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Getting both bigger and better in Memphis

The Memphis Grizzlies’ playoff rotation test brought some interesting and rough analysis, but there’s room for growth here.

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Utah Jazz v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Three Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

In this year’s playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies went to a lineup combination that was hardly used in the regular season. At times, when they went with predominately bench units, Taylor Jenkins would roll out lineups with De’Anthony Melton, Grayson Allen, and Desmond Bane alongside a point guard and a big man.

I see why they did it. Those 3 are the best floor-spacers on the team, and to contend with the Utah Jazz’s 3-point attack, they needed to get snipers out there. It also opened up lanes for Ja Morant or Tyus Jones to create off drives.

However, the results were pretty murky — and it was that way in the regular season as well.

3 Combo Guard lineups

Regular/Post Unit Point Differential/100 poss Number of Possessions
Regular/Post Unit Point Differential/100 poss Number of Possessions
Regular Ja-Melton-Grayson-Bane -35 5
Regular Tyus-Melton-Grayson-Bane -27.8 9
Post Ja-Melton-Grayson-Bane -48.3 30
Post Tyus-Melton-Grayson-Bane 29.4 17
3 Combo Guard lineups Cleaning the Glass

Yes, a lot of this is skewed by the sample size. There is some promise there with the Tyus Jones and 3 combo guards lineups. In addition, the lineups are pretty good when the 3 wings around a point guard and a big man units contain both Dillon Brooks and Desmond Bane:

  • Regular season: 74 possessions, +20.1 point differential per 100 possessions
  • Postseason: 86 possessions, -5.5 point differential per 100 possessions.

From an eye-test standpoint, it does come down to the matchups on the other end. In most of those instances, the matchups are some combination of Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic, Georges Niang, and Jordan Clarkson — all shooters 6’5” or taller, and the first 3 are at least 6’7”. Factoring in Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors’ screening acumen with the size of these shooters, and it can be pretty tough to get a good contest on these jumpers.

The framework is there though. It’s a really good idea to give Ja Morant and Tyus Jones room to work with to either create in the floater zone, or kick out to teammates spotting up for 3 or waiting for the pitch in the dunker spot. However, it’d be nice to add some size in the wing rotation to offset any sort of defensive issues, and to get similar looks that Utah got against Memphis in that series.

What can the Memphis Grizzlies do this offseason to bolster these lineups?

Baylor v Gonzaga Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Let’s start with the trendiest, most fun way to add some shooting with size — offseason acquisitions. To begin, I’m not going to mention anything with trades, because it’s hard to assess who are good trade targets when there’s no sort of knowledge of player availability at this point in the offseason.

The draft is the easiest, more cost-controlled way to add shooting with size this offseason. The dream targets in this archetype are Moses Moody and Corey Kispert. Trading up for these guys is most likely — and as I addressed last week in his prospect profile, Moody is someone you trade up for. With Kispert, it depends on the trade-up price.

Other players that are realistic at 17 and fall into this archetype are Ziaire Williams, Chris Duarte, and Trey Murphy. Williams is polarizing, because he has elite size on the wing (6’9” with a 6’10” wingspan), and he has the youthful upside and make-up of a shot creator. Although, there’s little evidence dating back to his time on the 19U USA team that he’s a prolific 3-point shooter — below 30% there and at Stanford. Maybe a more normal circumstances and a less demanding role will help his outside shot. Duarte can contribute day 1, and he’s a good shot creator. With him being 24, there will need to be other moves to make room for him in the rotation. Murphy is the most captivating in this mold, as he’s a 6’9” wing (with a 7’0” wingspan) that shot 40% from 3 in three years at Virginia — 43.3% on 4.8 attempts per game last season.

There are some 2nd-round picks that fit this archetype that probably won’t do this for the Grizzlies next season, but could in a post-consolidation team. Quentin Grimes boosted his stock a lot, but he’s a tough two-way player with legitimate ‘3&D role player upside.’ Joe Wieksamp out of Iowa probably upped his stock as well, but he possesses sneaky size from the wing (6’5” with a 6’11” wingspan), and he shot a scorching 46.2% from 3 this past season. Isaiah Livers is going to be an interesting case in the 2nd round, as he’s a prolific shooter (at least 40% or better from 3 past three years) but is coming off a stress fracture injury at the end of the season.

Another fun avenue the Grizzlies could address this is through free agency — and will have more money to do so if they opt out of the Justise Winslow team option. The dream targets are Duncan Robinson and Lonzo Ball, but it’s going to take a lot of moola to get Miami or New Orleans to not match. The question there is, what’s the line of offering? In cheaper, more realistic options, former Memphis Tiger Will Barton will be a trendy name, and he offers both the shooting and shot creation to help in these lineups. Doug McDermott would be fascinating, as he’s a 3-point marksman that’s also a threat to do work off the dribble. Maybe they could steal a bit out of the Utah Jazz playbook and go after Georges Niang in free agency. Those 3 players would still be good “consolation” prizes, as they all shot above league-average (36%) on respectable volume.

With two draft picks and questionable cap space in an OK free agency class, there isn’t much to get absolutely stoked over. However, any of these options here could make the Grizzlies marginally better shooting the 3-ball — whether it’s now or down the road.

Memphis Grizzlies v Denver Nuggets Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images

Don’t go to the comments just yet.

Something that’ll go overlooked when addressing the team’s needs this offseason is internal improvement. This past season, due to the compressed COVID-impacted schedule, there was very little practice time. And for the Memphis Grizzlies — a team that played 40 games in about 70 days — it was very rare to find practice time.

So whether it was Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justise Winslow working their way back from long rehab processes, or Brandon Clarke and De’Anthony Melton returning from nagging injuries in April, or Ja Morant recovering from an ankle injury that was supposed to be a 6-week recovery — that limited practice time probably played a factor in shooting regressions, especially as they were working their way back from injuries.

In a normal offseason with very limited restrictions compared to last year’s hiatus, seeing some shooting improvements shouldn’t be shocking. Who are some names to monitor here?

Jaren Jackson Jr. is the obvious one, as he shot 28.3% from 3 after his return. It won’t be shocking to see him return to that 35-40% range next season. However, in these lineups though, he’d likely operate at the 5.

I’m going to lump Brandon Clarke and Xavier Tillman together, because they both provide that same defensively versatility up front where they can defend in space off switches or in big stretch-4 matchups. Clarke’s shooting slumps were well-documented, but a healthy offseason could help him return to his form. In his rookie season, he shot 35.9% from 3, while shooting 41% on non-corner 3’s — per Cleaning the Glass. Xavier Tillman displayed upside as a floor-spacing big man this season, shooting roughly 34% from 3 and possessing fluid mechanics. With these players too, they don’t need to be high-volume marksman, but it’d be a plus if they can make defenses honest there.

And the one people will go to the comments about: Justise Winslow. If the Grizzlies opt into his team option, or give him a deal with less average salary and more years, Winslow will likely shoot better than 18.5% from 3 next season. A healthy offseason could do wonders for him, and maybe he could get his 3-point percentages back to the mid-30’s where he trended towards in healthy Miami seasons. Healthy is the big caveat there. Nonetheless, Winslow is an intriguing player in these smaller lineups, as he has the size to contend on the glass, the playmaking necessary for the offense to flow, and a potential shot that could space the floor.

The offseason moves are more glamorous, but don’t knock the impact of a normal offseason and of the internal improvement from one of the league’s youngest teams.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Utah Jazz v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The decision to go smaller and add more shooting was an interesting decision from the coaching staff. I really like the idea, but when the shooting isn’t there, it’s questionable to sacrifice the size and leaving really good role players like Brandon Clarke and Xavier Tillman on the bench.

But I digress.

Nonetheless, I think this decision highlights a long view (shameless podcast plug) on how the Grizzlies could structure their playoff rotations going forward. It makes perfectly great sense too. Ja Morant is one of the league’s best at getting to the rim and finding his teammates — it bends defenses. Giving Morant as many floor-spacers as possible only maximizes his strengths, and makes the offense that much more dynamic.

The framework is there, and the Grizzlies have more versatile shooters than they have had since the first playoff run. This is just the beginning, and as the Grizzlies build towards its final form, shooting with size has to be a checklist item for team construction going forward.

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