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Big bench energy in Memphis

The Memphis Grizzlies don’t have that traditional bucket-getter off the bench, but their value aside from scoring yields big production.

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Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

So over the All-Star break, I made an observation about the Memphis Grizzlies and its bench production.

Granted, these impressive benchmarks can hide a lot of factors. They’re second in the league in bench minutes at 19.5 minutes per game, so that could play a factor. How much of “garbage time” is accounted, especially for a team that’s been in plenty of blowouts?

While those questions can be taken into account, it’s undeniable that the Memphis Grizzlies have a great bench. Even without a traditional bucket-getter like peak Lou Williams or Jamal Crawford, the Grizzlies maintain strong bench production through these statistical areas they excel in.

When it comes to rebounding, they don’t have this bruising force that gobbles up rebounds on an astounding per-possession basis. However, they have a lot of great positional rebounders. The Grizzlies have 3 players in the 75th percentile or higher in offensive rebounds off missed field goals: John Konchar (5.9%, 95th percentile), De’Anthony Melton (3.8%, 86th percentile), and Brandon Clarke (10.8%, 75th percentile).

The Grizzlies have developed a strength of generating extra possessions. Steven Adams gets — and deserves — the bulk of the credit for the team’s brilliance on the offensive glass. Having good positional rebounders though is important, as these three players specifically display a strong sense of timing for where the missed shot is going.

It pays off on the defensive glass, as 3 bench players have a defensive rebounding percentage off missed fields goals above the 90th percentile: Melton (14.7%, 99th percentile), Konchar (16.1%, 96th percentile), and Kyle Anderson (17.6%, 93rd percentile).

The bread and butter though is defensive havoc that leads to transition opportunities, a thriving area for this young squad. They have 3 players with a Steal Percentage upwards of the 80th percentile among their positions: De’Anthony Melton (2.9%, 96th percentile), Kyle Anderson (2.0%, 85th percentile), and Tyus Jones (1.9%, 81st percentile). In addition, aside from Tyus Jones, the 4 of their main bench pieces have Block Percentages in the 80th percentile or higher: Melton (1.1%, 95th percentile), Anderson (1.4%, 84th percentile), Konchar (0.9%, 84th percentile), and Clarke (2.7%, 81st percentile).

2w`I throw out all these stats, because it illustrates that bench unit’s connective skillsets in their individual games. While they do have a dominant net rating with these 5 players on the floor together (+28.0 net rating in 43 possessions. That kinda rocks!), it’s not an ideal lineup given their lack of size and of a shot creator. However, these particular areas — rebounding, steals, blocks, turnovers (3 players with turnover percentages in the 89th percentile or higher), or playmaking of Tyus Jones and Kyle Anderson — help the Grizzlies stagger their lineups well. It helps them complement the team’s core players better.

The first staggered lineup I notice is when Taylor Jenkins subs in Anderson and Melton for Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane. While initially baffling to some, this substitution pattern does make sense, because it gets your 2nd and 3rd-best scorers on the floor when Ja Morant is resting. Nonetheless, Jenkins is surrounding Morant with 2 defensive playmakers that can even facilitate a bit offensively, a wing that shoots corner 3’s and runs the floor, and an anchoring big man that absorbs rebounds. It’s a great formula as it gets Morant in his element — in transition, featured more heavily in a scoring role, and with smart playmakers. That lineup of Morant-Melton-Williams-Anderson-Adams blitz opponents by +20.8 points per 100 possessions in 173 total possessions.

On the other hand, the other staggering lineup has struggled immensely. The lineup of Jones-Bane-Konchar-Clarke-Jackson is getting outscored by 23.8 points points per 100 possessions in 169 total possessions. They struggle defensively, as the 3 perimeter players aren’t great individual defenders, and leave the big men with too much to cover for on that side of the ball. In addition, they also don’t generate much halfcourt offense.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Getting Dillon Brooks back in this regard would benefit these lineups, as he would thrive in a high-usage situation like this one. He would also give the Grizzlies 3 strong defenders in the frontcourt. He’d also be a strong source of half-court offense, as he’s developed a methodical game when getting to the mid-range downhill. The returns on that are promising, as the quartet of Brooks, Jones, Jackson and Clarke have outscored opponents by 25.3 points per 100 possessions in 99 total possessions. So fill in the other wing spot with 1 of Melton, Williams, or Bane, and it should be good.

This connectivity also benefits them in clutch-time situations. Tyus Jones can come in to give the Grizzlies an extra ball-handler to put Morant in scoring situations. If they need to switch and create havoc defensively, De’Anthony Melton, Brandon Clarke, or Kyle Anderson can step up. It all depends on who’s rolling in the game, as any of these players off the bench have connectivity elements to their games to complement Morant, Bane, and Jackson — doing the little things to ensure wins in clutch spots.

This bench production and connectivity will also be important for the playoffs. You won’t see all-bench units in the postseason. If you do, something has gone terribly wrong. Having a group of players like these that excel in multiple areas — value beyond scoring — helps them build steady lineups, while starters are shuffled through rest areas.

Chicago Bulls v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

With saying all this, it’s not that they can’t score either. They’re top-10 in bench points per game, pretty impressive for a unit that lacks a legit traditional go-to scorer. However, they make up for that, because they have a lot of play finishers. They get out in transition and find leaks in the defense to generate scoring opportunities inside the paint or beyond the arc. We’ve seen any of these players step up and provide big-time scoring production off the bench, which is huge given the value they add beyond the scoring column.

And another “with saying all this,” they’ve had the “next man up” approach carry over with guys like Xavier Tillman, Killian Tillie, Santi Aldama, and Jarrett Culver step in these similar manners as well. It’s a strong testament to the coaching staff’s level of preparation, and to the front office for their talent identification.

Not everyone can score. Players across the board have to play different roles to ensure team success, and this Memphis Grizzlies team is a good embodiment of that principle. As the team ramps up for the postseason, it’s going to be important for them to continue this level of production. Their connective, complementary skillsets are going to be vital for playoff rotation configuration and execution down this stretch.

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