The Grizzlies finished the first half of the regular season with a narrow loss against the Milwaukee Bucks. It was a highly entertaining and great matchup, as the Grizzlies rallied from down 18 early in the second quarter to make a game of things late. The game featured Good Dillon with a lot of big moments from Ja Morant. Ultimately, Jrue Holiday’s game winning jumper with 2 seconds remaining was the difference as the Grizzlies enter the All-Star Break with a loss.
The Grizzlies don’t have another game until March 10th, as they get a few days off for the All-Star Break, with practice expected to resume next Monday or Tuesday. In the second half of the season the Grizzlies will play 40 games in 67 days, in large part due to having 6 games postponed in the first half of the season.
The Grizzlies figure to be healthier than they’ve been all season in the second half of the season, with Jaren Jackson Jr. expected to continue ramping up his rehab and return at some point in the second half. A fully healthy Grizzlies roster is both a blessing and a curse for the squad.
Obviously it is a great thing to be healthy and the team getting healthy will allow Zach Kleiman and Jason Wexler to really get down and evaluate the team and who fits alongside Ja and Jaren long-term for the Grizzlies. The downside with everyone being healthy is that it’s going to leave some solid players out of the Grizzlies rotation.
In the Grizzlies healthiest game of the season, De’Anthony Melton became the odd-man out in the rotation. What has Melton done in his 3 games since the DNP-Coach’s Decision? He was averaging 16.7 points, 4 assists and 2 steals per game while shooting 50% from distance prior to tonight’s game where he had 6 points on 2-3 shooting from distance and picked up 3 steals. With Dillon Brooks likely pegged as a starter regardless, one of Melton, Grayson Allen or Desmond Bane is likely to ride some pine in the second half of the season — should the Grizzlies stay healthy. That means you’re benching a 40% 3-point shooter, all of which do other things to positively impact the game as well.
Things don’t get easier in the front court either. Brandon Clarke, who has played great after a slow start to the season, will see his minutes reduced once Jaren Jackson Jr. returns from injury, and Xavier Tillman will see his minutes shrink and could potentially get some games where he doesn’t play. This is already with Gorgui Dieng only playing at the end of blow outs. Both Killian Tillie and Jontay Porter are young guys the coaches and front office has spoken highly of that may barely get to sniff the court once Jaren returns.
With all this depth, it puts the Grizzlies in a difficult spot trying to find the minutes to evaluate all the talent they have. Now sure, they can evaluate a lot of this talent at practice but there’s only so much data you can get from that. It would be beneficial for the Grizzlies to get as much game action for the young guys as they can. To do so, Jenkins will either have to play more than the 10-man rotation he likes, which seems counterintuitive as it will leave some guys with very few minutes, or the Grizzlies will need to make some decisions for him.
Gorgui Dieng seems like a likely trade or buyout candidate for the Grizzlies. With the plethora of young bigs on the roster, their development is a higher priority than finding minutes for the 31-year-old. Dieng has proven this year he can shoot the 3, and defend in space so he would certainly bring some value to a contending team. His $17 million expiring contract makes trades tricky, but he certainly seems like someone the Grizz will let go help a contender instead of keeping him in Memphis to ride the bench. Letting Dieng go won’t necessarily open up minutes for anyone since he’s not even playing now, but should someone sit out or get in foul trouble, someone like Tillie or Porter can get a chance to prove their worth.
Finding minutes on the wing is going to be even trickier. The front office likely doesn’t want to make a decision and move any of the young wings prior to the March 25th trade deadline, but it’s tough to find enough minutes for Brooks, Melton, Bane and Allen on a normal night. Justise Winslow likely sitting some games with so many back-to-backs opens up minutes for some small-ball lineups for that group to get some minutes.
Having too much depth is a good problem to have for the Grizzlies. The front office has stated before the season they’re really evaluating how the team develops and who fits best next to Ja and Jaren long term. Everybody on the roster has a case to be made, and the front office likely won’t be rushed to make a move over the next 20 days, barring a great offer being made. With the roster likely staying intact, Taylor Jenkins rotations will surely become very interesting as the Grizzlies season continues in the second half.