Nuggets.