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The Long View on the Backup Point Guard Situation

The Grizzlies’ biggest dilemma is shaping a roster-construction question going forward.

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Portland Trail Blazers v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

There isn’t much to say on the Memphis Grizzlies loss to Portland last night. They came in against a veteran playoff team that wanted to kick their ass on their homecourt, after this group of youngsters beat them in back-to-back games on their turf.

That’s what guys like Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Carmelo Anthony, and Norman Powell do. They have those playoff lumps, had their backs against the wall, and know how to respond when a team has their number. That’s what veteran teams do to young ones.

But for this edition of “The Long View,” let’s address the elephant in the room of tonight’s game. For the 5th consecutive game, Taylor Jenkins rolled with Justise Winslow over Tyus Jones at the backup point guard role. Though it’s been a thing for over a week, I guess it manifests more around the Grizzlies sphere since it was a home game and the biggest game of the year.

It’s a sticky situation.

They want to see what that they have out of Justise Winslow, who played his best basketball in Miami when he was on the ball. They also need to see more of Winslow, as he’s a big wing who could play next to Ja Morant, handle primary responsibilities, and be another perimeter stopper.

Then, there’s Tyus Jones, who is probably the best backup point guard the Memphis Grizzlies have had in sometime, if not ever. His steadiness and his vision has elevated the bench — and even the individuals in that unit — over the past year and a half to become one of the best second-units in the NBA.

Both have flaws. Winslow is a shell of himself offensively right now, as he gets himself back into the flow of the game. And Jones wasn’t necessarily lighting the world on fire from deep like he was for a good part of last season.

The Grizzlies, however, ran themselves into a problem here. Do they want to force a player into the flow of the game at the expense of continuity or steadiness?

in the short-term, I’d maybe look to see about finding a way for Tyus Jones in the rotation, since he does elevate the play of important bench pieces like De’Anthony Melton, Brandon Clarke, and Desmond Bane. And it could even get work for Justise Winslow. It’d likely come at the expense of Grayson Allen, if he continues his shooting slump. However, in playoff situations, they’re going to play Ja Morant 38-40 minutes. Those 8-10 minutes shouldn’t be that big of a deal, especially with the level of playmaking they have with Melton, Bane, and Winslow.

The long-term though, it does raise questions over how they want to construct this roster-building strategy going forward. Do they want a traditional backup point guard to give Morant 15-18 minutes each night? Or should they invest in a combo guard or point forward type that can also share minutes next to Morant?

It’s something we see with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, as Portland rolls with McCollum in non-Dame minutes without a traditional backup point guard. Granted, McCollum is also an All-Star level player.

However, do the Grizzlies eventually acquire a 2-guard that starts and takes that “backup point guard” role? Or could they rely on the collective playmaking of guys like Winslow, Melton, Bane, or even Kyle Anderson? Or do they go with a Tyus Jones type — a traditional, “pass first” point guard that keeps the ship afloat?

This is the big story from this game, and it’s going to be important to note going forward. Both Winslow and Jones are on expiring contracts next season, and I’m willing to bet the latter gets out of the Grizzlies price range. How they want to tackle the backup point guard situation will be a development to monitor over the next year — likely with the questions presented above.

While it’s the big gripe that may end up playing a role in playoff aspirations, it’s also a future team-building structure to how they want to build this team around Ja Morant going forward.

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