You are the Head Coach of the Memphis Grizzlies. It is the Spring of 2021, and your team is once again overachieving. They are in a prime position to be in the NBA’s inaugural play-in tournament at a minimum while also having an outside chance to climb all the way up to the six seed in the Western Conference. The best part is that only recently has your roster become fully healthy, leading you to believe that the best is perhaps yet to come for this team. At the same time, however, your roster is now so deep that several good players are sure to be eliminated from getting minutes. Decisions must be made, and this is why they pay you the big bucks. It is time to construct your ultimate rotation.
So type your first rotation decision. It’s time to play the game.
> START JA MORANT, PLAY HIM 34 MINUTES A GAME
Your decision to start Ja Morant is a no brainer. He is playing some of his best basketball, especially from beyond the arc as a shooter this month (44.4% from three). Against the Portland Trail Blazers recently he displayed two-way potential the likes of which has not been seen in a long time from Ja - he played well not just as an offensive weapon, but as a defensive threat. He enjoys playing Portland, it would seem - thankfully they are on the schedule tonight as well.
He is your superstar, and his placement as that in your rotation surprises no one. Leading off with your decision to start Ja is seen as a cop out by many. Things will get tougher from here.
> START DILLON BROOKS AND KYLE ANDERSON, PLAY THEM 26 MINUTES A GAME
Some surprised glances come your way. Dillon and Kyle are the only two other Grizzlies that has played every game as starters so far this season, and their length and defensive acumen are welcome alongside the at times defensively challenged Morant. Ja appreciates the presence of Brooks by his side, as he brings a swagger to the roster that brings confidence to the starting lineup. He also is a supporter of Kyle Anderson and his malleable game, although your subsequent decisions will carry weight in terms of how you perceive Kyle and Dillon position-wise.
Kyle has seen a majority of his time (71%, per basketball-reference.com) at the “power forward” position and had barely played as a true wing this season - if at all. Dillon has spent 81% of his time at the traditional “small forward” spot, and while it appears that both Anderson and Brooks have seen success given these shifts (Dillon spent a majority of his time at the 2 guard last season, and Kyle was a “3”) naturally that leads some to believe that you are planning on shaking things up beyond these selections. You have piqued the interest of your fan base.
> START JAREN JACKSON JR. AND DE’ANTHONY MELTON, PLAY THEM 28 MINUTES A GAME
Analytical fans/supporters of Melton rejoice, while the hive of Jonas Valanciunas descends upon your body attempting to gobble up not only your flesh, but your soul. Screams of “WHO IS GOING TO REBOUND???” ring out through your eardrums. The disrespect, they say, will not be tolerated, no matter how you try to explain this decision.
But try, you will. You bring up how both Anderson (89th percentile in percent of defensive rebounds grabbed per Cleaning the Glass) and Melton (78th percentile in defensive board and 88th in offensive rebounds) can help make up for the weaknesses of Jaren Jackson Jr. in this area. You also mention that Ja Morant has grabbed five or more rebounds 18 times so far this season and the Grizzlies are 12-6 in such games, while Memphis is 6-0 in games where Dillon Brooks collects 6 or more boards, with 4 of those 6 games occurring in the last five weeks. The point isn’t that the wins came because of their glass eating, but that the team can prioritize attacking the glass as a unit more and still have success. In addition, Melton is having a career season, and the two players he plays best with are Morant and Brooks. Among pairings that have played at least 200 minutes together (per NBA.com/stats)...
- Dillon Brooks and De’Anthony Melton - 120.3 offensive rating, 101.0 defensive rating, 19.3 net rating - 1st on the Grizzlies
- Ja Morant and De’Anthony Melton - 118.3 offensive rating, 102.4 defensive rating, 15.9 net rating - 2nd on the Grizzlies
- Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton - 108.4 offensive rating, 101.0 defensive rating, 7.5 net rating - 7th on the Grizzlies
The Melton and Jaren Jackson Jr. pairing of course have not logged enough minutes to qualify, but early returns are promising (+20.8 net rating in 33 minutes together). The response to these numbers is the fact that Melton has barely started this season (one start). But the time has come to see what the 22-year old Melton can be in such a role - he has earned that opportunity. And with Jaren in the fold as another shooter, Ja Morant would be surrounded by four solid to great defenders who also have shown the ability to space the floor and help facilitate offense for themselves and/or others.
The JV Hive remains furious with you, but you survive...for now.
> MAKE JONAS VALANCIUNAS SIXTH MAN, PLAY HIM 26 MINUTES A GAME.
“HATER” screams ring out as you once again are running for your life from those that have devoted themselves to defending Jonas Valanciunas. But you are undeterred. You hide in a dark corner of the internet and research how Jonas has played as a reserve in the past, and you find a mixed bag. He had success in Toronto in the role, but not quite as much as he has had as a starter. Considering Valanciunas has started all but three games in his career as a Memphis Grizzly, he looks at you with some disdain when told this news. It’s almost as if his denim jacket in which he is portrayed as a half-man, half-Jonas creature is also staring a hole through you, contemplating whether or not they should rip you in to pieces and feed the remains of your carcass to the national animal of Lithuania, the White Stork.
But you sell him on the concept of being the first sub in the game, for Jaren Jackson Jr., and being able to take more advantage of reserve bigs who do not have the skill set more often than not to make Jonas pay for his lack of lateral quickness defensively. Against reserves, in theory, he can possibly shine even brighter as a force of nature on both ends of the floor while he still logs starters minutes. But because there is so little data to back this idea up, the first real leap of faith is here, hoping the most veteran member of your roster accepts the new role and doesn’t eliminate you from the face of the earth. Or that his fans don’t do the same.
You continue to be the head coach...but the JV Hive is unhappy with you. You do not get invited to International Jonas Valanciunas Day on May 17th (5th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, wears number 17).
> PLAY JUSTISE WINSLOW AND BRANDON CLARKE TOGETHER AS RESERVES, PLAY THEM 18 MINUTES A GAME.
You once again underestimate just how angry a fan base can be over decisions that your organization has clearly hinted at throughout the season. Winslow’s abysmal three point shooting and Clarke’s declining percentages are thrown out at you, and rightfully so. There is no denying that these two players have not had as much success this season as their counterparts Tyus Jones and Xavier Tillman Sr., at least when it comes to being consistent contributors - especially Winslow, who has struggled a majority of the time coming back from injury outside of defensive efforts.
Yet you again stand your ground, reiterating how this season is not about trying to be the six seed to take on the Clippers or Lakers or Suns. It is about figuring out who fits this roster long-term, and these two players have more potential to be major contributors given their frames and skill sets than Jones and Tillman. In addition, Jones is a known commodity (mostly good as a floor general and for his assist to turnover ratio) and Tillman, given his contract, seems to be a lock for this roster long-term. Clarke could relatively easily be trade fodder, and Winslow’s contractual stability is not near that of Jones or Tillman.
Memphis must continue to figure out who the real Winslow and Clarke are, you say. Are they the guys they traded for, and in the case of Clarke have shown play that backed up that investment? Or is this what can be expected moving forward? Minutes help with that decision making process. The long view is what matters most - not prioritizing current circumstances with relation to the playoff standings. Some Grizzlies fans continue to despise you, but you move on.
> PLAY DESMOND BANE AND GRAYSON ALLEN TOGETHER, PLAY THEM 18 MINUTES A GAME
Your decision to round out your 10-man rotation with two players who finish 1B to Melton’s 1A in the shooting guard race is met with overall satisfaction. Both Bane and Allen have shown their value, both in terms of executing Taylor Jenkins’ vision for the schemes on both offense and defense (Allen), and by developing valuable tools in their games throughout the entire season (Bane). Neither Grayson nor Desmond are the same player that they were in December, and that is a compliment. Coming off the bench as part of a true reserve unit alongside Winslow, Clarke, and Valanciunas allows for them to be the primary targets on the perimeter for the Grizzlies offense. Given how both Allen and Bane have grown as facilitators off of dribble penetration, they can also aid in creating looks in the pick and roll for two bigs in Clarke and Valanciunas that thrive is such sets, but for very different reasons. And their shooting prowess is well-established at this stage.
Some writers for a local SB Nation blog long for John Konchar minutes, but they’re appeased easily by Bane made threes and Allen floaters. They are at peace.
The decisions around how to deploy the Grizzlies rotation moving forward can play out in so many ways. Perhaps you want the rookies Bane and Tillman to be set aside for now in exchange for Tyus Jones and Brandon Clarke. Maybe you want this to be a true meritocracy, and desire to see Winslow and Clarke removed from the process so Tillman and Jones can re-enter the fray. In terms of starters, an argument can clearly be made to make Anderson a reserve while starting Jonas...or even Grayson. There are logical reasons to pursue all of these options...and many more.
Outside of Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and perhaps Dillon Brooks, there is room for Coach Jenkins to truly craft his own odyssey in to the unknown that is a playoff push with a newly healthy, but not newly rebuilding, roster. The reality of this situation is that a team that is full strength for the first time all season in the second year of an organizational reset being in a race to the postseason is a victory in and of itself. Coaches and players alike should be very proud that these late season games matter as much as they do. Meaningful basketball to close the campaign should always be a goal.
Now, however, comes the hard part. Or maybe it is is the fun part! The choice of how you perceive the adventure ahead is yours.