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Starting and closing with the Grizzlies

There shouldn’t be any debating over the starting lineup for various reasons.

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Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

The starting 2-guard spot has been a debate among the Grizz Twitter sphere.

Most people would like De’Anthony Melton or Desmond Bane to start. The former is one of the most productive players on the team, who’s a positive once he steps on the court. The latter is already an elite 3-point marksman as a rookie, and he’s showing flashes of other areas of growth in his game. Both players are the ones most likely to play a role in the next iteration of conference contending Memphis Grizzlies basketball.

The 2-guard Coach Jenkins decided to roll with is Grayson Allen.

It’s become a polarizing topic, as people have used the metaphor of “wanting to take away Coach’s toy” at the trade deadline — a common theme in the previous 2 deadlines. The difference with Allen is, he’s actually a young player who the Grizzlies rightfully should look at to see if he could be a fit next to Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

Coach Jenkins does have a fun challenge on his hands. All 3 of these young shooting guards are making 3’s at a 40% clip — for context in the GNG-era, there were only 3 seasons where a player shot 40% from 3 (Mike Miller, 45.9%, 2013-14; Mike Conley, 40.8%, 2016-17; Courtney Lee, 40.2%, 2014-15). In addition, they all add value as live-dribble creators and tough defenders that generate deflections, to varying degrees.

Grayson Allen’s recent injury may shake things up for the time being. However, whenever he returns, the starting lineup shouldn’t be that big of a deal. At the end of the day, it hasn’t really hurt them thus far, and there are more important things to monitor than the starting lineup.

Golden State Warriors v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

Why the rotation is the way it is

Despite all the complaints about this starting lineup, it’s been the most productive unit that consists of Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, and Jonas Valanciunas:

2-guards w/ Ja-Brooks-Anderson-JV

2-guard Point Diff/100 possessions # of possessions
2-guard Point Diff/100 possessions # of possessions
Grayson Allen 10.2 462
Desmond Bane 1.4 227
De'Anthony Melton 6.4 45
2-guards w/ Ja-Brooks-Anderson-JV Cleaning the Glass

As you can see by the amount of time Allen and Bane have gotten compared to Melton, Coach Jenkins likes to get more of a catch-and-shoot archetype next to Ja Morant to start the game. Defenses key in on Morant, so they see if adding an extra shooter next to them can make them pay. It’s paid off, as Allen has hit 29-53 (54.7%) of his 1st quarter 3’s, and Bane has gone 19-39 (48.7%) from 3 in the first period. When those guys are hitting triples early, it shifts some of the defensive attention away from Ja and Valanciunas to open up the floor some more — something Grayson has specifically mentioned to the media.

It’s hard to see why Melton comes off the bench, as he possesses some of the best per-minute numbers on the team. Taking a guess, the coaching staff may want to keep that Melton, Tyus Jones, and Brandon Clarke pairing that dominated 2nd units (20.2) net rating last year — though the magic isn’t quite the same this year. Nonetheless, his defensive instincts and his 3-level offensive skillset give the Grizzlies a lift off the bench to help either sustain or build on a lead.

Bane has recently shifted to the bench, after a stretch of uncomfortable games as a starter. It’s fine to ease him into NBA life as a 2nd-unit flamethrower. His percentages are significantly better as a reserve than as a starter — 49.5% (52-105) vs. 39.1% (18-46).

They won’t be changing things, barring injury (status pending on Grayson Allen’s hip injury) or Jaren Jackson Jr.’s return, simply because there’s no need to fix what isn't broken. What they’re doing with the structure of the rotation isn’t a current issue, so what are the trends you should follow more closely than starting lineups?

Memphis Grizzlies v Houston Rockets Photo by Troy Fields/NBAE via Getty Images

The primary focus points for the 2-guard rotation structure should be the minutes distribution and the closer.

Right now, Grayson Allen leads all 3 players in minutes per game.

  • Allen - 24.8
  • Bane - 22.2
  • Melton - 19.5

De’Anthony Melton should not play less than 20 minutes a night — that’s something everyone could agree on. It seems ideal to notch Allen and Bane down to 20 minutes flat, while Melton gets about 25 minutes a night. This isn’t a slight to Allen or Bane, but Melton is consistently the best 2-guard each night. Despite the minutes cut, 20 minutes for them two allow them ample time to find their rhythm from outside, and finding that time for two of your best 3-point shooters is valuable in today’s NBA.

In addition, who closes each night should be more valuable than who starts. When it comes down to it, that’s winning time. On a larger scale, we’ve seen it true with teams like Golden State with their revolving door of centers to start then the “Hamptons 5” to close, or the early-KD Oklahoma City Thunder teams starting with Kendrick Perkins and closing smaller with James Harden. Even for Memphis last season, you’d see plenty of games where they’d start with Jackson and Valanciunas, but close with the more versatile pairing of Clarke and Jackson.

For the 2-guard spot this season, it could easily just depend on the rhythm of the game — something we’ve seen Jenkins do time and time again this season. If Allen and Bane are hitting 3-4 three’s one night, they may see the minutes in a close game. Or if Melton is just taking over off the bench, he gets the nod. Most nights though, it should be Melton. Closing time is winning time, and the numbers back up that he impacts winning more than just about anyone on the team.

There are a lot of different factors that dictate minutes distribution and closing lineups — game flow, player performance, and lineup fit come to mind — but those are two parts of the rotation structure that deserve more attention than the starting lineup.

Detroit Pistons v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

If we’re going to be completely honest, what the Grizzlies are going through at the 2-guard spot is a nice problem to have. Since Tony Allen’s departure, we’ve had to talk about the likes of Andrew Harrison, Garrett Temple, Wayne Selden, and Ben McLemore in this role.

Right now, the Grizzlies have 3 guards that are either 25 years old or younger, they all shoot above 40% from 3, and they add value on both ends of the court. All 3 of these players have the opportunity to grow into NBA-level rotation players, and they’re getting these chances in starting, big-minute, or closing situations. In these moments, they’ve proven they will be rotation players in this league for quite awhile.

While there may be gripes about who starts, it’s honestly not a big deal. It’s working, and the incumbent starter is a good young player — as opposed to a mediocre veteran blocking key developmental time. In addition, despite these “rotation quirks”, each of these 3 guards are showing signs of growth this season. When it comes to building around their core of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., seeing progression from the young complementary players.

And that’s the goal, regardless of who’s starting and who’s not.

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