Jaren Jackson Jr. finally has a target return date — kinda. The star big man is set to return before the end of April, whatever that means. It’s been mentioned a million times, but the Memphis Grizzlies have a rotation problem. It’s a good problem, but still a problem. This problem only enhances when Trip J returns to action.
The current big rotation has already seen Xavier Tillman be relegated to the bench as Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas, Brandon Clarke and Justise Winslow currently make up the 4-5 rotation with the sparse Dillon Brooks sighting at the 4.
When Jaren returns, what might Taylor Jenkins opt to do? You would imagine that none of the aforementioned players fall out of the rotation. It is more likely that a wing such as Grayson Allen or Desmond Bane might suffer that fate as Justise would see most of his minutes on the wing.
The Kyle Conundrum
Kyle Anderson is in the midst of a career year, or else the decision to leave him out of the rotation might be the easiest one. The first decision to be made will be the starting lineup. Does Jenkins move Kyle and Dillon to the two wing spots, leaving Grayson (currently) out of the rotation or with the bench unit? Or does the spacing Grayson and DB provide on the wing send Kyle to lead the bench unit at the 4 alongside BC at the 5?
So far this season Kyle has played 73% of his minutes at the 4 compared to 27% at the 3. Anderson is a +.4 in his minutes at the 4 but a -3.1 at the three. The stats and the eye test tell the same story — Kyle and the Grizzlies are both better with him not on the wing.
There are four 5-man combinations that include Kyle Anderson, that are net positive lineups. Memphis is a combined +37.3 in roughly 260 minutes of play with Kyle at the four compared to +28.2 in 28:46 minutes of play with Kyle at the three — that lineup includes BC, JV, Grayson and Ja Morant.
The answer in regards to Kyle based on style of play, fit and statistics should be him leading the bench unit, slotting in the starting lineup on nights Jaren misses due to injury maintenance.
What to do With Winslow
To judge Winslow by his current offensive woes is to have your judgment misplaced. He has never been a “shooter” and that is not what Memphis needs him to be. His role as a secondary playmaker, slasher and lockdown defender is exactly what he has been doing since he suited up for Memphis.
Currently Justise has seen 60% of his time at the 3 (+3.4) and 40% at the 4 (-14.3). This is quite literally the opposite impact of Kyle Anderson. While Memphis thrives with SloMo at the 4, the Grizz are much better with Justise on the wing. It almost seems too obvious that Winslow and Anderson should be the 3-4 combo off the bench based on these stats alone — in 79 minutes together on the floor, they are +6.9.
You could potentially slide Dillon back to the 2 and start Justise at the 3, but that eliminates the spacing Ja needs to thrive and Dillon is much better at the three, therefore Winslow as the featured three off the bench makes the most sense for this team.
With Jaren, the question is not whether to start him or not, it is more about who fits well around him and how he does playing minutes at the 5. Last season JJJ played 55% of his minutes at the 5 (-1.0) and 45% of his minutes at the 4 (-5.1). This has a lot to do with being an odd fit next to Jonas and being a mismatch problem for opposing 5s.
The majority of the positive lineup combinations that included Jaren, had him at the 5 next to Brandon Clarke at the four. Jaren obviously will not be the 5 coming off the bench, so this plays into the hand of closing lineups. It should be Morant, Melton, Brooks/Winslow, Clarke/Anderson and Jaren closing most games due to the defensive versatility.
There is no data of Jaren playing next to Justise, but the book is out on Kyle playing next to Jaren and BC at the three —it’s not great. It is likely that coach trots out a Kyle-BC-JJJ front court in the first rotation of subs, but as mentioned earlier, Kyle struggles on the wing.
Kyle is successful in the starting lineup as the 4 because of the spacing Dillon and Grayson provide, adding Jaren to the rotation may not mess that up. Jaren shot 6 threes per game at 40%+. If Jaren plays on the perimeter, it would allow Kyle to operate in a similar fashion as he does now.
The return of Jaren Jackson Jr. will be a sight for sore eyes, but it will cause the coaching staff to adjust and there will be growing pains. Will the coaching staff go with the analytics and keep Kyle and Justise where they are most successful or will they revert to a more traditional style of play?