WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
WHEN: 8:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Jaren Jackson Jr. (Out, knee)
MIAMI: Meyers Leonard (Out, suspension), Avery Bradley (Out, calf), Andre Iguodala (Out, hip/scaredy-cat), Moe Harkless (Out, illness)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke, Jonas Valanciunas
MIAMI: Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo
So the Memphis Grizzlies are in a slump. We’ve all been there, right?
During their most recent skid, the Grizzlies have gone without the elite defense that got them where they need to be to compete and have missed consistent contributions from key players offensively. Memphis, despite being as healthy as they been at any point this season, seems out of sorts on switches and in drop coverage while not fitting in nicely enough in half court sets to score. When the schedule for the second half of the season came out we knew there’d be bumps in the road. But the team having implosions like they did against the Oklahoma City Thunder and specifically defensively against the Phoenix Suns is unacceptable when you’re looking at the long path ahead for Memphis.
They can’t afford to regress as a defense if they hope to be a playoff, or even play-in, team. If they want to be playing meaningful basketball in May, the Grizzlies have to at least right the ship in terms of execution. That starts tonight against the Miami Heat, who under normal circumstances would be a heavy favorite against Memphis. But this is the second game of a back to back for Miami (although they blew out the Cavaliers last night) and the Heat could be a bit weary. A fast start could get the Grizzlies in a spot to be close in the final quarter with a chance to steal a game against the reigning Eastern Conference Champions.
Here’s how to get back to having such opportunities.
More Justise for all
It’s fitting that Justise’s first opportunity to take on his former team comes in Memphis. Winslow is now Mem-famous for his postgame interview where he talks about that trade being the best thing that has happened in to his career, and he gets to show his old squad just what they’re missing out on. The organization remains cautious with Justise, as he does not play in back to back sets, but when Winslow does play his presence is felt - especially defensively.
Our 2020-21 Matchup Difficulty leaderboard has a few new members in the top 10:— BBall Index (@The_BBall_Index) March 12, 2021
1. Lu Dort
2. Gary Harris
3. Lonzo Ball
4. Royce O'Neale
5. Dillon Brooks
6. Justise Winslow
7. Mikal Bridges
8. Pat Beverley
9. Josh Okogie
10. Michael Carter-Williamshttps://t.co/km4bYdJvub pic.twitter.com/HoPOKsxbjy
While he continues to find his offensive footing, he very clearly has his defense legs under him. And the time has likely come to stop messing around with what Winslow is for the Grizzlies and insert him in to the starting lineup. It would make for an instant defensive upgrade, and adding him alongside Dillon Brooks (and perhaps even Kyle Anderson) would help immensely on the perimeter and in the midrange, where Memphis is having so many issues currently. You can have a quick hook, letting De’Anthony Melton, Desmond Bane, or Grayson Allen come get him as the first sub. But if you’re worried about how the team is defending, your 2nd (and eventually perhaps best) defender being on the floor more consistently with the starters will help the likes of Ja Morant and Jonas Valanciunas be able to prioritize their offensive games and not have their impact on that end be canceled out quite as much - as is currently happening.
It’s a fun debate to have - who should start at the 2? The answer, ironically, is a guy already starting - Dillon Brooks. Because the time has come for Justise Winslow to take on a larger role, if not more minutes. And against the team that sent him out essentially for a rental of Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill and the ghost of Andre Iguodala would be the perfect opportunity to do just that.
Diversify the offense
The team itself is ready for more of not just a player believed to be a potential core contributor moving forward. They’re also ready for more variations of offensive sets beyond the base drive and kick offense that more often than not gets initiated by a pick and roll set at the top of the key. The Grizzlies offense runs the risk of getting predictable - Taylor Jenkins has coached over 100 NBA games now, and there is plenty of tape for coaches to study devise the best way to limit what the team wants to do. And when opposing defenses succeed, and disrupt those initial pick and roll looks, the offense often collapses. Turnovers. Dillon Brooks isolation step backs. More often than not, it ends in points not being put up on the board.
While Memphis is young and short on practice time, Coach Jenkins has to trust that this roster can take on more of a load that will make them more versatile within scheme. Between Grayson Allen and Desmond Bane, the team has two very good three point shooters who can have more sets run for them off of screens to get catch and shoot looks. With the strength of Jonas Valanciunas’ game being shown in and around the paint, cutters opposite Jonas’ catch on the block or high post will likely have chances to get easy buckets. It can’t end in terms of varying looks with the type of ball handler/screen setter. It must be added in an organic fashion, of course, and coaches think about how to do this all the time. Jenkins has said as much in recent press availabilities.
The time has come to pull the trigger...or at least pull it more heavily.
Eight players for the Miami Heat played at least 24 minutes last night in their win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, and stars like Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo logged 30+ minutes. The Grizzlies will have an opening - probably early, but perhaps even late - to run the Heat and see how tired the legs of Miami are. When that moment comes, will they be able to take advantage?
Here’s to hoping that rising to the occasion for their teammate Justise Winslow’s first showdown with his old mates is all the inspiration the team needs. Whether Winslow starts or comes off the bench, look for him to be motivated and for his energy to help get the Grizzlies off their current losing streak.
Memphis 111, Miami 108