clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The truths around the Grizzlies depth

There have been a lot of talking points and spirited debates around the Memphis Grizzlies and their depth. There are several truths, but only one really holds weight in their championship path.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

There has been a lot of angst recently about the Memphis Grizzlies, their offseason decisions, and their depth. There’s just so much more nuance to the discussion rather than the surface levels of trades or free agency departures.

Too many truths lie within all of it. Let’s really dive into it.

There’s a segment of fans that miss Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton and what they provide.

Starting with Anderson, the writing felt on the wall. Obviously his role would diminish with Jaren Jackson Jr.’s return, Desmond Bane’s insertion into the starting lineup, and Brandon Clarke’s reemergence as the primary forward/big off the bench. His level of production slipped a bit too. He had the worst on/off rating of any rotation player last season, as the Grizzlies were 7 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor — per Cleaning the Glass. After experiencing a renaissance from the 3-point line in the season prior, his percentage slipped from 36 to 33% on fairly low volume (3.8 to 1.6 attempts).

In addition, they had plenty of prospects waiting in the wings that the Grizzlies could develop into this role. A combo forward always seemed to be a likely draft strategy, and it was with the selections of Jake LaRavia and David Roddy. The answer to Anderson’s departure has been Santi Aldama, who’s honestly filled in quite well. Though he’s shooting the same percentage from 3-point range (33%), his volume (3.8 attempts per game with 47.6% of his shots coming from beyond the arc) makes him more of a threat and creates more advantages with the spacing and closeout attacks. Defensively, he doesn't possess Anderson’s same prowess, but his defensive event creation has been solid this season — as he’s 1 of 6 players averaging at least 1 block and 1 steal per game. He also adds more size in the frontcourt rotation, which gives the Grizzlies a considerable size advantage most nights, as they have 3 seven-footers in the rotation.

More importantly, Kyle Anderson was an unrestricted free agent. He could’ve gone wherever he wanted. Even if Memphis offered the same money Minnesota did, could they offer him the same role as the Wolves? The answer is no.

The Grizzlies made the right play there — given the shooting upside of their developmental forwards, the presence of Brandon Clarke as the 3rd big man, and the free agency prioritization of Tyus Jones.

2022 NBA Playoffs - Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The other main offseason departure, De’Anthony Melton, is a bit more nuanced than being discussed. Melton is good and young, as he’s a 24-year-old guard with wicked defensive chops, secondary playmaking skills, and constantly-evolving perimeter shooting. He helps when it comes to regular season success, as his microwave scoring and his defensive event creation could swing a couple games a season.

Despite these positive truths, it’s just as easy to see why the Grizzlies traded him. Dating back to the bubble, his impact significantly diminished in postseason play, drawing a couple DNP-CDs in last year’s postseason. He also never evolved into a pure combo guard. His subpar ball-handling made him a shaky option to handle any sort of backup point guard responsibilities, and ultimately made him a 6’2” wing.

The Grizzlies made this deal not because of the package returning, but because of the abilities of players already on the roster.

If you go at the surface level of the trade, it doesn’t look good right now. Danny Green is a 35-year old wing coming off a nasty knee injury that’ll have him out until the All-Star break at the earliest. David Roddy has the potential to be a Swiss-army knife combo forward but still has a bit to go in his development to impact winning basketball.

There is more nuance to this trade.

Similar to the Grizzlies’ trade with Grayson Allen, they wanted to open up more opportunities to other players on the roster. It definitely paid off, as Desmond Bane emerged as a cornerstone for this franchise and one of the best shooters in the world. The Grizzlies wanted to replicate a similar formula with Ziaire Williams and John Konchar.

While we haven’t seen Williams’ impact yet, John Konchar has stepped up with more responsibilities. He’s shooting 42.1% from 3 on 4.2 attempts per game, raising his 3-point percentage from last season (41.3) while more than doubling his volume (1.8 attempts per game last season). He’s also chipping in with the hustle stats, a staple of his game since his NBA arrival. Per Cleaning the Glass, he’s in the 70th percentile in both steal (1.5) and block percentages (0.7). He also ranks 6th among guards in rebound percentage (12.3).

Ziaire Williams should be the main cog in this trade design. The Grizzlies experimented with him in more reps on the ball to expand the horizons of his live-dribble creation. He showed more comfort identifying passing windows and snake-dribbling his way down. They did this in hopes he could fill in the void, or perhaps upgrade, for Melton with secondary playmaking and shot creation off the bench. However, we haven’t seen real, meaningful outputs for this plan because of Williams’ injury.

I won’t be judging the Melton trade until Williams is back in action and in that envisioned role. While the actual structure of the deal doesn’t look great, the ripple effects could prove to be massive for the development of one of the Grizzlies’ key players for their long-term future.

At the end of the day though, they were the 8th and 9th guys on last year’s team. Brandon Clarke and Tyus Jones were the two-best bench players by impact, and both of those players have gone through waves of struggles to start the season.

These offseason decisions are not the defining aspect of the team’s depth, nor are the woes of the bench leaders. It’s not even on the players the fanbase has placed the blame on.

2022-23 Memphis Grizzlies Media Day Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Grizzlies fanbase has been spoiled with their rookies dating back to Dillon Brooks’ first season in 2018. As a result, Jake LaRavia and David Roddy have been subjects of criticism for the team’s depth. Honestly, they’re not the problem. We’re just seeing common rookie problems where there’s inconsistency and some rough stretches. It shouldn’t be the root of these perceived problems, especially a month into their NBA careers.

LaRavia and Roddy both have shown flashes of outside shooting, offensive connectivity, and solid defense. What they’re going through doesn’t feel much different than what we saw with Ziaire Williams last season. How’d that play out? He found his groove from beyond the arc (36.9% from 3 in the last 30 games of the season) and had great moments that impacted winning basketball as a starter and as a playoff rotation player.

Maybe the same could happen down the stretch for LaRavia or Roddy.

If there was any depth issues to point out, it’s more at the end of the bench.

Xavier Tillman’s regression stings, as it rids them of credible emergency-use big man. Parlaying his roster spot into a pure big man — like a big big man — or into a combo wing would be nice, but it’s tough to execute such a move given Tillman’s $1.8M salary. It’s also not an absolute needle-mover for them.

Danny Green’s injury also put the Grizzlies behind the 8-ball early with depth, more so because the number of available bodies gets low quick with a couple extra injuries. His intangibles and veteran presence are a priority for this Grizzlies team, and there’s a hope his game on the court could be an asset when it matters most whenever the calendar flips. The Grizzlies could’ve turned Green’s $10M salary into a back-end rotation player.

That might be vision for the perceived issues, but it doesn’t move the needle one way or the other for the Grizzlies. In fact, it’s nitpicking.

The real needle-mover — and perhaps the overwhelming truth of the polarizing debate about the Grizzlies’ depth — is the availability of the team’s star players. The Grizzlies will go as far as Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, and Jaren Jackson Jr. take them.

2022 NBA Playoffs - Golden State Warriors v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

So far this season, the Grizzlies are 12-4 when 2 of Morant, Bane, and Jackson play — as opposed to 0-3 with just 1 or none of them. That’s good for a 61-win pace, a mark for a contending team.

No matter who the 8th, 9th, 12th, or 15th men are, the Grizzlies are going to be an awesome basketball team when at least 2 of those players are on the floor. Having Jackson and Bane only miss 10 games combined last season helped the Grizzlies stay afloat whenever Morant was out of the lineup.

This point isn’t to discredit the team’s depth. Over the past few seasons, the Grizzlies have embodied the “next man up” mentality with quality NBA players up and down the roster. And despite the team’s losses in the offseason, it still says a lot about a team’s depth when good bench guys like John Konchar or Santi Aldama can enter the starting lineup without missing a beat. It’s more about how those 3 players — an elite point guard, an elite shooter, and an elite defensive big — allow the rest of the roster to shine and impact winning basketball in their roles.

So when you want to talk about the team’s depth, there are a lot of truths to unpack. The Grizzlies miss Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton, but they needed to move on in order to develop and empower other players on the roster. The rookies are struggling, but there’s evidence they’ll be fine. The overwhelming truth of this conversation will control their destiny.

If the Memphis Grizzlies want to win a NBA championship, it’ll boil down to the availability and the excellence of Morant, Bane, and Jackson — and that’ll likely be the most powerful truth for this era of the franchise.

For more Grizzlies talk, subscribe to the Grizzly Bear Blues podcast network on Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and IHeart. Follow Grizzly Bear Blues on Twitter and Instagram.