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Sizeable shifts upon Jaren Jackson Jr.’s return

He’s back! Now what?

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Jaren Jackson Jr. is back — let’s all rejoice! Now come some hard decisions. There are plenty of posts, tweets, podcasts, and such regarding what a fully-healthy rotation looks like. There are also various opinions on what it should be, but I’m not going to get entirely into that. However, there’s one aspect of this I want to cover.

In Jackson’s absence, Coach Taylor Jenkins shifted Dillon Brooks and Kyle Anderson down to the 3 and 4, while inserting an additional shooter/playmaker into the starting lineup. It’s yielded good results. The most frequent starting lineup — Ja Morant, Grayson Allen, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, and Jonas Valanciunas — is outscoring teams by 10.3 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass. In addition, lineups with Brooks and Anderson at the 3 and 4 together are beating teams by 6 points per 100 possessions.

Brooks and Anderson have also been better at the 3 and 4 than they have been at the 2 and the 3 over the past 2 seasons.

  • Brooks at the 2 (2020-21, 2019-20): +3.4 (46%), -2.8 (71%) — (Clarification: Cleaning the Glass has Desmond Bane as the 3 in DB^squared lineups)
  • Brooks at the 3 (2020-21, 2019-20): +6.3 (52%), +6.1 (29%)
  • Anderson at the 3 (2020-21, 2019-20): -3.1 (20%), -6.1 (75%)
  • Anderson at the 4 (2020-21, 2019-20): +1.3 (80%), +6.0 (20%)

So with Jaren Jackson Jr. — who everyone insists is a 4 and not a 5 — what happens to these lineups? What would be the best course of action to maximize the complementary players, while easily integrating Jackson into the system?

Houston Rockets v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Let’s first consider what we know with the data from the lineups with Jaren Jackson Jr. from last season.

In lineups excluding Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill (because those players aren’t Grizzlies this year, nor do they have anyone comparable), the data with Jaren Jackson with these guys at their respective positions was interesting:

  • Anderson 4, Jackson 5: +28.0, 41 possessions
  • Anderson 3, Jackson 4 or 5: -2.5, 655 possessions
  • Brooks 3, Jackson 4 or 5: +13.2, 267 possessions
  • Brooks 2, Jackson 4 or 5: -15.9, 433 possessions (per Cleaning the Glass)

The ones with Brooks at the 2 or Anderson at the 3 didn’t work as well, because of the floor spacing. Anderson wasn’t near the floor spacer he was last season, so getting him and Jonas Valanciunas together could cramp the spacing.

However, whenever they shifted down a position, the Grizzlies were exponentially better. For starters, the defensive versatility is enhanced here, as any of the frontcourt members could defend in space. It’s evident through their turnover creation, as the Grizzlies forced turnovers on 16% of the team’s defensive possessions when Jackson played the 5. Offensively, shifting players down positions often generates a spot for an extra shooter or playmaker — in most cases last year, De’Anthony Melton or Grayson Allen. When you factor that along with Jackson’s spacing from the 5 spot, the floor is wide open for Ja Morant drives, cutters, or rollers.

So given the data from last year and the common rotations we’ve seen next year, what adjustments need to be made with Jackson coming back?

Memphis Grizzlies v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Action Steps

  • Replace Kyle Anderson with Jaren Jackson Jr. in the starting lineup

If Jaren Jackson Jr. can play, he should start that’s no question. We’d likely see that as long as Jonas Valanciunas is in the concussion protocol.

Now, if they do elect to go with Jackson off the bench in a fully healthy rotation (like last night against the Clippers), that’ll make smoother positional fits in the rotation. That scenario would probably go something like this: Ja-Allen-Brooks-Anderson-JV, Tyus-Melton-Winslow-Clarke-Jackson.

Whenever Valanciunas returns though, things get more interesting. You can’t sit either one of Valanciunas or Jackson right now. To best maximize other pieces, it’d be ideal to just shift Anderson to the bench.

  • But make Kyle Anderson the first man off the bench!

There will likely be a minutes restriction for Jackson to close the season. With saying that, Jackson would be the first starter out most nights. That’s the perfect time to insert Anderson into the game. The most-frequent starting lineup has been productive, outscoring opponents by 10.3 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass.

This option allows Jackson to get starter minutes, while not necessarily pushing Anderson out of the 4 spot — where the Grizzlies typically see more success.

  • Stagger Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jonas Valanciunas more

Jackson and Valanciunas should start halves together, but everything in-between and after, Jenkins should look to make sure one of them is running at the 5 at all times.

When Valanciunas has stepped off the floor, the Grizzlies have been undersized at the 5-man spot — typically rolling with 6’8” Xavier Tillman and/or Brandon Clarke. Insert 7-footer (or even taller???) Jaren Jackson Jr. You might point to how he doesn’t necessarily help their rebounding, but he’ll help with rim protection and shot-contesting.

This should also allow 2-4 versatility for lineups with either Valanciunas or Jackson at the 5, since they’re not sharing the floor much together.

Memphis Grizzlies v Indiana Pacers Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

The Memphis Grizzlies versatility across the board is so fascinating, as guys like Dillon Brooks and Kyle Anderson have shown this season. They can run in big lineups, or they can be good frontcourt members in downsized units. It’s simply a luxury in an area the Grizzlies were lacking several seasons ago.

And Jaren Jackson Jr. is the key to unlocking a multitude of lineup combinations.

Want to go big? Run him and Jonas Valanciunas together at the 4 and 5. Want to go small? He can play the 5. They can go with super-sized lineups that possess multiple playmakers and defensive switch-ability from 1-5, or they can run opponents out of the gym with smaller, switchy lineups.

Jaren Jackson’s return is a massive difference-maker, and as Jenkins and staff is looking to incorporate him back into the swing of things, it’s important to not lose sight on what’s worked for some of their important complementary players.

It shouldn’t be a problem for this staff, as they’re good at recognizing lineup data and adjusting on the fly. It’s just a fun observation to assess that highlights the versatility of this roster.

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