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Basking in the glow of Taylor Jenkins’ “green light”

So many factors and people have played a massive part in putting the Memphis Grizzlies in the position they’re in. Taylor Jenkins deserves lots of credit for it too.

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Milwaukee Bucks v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

We should’ve known Taylor Jenkins was good when he told his team to let that [bleep] fly the moment he set foot in Memphis.

Over the past two seasons, he’s helped this team get through the storms — a youthful overhaul, slow starts, COVID layoffs, and injuries to key players (including 9 months without Jaren Jackson Jr.) — to keep this young Memphis Grizzlies squad fighting for playoff positioning and to lead them to their first winning season in 4 years. Sure, it helps to strike gold in the lottery to nab the 2nd overall pick that turned into a generational point guard like Ja Morant. Zach Kleiman and crew deserve credit as well for hitting on draft picks and trades to build a young complementary crew around its cornerstones — while maintaining holdovers from the past regime like Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas, Kyle Anderson, and Dillon Brooks.

However, Taylor Jenkins deserves a ton of credit. You can point to the system that generates elite assist numbers, is one of the best at scoring in the paint, and plays at one of the best paces in the NBA. It’s been a successful integration, but it wouldn’t be as prolific if it wasn’t for the confidence and empowerment Jenkins instills in his players.

“It’s always about confidence and having fun and being excited about the system you’re playing in,” Jenkins said. “I think our guys have grasped it and really embraced it and owned it.”

The players have done just that. You can tell with how the players play on the court in terms of performance, confidence, and pure enjoyment. Jenkins’ injection of confidence has spread into the loose — but efficient — system based on green lights and player empowerment.

Phoenix Suns v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Coach Taylor Jenkins did something that many coaches in the Grizzlies past have attempted to do: play with pace. Plenty of them have tried, but with limited success. The team performance wasn’t as optimal, and the roster was filled with players that achieved a certain way. Granted, Jenkins had the luxury of starting with a mostly new roster. However, Jenkins is hitting the performance aspect through statistical benchmarks — top-10 pace, top-3 assist average, and top-2 steals numbers. Though it’s not translating to Finals contention, we’re seeing a foundation be laid for sustainable success, and that’s totally great for a young team.

“Hopefully you see it more often than not on a nightly basis,” Jenkins said. “The unselfishness, the ball movement, the joy that when other guys are succeeding because of your playmaking or vice-versa. That goes a long way to integrating our offense day to day for the future.”

That sort of ball movement and unselfishness has been fun to watch. It’s contagious through the team’s pass-first maestros Ja Morant and Tyus Jones, but Jenkins has ingrained it in the rest of the team. From the moment he stepped in Memphis, he wanted to deploy a system that has as many playmakers on the floor as possible, and we’re seeing the benefits of it.

“When you create for your teammates, somehow the ball comes back to you,” Dillon Brooks said. “It’s just part of the game. We embody that. Like you see every night, we find a way to get 30 assists. We’re just all rolling.”

That all starts with the freedom that Taylor Jenkins gives each player. There’s the belief and understanding that any of the 5 guys on the floor can go out and make a play — whether it’s for themselves or their teammates.

“We have a lot of freedom on the offensive end of the floor,” Tyus Jones told Grizzly Bear Blues. “That’s something that Coach preaches – play with confidence, use that freedom to our advantage, and just play basketball and just hoop.”

The freedom and confidence Jenkins gives his team has formed a well-oiled machine — when the team is rolling — and has produced the best offense we’ve seen in Grind City.

Dallas Mavericks v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

The biggest element in Coach Jenkins’ confidence-infused system is player empowerment.

“He just allows us to go out there and play our game and be ourselves,” Ja Morant said of Jenkins. “I feel like everybody can go out there and take a shot and not get yelled at. I feel like guys always should be comfortable and confident when they’re out there playing.”

He puts players in the best spots to play their games and thrive. That’s why the team doesn’t miss a beat no matter who plays and who’s out. Memphis has been able to still chug along, despite the constant revolving door of injuries — with Jaren Jackson Jr. being out for most of the season. Even dating back to last season, that’s why they’re still able to beat playoff teams — like the Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks, or Dallas Mavericks — while going deep into their bench. That’s also probably why you can’t just focus on just one or two guys every single night; anybody can help them win games.

“You just can’t focus on 2-3 people shooting every shot, because our team allows everyone to play their games,” Morant said. “You got to worry about all 5 guys on the court.”

The player empowerment has been a huge part for the Grizzliessuccess, as it’s allowed players to take leaps and add new skills to their bags. Granted, that’s not to belittle the work each player has put in to their crafts — that deserves a ton of credit. However, a lot of it may not materialize if they weren't playing for a coach like Jenkins that gives them the confidence to apply what they’ve worked on all offseason and practice time into the game.

De’Anthony Melton comes to mind, as he’s become a more potent 3-point shooter and live-dribble creator. Grayson Allen is another player who has been given the confidence to let it fly at high volumes. The biggest example though is Kyle Anderson.

The veteran swingman was a non-factor from 3, and he had even said he was losing confidence in his shot. However, he put in the work, as Jenkins continued to place confidence in him and empower him to fire 3’s. Now, he’s become a reliable outside threat who’s shattering any of his career 3-point numbers.

“He gives us the confidence to take shots,” Anderson said of Jenkins. “It is kind of dope to play for a coach like that.”

And it’s not even confidence in taking 3-pointers. Taylor Jenkins has empowered players to stick to their strengths and attack as such. Brandon Clarke had mentioned that Jenkins gives them the green light to hit shots they’re really good at. So whether it’s floaters for Clarke or Jones, or 3-pointers for Bane or Grayson Allen, pull-up mid-range jumpers for Dillon Brooks or Kyle Anderson, or shots at the rim for Ja Morant and Jonas Valanciunas — Coach Jenkins is going to let each player play his game, especially if it translates to wins.

That sort of player empowerment is important for a young team. Most young players may play with the fear that they’ll be pulled for a missing a shot, a defensive assignment or rotation, or turning the ball over. With Jenkins, he has preached to his teams to focus on the details, the next shot, and to play their games. And it’s paid off from both a team standpoint and an individual one as well — as players are thriving and adding value towards winning games.

Dallas Mavericks v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Taylor Jenkins’ “green light” philosophy has allowed this rebuild to keep cruising through roadblocks. Despite the COVID protocols, missing their 1B player, and a brutal 2nd-half schedule that consisted of 40 games in 71 days, this young Grizzlies has thrived and put themselves in a position where the time to rebuild is over. And it’s barely been 2 years since the whole rebuild started!

He’s placed faith in his guys through it all, and we’re seeing the dividends.

“He’s got faith in us,” rookie Desmond Bane said of his coach. “That’s huge to hear that type of positivity from your coach on a night in and night out basis.”

Though it’s not the most traditional coaching approach, it’s paying off. We’ve seen more strict approaches that haven’t been successful in various reasons. From a national standpoint, we’re long-distance observers of the Indiana Pacers drama surrounding Nate Bjorkgren and his squad, or last season’s situation with Jim Boylen and the Chicago Bulls. From a local perspective, we’ve seen coaches refuse to offer any sort of developmental time or confidence in young players — as well as coaches not put the youngsters in positions to succeed.

Taylor Jenkins is doing all of those things now, and the team is in position to succeed. Now, as the Grizzlies enter this play-in tournament with a shot at the playoffs, we’ll see what he does to help the team succeed through. And from this point on, he’ll get to show what he can do in playoff situations — series adjustments, rotations, and all the different basketball chess moves that go into coaching.

Just like these young players, Taylor Jenkins will get his chance to receive playoff scars and grow from it.

But right now, the Grizzlies have their guy. The players have faith in Jenkins, and he has that in his players. He’s been a primary reason why this process has gone as smoothly as it has — and as quickly as it has, too.

Give credit wherever it’s due, and there are plenty of people who deserve it for this team’s success. When you’re giving that credit, make sure to include the coaching.

Taylor Jenkins deserves his flowers.

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