Taylor Jenkins is a great coach, perhaps even an elite one. He and his coaching staff orchestrated a breakout season for the Memphis Grizzlies, where they finished with the second-best record (one that tied the franchise record for win) while boasting the 2nd-young roster.
Talent is a driving force for on-court success, but Jenkins and his staff serve as the navigation system to map how they’ll accomplish their goals — and soon, their ultimate destination to a NBA championship.
Every coach has flaws. For Jenkins, his adamancy to use a 10-man rotation could serve as a detriment depending on the situation. In the regular season, it’s totally cool, as the team has displayed this “next man up” mentality to keep things humming — while also ensuring the 17 players on the roster are ready at all times. However, we saw downsides of it in the postseason. Having a rotation that long in the playoffs could lower the minutes distribution for your star players and mess up the game flow.
Another minus for Jenkins was his reluctancy to use his challenge, which could come back to bite in crucial situations. It’s a real grey line when it comes to coaches challenges — it’s either “why didn’t he use it,” or “why did he use it on THAT” for unsuccessful attempts.
Anywho regardless, the strengths Taylor Jenkins has shown in his Memphis tenure fair outweigh the weaknesses.
Taylor Jenkins has created a strong culture here, leading with an energy that emulates and reminds people of Ted Lasso from the Apple TV+ hit series. Over the years, we’ve seen teams accumulate a bunch of young talent without much success, because there isn’t a cultural foundation set. With what Jenkins and the front office have cultivated here, the vibes with this team are immaculate — often drawing comparisons to a college or AAU squad. You could sense the excitement on and off the floor with this team.
He’s also architected a two-way machine with this young squad. The Grizzlies have ranked in the top 6 defensively in each of the past 2 seasons — while falling square in the middle at 15th in 2019-20 — and they deploy an aggressive, swarming attack to generate turnovers and ignite fast-break offense. They took a legitimate leap offensively last year, improving their offensive rating by 3 points per 100 possessions and rising into the top-5 this past season. They seek their scoring opportunities in transition or by finding their way into the paint — and either finishing or kicking out to shooters from there.
The Grizzlies finished in the top 5 in both offensive and defensive rating last season, which is a no small feat. There have been only 7 teams in the past 5 years to possess those marks:
- Last season: Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns
- 2020-21: Utah Jazz
- 2019-20: Boston Celtics
- 2018-19: Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors
- 2017-18: Toronto Raptors
Talent is pivotal for execution, but a good coaching staff is vital for deploying these systems.
Piecing these two together, Taylor Jenkins and his coaching have fostered a strong player development system. There have been rookies impacting winning basketball in each season of the “Grz Nxt Gen” era — Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke in 2019-20, Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman in 2021, and Ziaire Williams last season. Even though they’re now on other teams, guards Grayson Allen and De’Anthony Melton came into Memphis as fringe NBA players and were sought after in trades from other contenders. Through the “next man up” philosophy, the team stays afloat and doesn’t miss a beat through absences — and this mentality helped John Konchar develop from two-way player to a full-time rotation player in 3 seasons.
So what’s next for Taylor Jenkins?
For the 4th-year head coach, it’s about continuing to find success in these areas, while also showing signs of growth as well.
The biggest keys are overlapped with continued success and showing signs of growth. When it comes to improvements, Grizzlies’ halfcourt offense is a point of emphasis. Jenkins and his coaching staff are tasked with identifying creative, effective ways to generate more points in halfcourt situations. Defensively, the coaching staff will have to create a structure that’ll still cause turnovers and provide strong rim protection to make up for the losses of Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton, and for the early injury for Jaren Jackson Jr.
It’s also key for the Grizzlies’ developmental success to translate this season as well. The Grizzlies technically lost depth, relying on the team’s player development and on the track record of draft picks to make up for it. To maintain the strength in numbers, the Grizzlies will need internal improvement from its incumbent players and for a rookie or two to be ready for NBA minutes — primarily Jake LaRavia or David Roddy.
Finally, Taylor Jenkins needs to continue showing signs of growth as a tactician. Dillon Brooks admitted last season that Jenkins has expanded his playbook quite a bit since his first year at the helm. He also made proper adjustments necessary in the postseason — more notably removing Steven Adams from the lineup in the matchup with Karl-Anthony Towns, and sitting an ice-cold De’Anthony Melton for the final two games of the first-round series. This season, it’s going to be cool to monitor how he grows in this area, as it will determine his ceiling with this team.
Regardless, there will be criticism to identify with coaches, but Taylor Jenkins has solidified himself as a great coach crashing the “elite” echelon quite soon.
Zach Kleiman’s vision for the Memphis Grizzlies is sustainable success that ultimately cultivates into NBA championships. In recent history, the San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, and Golden State Warriors have served as model franchises for constant success predicated around great cultures, systems, and developmental program.
What do those franchises have in common?
Stability with head coaches. Organizations like that often don’t have a coaching carousel — unless you’re the mid-2010’s Memphis Grizzlies.
For Zach Kleiman and the Memphis Grizzlies, there’s confidence that Taylor Jenkins can serve as the architect in the long-term pursuit for a NBA championship, and as a prominent leader in the organization’s goal for sustainable success.