The second half of the season starts tomorrow, and there’s plenty to be excited about. Jaren Jackson Jr. should be returning soon. Justise WInslow is rounding back to form. Ja Morant can start his revenge tour from being snubbed from the All-Star game. There will be continuous growth from the supporting cast. And best of all — they’re fighting for a playoff spot!
It won’t be all sunshines and rainbows, as they have to play 40 games in 71 nights. That’s brutal, and pretty much unprecedented. But pandemic seasons, am I right?
To get ready for the second half of the season, I wanted to chat with some of our staff members on the expectations and takes going forward. Joining me for this GBB roundtable is Joe Mullinax (@JoeMullinax), Brandon Abraham (@bcabraham), Shawn Coleman (@StatsSAC), and EdMemphis (@SquareBidness).
1) What are your expectations for Jaren Jackson Jr. upon his return?
GBB Site Manager Joe Mullinax: To eventually, by the end of the season, be the guy we saw in the Bubble. I’ll hold Jaren to the 400 minute rule I’m applying to Justise, but it’s fair to look at the Grizzlies unicorn through a different lens than Winslow. Winslow could theoretically be gone in five months due to his team option (I don’t think he will be, but it’s possible). Jaren is a lock to be here next season, and you want evidence he’s healthy and capable of being what he was in spurts In the Bubble. Expecting growth (rebounding, foul issues, etc) is unrealistic due to time lost. A return to what he was by Memphis’ last game, whenever it is? That should happen.
GBB Associate Editor Brandon Abraham: Initially, I just expect JJJ to be able to splash some threes and protect the rim defensively. Different injuries, but since they had the same rehab approach with JJJ as they did Winslow, I’m not anticipating a major drop off from him defensively like we’ve seen from Kristaps Porzingis, who came back earlier from a similar injury. By the end of the season? I’d hope to see him continue to grow in his post game and overall just finish the season healthy.
GBB Senior Staff Writer Shawn Coleman: When Jaren Jackson Jr. eventually returns, I feel he will be utilized in a similar role to how Justise Winslow has been used. He will be used off the bench and will slowly see his minutes increase. I feel by the first of April, he will likely be back in the starting lineup and averaging 25-30 minutes a game. He will still sit many second games of back-to-backs; however, I feel a big goal is to have him as close to normal before that seven game road trip in April.
GBB Staff Writer EdMemphis: 20+ points per game and an extremely active shot-blocker. Rebounding will always be an issue, because he just doesn’t prioritize it, but he will add another dynamic to this team that will make them a nightmare if they get him back in time to build chemistry before the playoffs
GBB Associate Editor Parker Fleming: When Jaren Jackson Jr. returns, I expect him to probably play around 20-25 minutes a game with only 1 game of a back-to-back. In terms of his on-court impact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him operate more as a spot-up shooter and a mismatch post player, as he gets his legs under him. The hope is, around mid-April to early May, that Jaren Jackson Jr. can return to the dynamic perimeter threat that can unlock a new dimension for the Grizzlies’ system in the middle of a playoff push.
2) Which player are you watching the closest in the 2nd half of the season?
GBB Site Manager Joe Mullinax: Can I say a position? I’m going to, because I’m the boss. Sorry Parker. It’s shooting guard. DeAnthony Melton, Grayson Allen, Desmond Bane, (maybe) Dillon Brooks, an outside shot at a trade...there’s the most room for intrigue at that spot. Who starts? Who falls out of the rotation? Who pops up in trade rumors (if anyone)? Who stakes their claim as being part of the next great Grizzlies team? The suspense is killing me!
GBB Associate Editor Brandon Abraham: Justise Winslow. The team is very likely to pick up his team option, but I’m really looking forward to seeing how he grows, particularly on the offensive end once he gets his shot going. Jenkins can use Winslow in a variety of ways, and I’m intrigued to see the different lineups and rotations he uses Winslow in.
GBB Senior Staff Writer Shawn Coleman: Speaking of Justise Winslow, he is the player I am watching the closest in the second half. I can already say he makes a difference. However, he needs to stay healthy for the rest of the season to make that difference. Furthermore, if he can stay healthy and continues to improve, it will then make the offseason a lot easier. Could the Grizzlies pick up his option and extend him? Will he make other players expendable in time? His play could determine the future beyond this calendar year for himself and many other Grizzlies.
GBB Staff Writer EdMemphis: Justise and Jaren — for obvious reasons, including both players injury histories and upcoming contract situations.
GBB Associate Editor Parker Fleming: Dillon Brooks. De’Anthony Melton, Desmond Bane, and Grayson Allen have become intriguing options at the shooting guard spot with their efficiency and clean fit next to Ja Morant and Tyus Jones in either unit. While Brooks is a good fit next to Morant, his efficiency (or lack thereof) can get to be problematic. That efficiency can be tied to his role when the team has been shorthanded, as he has to shoulder more responsibility. With a returning Jaren Jackson Jr., and with Justise WInslow rounding into form, we should see Brooks in his optimal role as a 3-and-D wing that can occasionally get hot from the field. With the players behind him having strong seasons, and with the wing being a likely target in the 2021 draft, his performance in the second half could define the Grizzlies’ shooting guard situation for next season and beyond.
3) Is there a trade to be had with Gorgui Dieng, or are they going to buy him out?
GBB Site Manager Joe Mullinax: To me, it’s a lock Gorgui isn’t on the team too far post deadline. I believe a trade will be explored - to the Knicks for an expiring and a 2nd rounder, or two second rounders would make sense for both teams. But it’s not like Dieng is a hot commodity, and I do not see Memphis being willing to part with what it will take to get Bradley Beal or Zach LaVine with Dieng’s expiring and all the add-ons such a trade will require. Whenever you have a deal like Dieng’s, it’d be irresponsible to not see what is out there on the market. But the Grizzlies have their eyes down the road, and now likely isn’t the time to push in the chips they’ve acquired. If Gorgui isn’t traded, he will be bought out and given a chance to join a contender for a ring chase. And there will be interest.
GBB Associate Editor Brandon Abraham: That’s the $17 million question isn’t it? I certainly think there is interest in Dieng around the league, but with big men like Andre Drummond also expected to hit the buyout market, teams may be patient and force the Grizzlies hand. There’s almost certainly no way Dieng is on the team come April. Unfortunately, I’m not sold there’s many trade options out there that would really benefit the Grizzlies. I ultimately see the Grizzlies buying out Dieng and allowing him to sign with a contender.
GBB Senior Staff Writer Shawn Coleman: I feel that the Grizzlies will eventually buy Gorgui Dieng out. While many teams are needing bigs, there are also a lot of sensible players that meet that criteria that could be traded. As a result, post players with bigger contracts may be harder to move than cheaper options. Though Dieng is certainly a valuable reserve big man who can still produce in the playoffs, younger options with more upside may be the preference for teams. As a result, I feel he likely will be allowed to move on to a new opportunity through a buyout after the deadline.
GBB Staff Writer EdMemphis: It’s crazy just a month ago many of us were looking to trade Jonas and keep Gorgui a little longer. There may be a playoff team looking to shed salary and add depth synonymously. Or maybe they get lucky and find a lottery team looking to take on salaries and will give up a 2nd round pick to do so.
GBB Associate Editor Parker Fleming: It’s going to be tough to trade Gorgui Dieng, because of the limited teams with cap space. Most of the players in his salary range are ones that are keys to their team’s systems — for example: Evan Fournier, Gary Harris, Tim Hardaway Jr. Could the Grizzlies try to use Gorgui Dieng to get Eric Gordon? Or is there a deal to be made with a surprising New York Knicks? Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox would be good targets. Do they target a 3rd guard and try to get someone like Corey Jospeh from Sacramento? I still bet they buy out Dieng for him to go to a team he desires, but if they can pull off a Gorgui Dieng trade, it’ll further validate that this front office could do anything.
4) 1 bold prediction for the 2nd half of the season
GBB Site Manager Joe Mullinax: Justise Winslow will become a starter, and will stake his claim to being the 3rd best player on this roster. The flashes are already there offensively, and he’s already shown he is capable of being a defensive force. Adding Jaren Jackson Jr. eventually will only help Justise as he adds a pick and pop partner to his versatile skill set. Can Winslow stay healthy? A fair concern at this stage. But if he does? He will be the latest home run for a front office known for hitting dingers on a regular basis.
GBB Associate Editor Brandon Abraham: My bold prediction is that Kyle Anderson “regresses”. I don’t necessarily mean he’s going to start playing poorly, but I fear his numbers will dip a little bit with the emergence of Winslow and eventually Jaren Jackson Jr. I still think Kyle can continue to be an X-Factor of sorts for the Grizzlies, but I’m not sold he’ll average 13.4, 6.1 and 3.5 over the second half of the season.
GBB Senior Staff Writer Shawn Coleman: My bold prediction is that De’Anthony Melton establishes himself as the clear two-guard of the future for Memphis of their current options. Taylor Jenkins seems to prefer others due to their ability to shoot, which is logical with his coaching style. However, Melton’s offseason progression and added value on both ends of the court will be too hard to ignore. The Grizzlies still should focus on upgrading their starting option next to Morant; however, I do think Melton establishes his value to the point that Grayson Allen, Dillon Brooks, and others could become expendable.
GBB Staff Writer EdMemphis: If the Nuggets or Clippers get the Grizzlies 1st round, Grizzlies in 7.
GBB Associate Editor Parker Fleming: The rotation “problem” won't be as big as we expected. I know, not super spicy, but it’s bold given the discourse over the past couple months. I’ve gotten worried about the rotation once players return — more specifically who falls out. If I was a betting man, it’ll likely be Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman. However, it won’t be as big of a deal. With 40 games in 68 days, there will be nights where some players (more likely Justise Winslow and Jaren Jackson Jr.) will rest, opening up minutes for the “odd man out” to still find time on the court.
Thank you to our writers that participated in this roundtable. Feel free to sound off your responses in the comments below.