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Breaking down 5 lineups I like and don’t like

Taylor Jenkins has had to do a lot of experimentation in the earlier season. What lineups have stood out — good and bad — for the Memphis Grizzlies?

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Atlanta Hawks v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Memphis Grizzlies were always in a spot of experimentation with their lineups. They lost two rotation players with Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton. Jaren Jackson Jr. was going to miss a chunk of the season at the beginning of the year. Danny Green isn’t going to be in the picture until at least the All-Star break.

The Grizzlies had to go a bit deeper than expected, as Ziaire Williams started the first month and a half on the injury report. Then, as Jaren Jackson Jr. made his return, Desmond Bane has been a mainstay on the inactive list for the past month.

It’s been the “next man up” for the Memphis Grizzlies, and Taylor Jenkins and his coaching staff have needed to test out certain lineup combinations to find a winning formula.

There have been some hiccups, especially off the bench. They needed time to figure each other out, especially bringing in two rookies and another player with less than 400 NBA minutes coming into the season. However, the Grizzlies are clicking together and climbing towards the top of the Western Conference.

Over this lineup experimenting, here are some lineups I’ve liked and not liked through the first 30 games of the season — and how they could factor into the Grizzlies’ winning formula throughout the season.

All lineup data found on Cleaning the Glass, which filters out “garbage time” possessions. Only looked at lineups with 50+ possessions.

Milwaukee Bucks v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Like: Ja Morant, John Konchar, Dillon Brooks, Santi Aldama, Steven Adams (94 possessions, 126.6 offensive rating, 103.2 defensive rating, +22.4 net rating)

Of any lineup without Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr., this unit has the best sample size.

The success with this lineup is key for lineup staggering. Since last season, the Grizzlies have made Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. the first starters subbed out of the game. Taylor Jenkins makes this change, so they could both be on the floor when Ja Morant is resting. When executing this last year with Anderson and Melton as the two reserves, the Grizzlies obliterated teams by 23.3 points per 100 possessions with those two, Morant, Adams, and Ziaire Williams.

Their replacements, John Konchar and Santi Aldama, have filled in to keep this as a successful substitution pattern.

Though they don’t create as many defensive events, this lineup crushes the offensive glass — possessing an offensive rebounding of 36.1, falling in the 97th percentile among all lineups. Steven Adams’ presence is the primary driving factor for this advantage, and John Konchar bolsters it with his offensive rebounding from the wing (4.0 offensive rebounding percentage off field goal misses, 81st percentile).

This staggered lineup also emulates a similar style with their starting unit. Konchar slots in as the shooter, and Aldama is a defensive rim roamer and stretch-4 — though at smaller scales than Bane and Jackson.

This lineup will be pivotal to stagger rest between the Grizzlies’ big 3 of Morant, Bane, and Jackson.

Don’t like: Ja Morant, John Konchar, David Roddy, Santi Aldama, Steven Adams (67 possessions, 119.4 offensive rating, 146.9 defensive rating, -27.5 net rating)

Though the offensive numbers stand out, that’s more of a product of Ja Morant. There’s limited creation in this lineup, as the 4 other players have to be set up for their shots at varying degrees.

This lineup struggles defensively. Everyone in this unit has spotty perimeter defense. Aldama and Roddy have shown flashes of becoming good defenders, but they could get burned from time to time defending in space. John Konchar is more of an event creator than an individual defender, and the same goes for Ja Morant. Steven Adams is good within his role at drop coverage, but he could be left with too much to cover.

This lineup won’t be used frequently in a healthy situation, as Desmond Bane likely pushes Roddy out of the rotation. However, health track record is never perfect, and we see the Grizzlies manage their injuries in a way to keep guys fresh down the postseason stretch. So in those events, the Grizzlies should steer from lineups with little creation or spotty perimeter defense around Ja.

Don’t like: Tyus Jones, Dillon Brooks, David Roddy, Santi Aldama, Steven Adams (60 possessions, 103.3 offensive rating, 119.7 defensive rating, -16.3 net rating)

I promise, I’m not piling on this frontcourt here. This lineup is just a downside of Desmond Bane’s injury and should be a unit they don’t roll with in his return.

The substitution of Tyus Jones for Morant is not good for offensive creation, and it also puts Dillon Brooks in a role where he’s the go-to option. It’s certainly not ideal for offensive efficiency.

The defense sees a slight improvement from the prior lineup with Brooks replacing Konchar. However, Jones isn’t putting together a good defensive campaign — ranking in the bottom 10 in FiveThirtyEight’s Defensive RAPTOR metric. So the defense isn’t making up for the offensive slippage.

Again this isn’t a lineup that shouldn’t and won’t be used frequently in Bane’s return. Bane could even slide into the Brooks and Roddy spot and be in a role where his creation and scoring can be amplified while Morant is resting.

Sacramento Kings v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Like: Tyus Jones, Dillon Brooks, Ziaire Williams, Brandon Clarke, Jaren Jackson Jr. (69 possessions, 98.6 offensive rating, 87.3 defensive rating, +11.5 net rating)

Yes, the offense is a sore spot, but this lineup might be a favorite of the “grit and grind” fans. The defense is swarming.

In ESPN’s Zach Lowe’s recent “10 Things” column, he pointed out the leap from Jaren Jackson Jr., and summed up the frightening defensive output from the frontcourt of Jackson, Brandon Clarke, and Ziaire Williams:

When Jackson, Clarke and Ziaire Williams are all on the floor, the combined speed and length is scary; opponents can barely see the rim amid all the whirring arms.

Jaren Jackson Jr. is one of the most imposing defenders in the league — creating havoc with his 7’5” wingspan. Ziaire Williams’ rumored growth spurt gives the Grizzlies a near 7-foot defender on the wing, and he’s already flashed a lot of defensive upside with his size on the perimeter. Brandon Clarke has quietly put together a strong campaign as an interior defender — opponents are shooting 16.8 percent worse than expected at the rim with him as the protector, which falls in the 99th percentile according to The B-Ball Index. This also doesn’t factor Dillon Brooks giving perimeter players nightmares at the point of attack.

The offense isn’t great. Brooks isn’t an efficient scorer. Williams still hasn’t found his groove there. Clarke is efficient but only scores 2’s.

However, I’m still intrigued by the potential of this lineup, because the offense can be boosted. Ziaire Williams will surely hit 3’s at some point and find his flow offensively. Desmond Bane could be inserted in this spot to be the primary offensive weapon, but Brooks’ defense makes this a terrorizing defensive lineup.

This lineup — or at least the combination of Jones, Brooks/Bane, Williams, Clarke, and Jackson — could generate a lot of runs at the start of the 2nd and 4th quarters while Morant’s resting.

Memphis Grizzlies v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

Starting lineups

  • Ja Morant, John Konchar, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams (279 possessions, 120.1 offensive rating, 103.2 defensive rating, +16.9 net rating)
  • Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Santi Aldama, Steven Adams (279 possessions, 116.7 offensive rating, 99.4 defensive rating, +17.2 net rating)

Through the injuries to Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane, we’ve learned the Grizzlies have a successful formula to their starting lineup. Surround Morant with a shooter (Bane or Konchar), elite point-of-attack defender with some scoring chops (Brooks), a taller rim-roamer with perimeter skill at the 4 (Jackson or Aldama), and an offensive rebounder machine that frees up scoring opportunities with screening (Adams).

It just works.

Offensively, they utilize Steven Adams’ strengths to get the team going with the physicality edge early. He can find an early advantage on the glass, but they seek early pick-and-roll opportunities to get Morant, Bane, and/or Brooks in a rhythm out of the gates.

Defensively, it’s conservative yet stifling. Brooks handles the other team’s perimeter weapon. The 2-guard is a movement defender guarding the secondary player. The 4 lingers around for help defense and adds size to perimeter defense. The 5 handles a lot of pick-and-roll coverage and drops as a protector — generating a huge size advantage whenever the 4-man helps on drives. The only defender who really gambles for steals is Morant, who serves as this free safety in passing lanes.

They have a formula, and Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane are the amplifiers for starting success. Bane is one of the best shooters in the world, and it changes the entire dynamic of the offense. He leverages his outside shooting into the rest of the facets for his game — attacking closeouts, making the extra pass, and scoring inside. Jackson is the game-breaker defensively with the space he could cover, and his offense provides a versatile option in the frontcourt.

The Grizzlies found a formula that could work, and the availability of their actual starters could lead to their championship goals.

The Memphis Grizzlies have had to do a lot of experimentation so far, and it’s fared well in their quest towards the top of the Western Conference. As the Grizzlies (hopefully) get their big 3 healthy together, the Grizzlies are finding good formulas for success with certain lineup combinations.

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