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Taylor Jenkins: Coach of the Year

The Grizzlies Head Coach should be rewarded for the work he’s done this season

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Memphis Grizzlies v Indiana Pacers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Memphis Grizzlies improved to 15-2 last night without Ja Morant. With ESPN in town for an All Access day, the Grizzlies record without Ja was a major topic of discussion since Ja had already been declared out for the matchup. Fortunately, for the most part at least, the narrative wasn’t that the Grizzlies were better without Ja but instead some of the narrative was that the Grizzlies success without Ja should discredit his MVP candidacy. Naturally, NBA Twitter blew up with this after the Grizzlies defeated the Brooklyn Nets last night. Instead of the Grizzlies 15-2 record without Ja Morant being about his MVP candidacy (even though it shouldn’t discredit him), the focus should really be on the job Taylor Jenkins has done this season. The Grizzlies record without Ja shouldn’t hurt his MVP chances, but it should solidify Taylor Jenkins as a Coach of the Year Finalist.

Once the regular season concludes, the NBA usually releases the finalist for all major awards with a “top 3” based on voting. I have a hard time finding 3 coaches who have done as good a job as Taylor Jenkins this year.

Former Grizzly coach J.B. Bickerstaff has done remarkable work exceeding expectations in Cleveland. Despite losing Collin Sexton early in the year, the Cavs are still in prime position to make the playoffs and even avoid the Play-In tournament. Monty Williams and the Phoenix Suns have built off last season’s NBA Finals run and have run away with the best record in the NBA and have been great since the All-Star Break with Chris Paul sidelined. Mike Malone and Ty Lue have done tremendous jobs despite having key players missing most of the season with injuries. Despite other coaches having solid arguments, it’s tough to beat what Jenkins has done in Memphis this season.

Memphis Grizzlies v Indiana Pacers Photo by A.J. Mast/NBAE via Getty Images

The Grizzlies were supposed to take a step back this season. General Manager Zach Kleiman made moves for the future in trading Jonas Valanciunas and the 17th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft for Steven Adams and the 10th pick (Ziaire Williams). JV was seen as the superior player, and has been good in New Orleans this season, but Jenkins has adjusted and used Adams in a complimentary role on this roster.

Overall expectations for the Grizzlies weren’t high this year, at least on a national level. Vegas set their win total over/under at 41.5 games. Last night was their 50th win of the season, with 9 games remaining on the schedule. Most fans expected the Grizzlies to be right back in the middle of the Play-In picture in the Western Conference. The lowest of expectations had the Grizzlies slipping out of picture, finishing as the 11th seed. Even the highest of expectations had the Grizzlies narrowly avoiding the Play-In as a 6-seed. The Grizzlies have the second best record in the NBA, and seem likely to finish the season as the 2-seed in the Western Conference.

The Grizzlies are one of the youngest teams in the NBA. Steven Adams and Kyle Anderson are the old guys at just 28 years old. Hell, at 37 years old, Taylor Jenkins would fit right in as a player on the Los Angeles Lakers roster. Consistency is tough for young teams, who usually play up (or down) to their competition. It’s an issue the Grizzlies had a fair bit last season but this season they have handled their business a majority of the time. The consistency starts with coaching, especially during an unprecedented season.

The NBA has tried it’s best to return to “normal” this season after COVID-19 severely impacted the past 2 seasons. This season has been better than the last 2, but the pandemic still reared its ugly head in December and January as a ton of teams dealt with players in Health & Safety Protocols along with the typical injuries that come up during the season. The Grizzlies have had a total of 17 players miss games due to injury/those protocols, with those 17 players missing a total of 220 games according to Spotrac. Some of the league leading numbers in games missed are due to players out for a majority, if not the entire year (Jamal Murray, Kawhi Leonard, Jonathan Isaac, etc.). The Grizzlies, outside of Dillon Brooks, haven’t really had a player out for an extended period of time. Instead, it’s been a few weeks here, or a week or so there, where they’ve missed guys which is actually more difficult on a coach since the available players and rotation changes nightly. The Grizzlies have found consistency in a season with no consistency and Taylor Jenkins deserves a lot of credit for that.

One of the biggest aspects that makes Taylor Jenkins such a great coach is his leadership and humbleness. In nearly every post game press conference, you hear some variation of the phrase “credit to our guys” when talking about the teams success. With the Grizzlies all over ESPN yesterday we saw a lot of Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane, but a majority of the clips with Taylor Jenkins were simply b-roll from practice on Tuesday. Jenkins could have taken advantage of ESPN being in town and jumped in front of the lights and cameras, but instead let his players enjoy being the center of attention.

So what stands out the most with Taylor Jenkins and his ability to get the most out of his players? To me it is his positivity. In a recent game on TNT, the broadcasters made a reference to him being the Ted Lasso of the NBA. GBB’s own Parker Fleming asked Jenkins about it, which prompted a response about how he tries to “build through positivity” and how he wants to be as positive as possible to build confidence around his players and staff. This doesn’t mean he avoids honest conversations and feedback, but it is safe to say Jenkins isn’t an old-school, yelling-in-your-face type of coach.

Memphis Grizzlies v Detroit Pistons Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Grizzlies players continuously praise Taylor Jenkins for helping build and give them confidence when out there on the court. After becoming the new franchise leader in threes made in a single season, Desmond Bane credits Jenkins for “giving us all the confidence to be aggressive to continue to let it fly, make or miss”. This comes after the players joked about Jenkins’ “let that MF fly” slogan earlier in the year. Jaren Jackson Jr. debuted his rap album “SUDDENLY” and mentions Taylor Jenkins in his song “Wavy” with the line “shoutout to T Jenks, I let it fly”.

The entire Grizzlies roster is outspoken about a lot of things, and praising Taylor Jenkins is something that consistently comes up in media availability and on social media. Following last night’s win, Ja Morant took to Twitter once again to vouch for Jenkins as Coach of the Year.

So the players really like Taylor Jenkins, how does that make him Coach of the Year? Jenkins has been crucial in establishing the culture in Memphis and it goes beyond the emotional aspect of things. This season is just the 5th time in 27 seasons that the Grizzlies have won 50+ games. If the Grizzlies defeat the Indiana Pacers tonight, they will clinch the 3rd best regular season in Grizzlies franchise history. They may not finish 56-26 like the 2012-2013 team, but they’ll come pretty damn close.

From a standings standpoint, the Grizzlies are on pace to finish in the best position in franchise history. The Grizzlies seem poised to earn their first Southwest Division Champions banner in franchise history. The Grizzlies have never been higher than the 4-seed in the Western Conference playoffs, but are likely to finish as the 2 or 3 seed this season. The best the Grizzlies have finished in the overall NBA standings is 5th. The Grizzlies would have to collapse in the final 9 games to not finish with at least a top 4 record in the NBA. Finishing with the second best record in the NBA would be a remarkable accomplishment. The NBA has more variance now than it did during the GNG era, as the league isn’t as top heavy this year in addition to teams struggling with COVID-19 and injuries. That shouldn’t discredit what Taylor Jenkins has done this season, though.

Jenkins has also done an excellent job at bouncing back when the team hits a rough patch. The Grizzlies longest losing streak this season has been just 3 games. They lost 3 straight in November and another 3 game losing streak in late December. The Grizzlies haven’t even really lost back to back games since that stretch in late December. The only 2-game losing streak the Grizzlies have had since then was at the All Star Break where they fell to Portland in the final game before the break, and then to Minnesota in the first game back.

Jenkins’ ability to rally the team and help them put things in the rearview mirror has been critical to the teams success for years now and has been noticeable for awhile. The teams philosophy brings me back to Ted Lasso and the “goldfish” mentality (and also an excuse to plug one of my favorite pieces from last year). The ability to get a young team to move past the bad and look forward is not something to be overlooked.

All of this doesn’t mean Jenkins is perfect by any means. His rotations can be frustrating at times, and his handling of player fouls (Jaren Jackson Jr. in particular) will have fans rolling their eyes, but no coach is perfect.

Across the board Jenkins has simply been the most impressive coach this season. Sure, Monty Williams and the Phoenix Suns have the best record in the NBA, but they were also expected to be one of the NBA’s elite after last season’s Finals run. Other coaches have done great work with the hand they’ve been dealt injury-wise, but no coach has exceeded his teams expectations like Taylor Jenkins has with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Monty Williams, as recently as yesterday, is the betting favorite for Coach of the Year with Taylor Jenkins at 3rd with +800 odds. Williams has done a good job this year, but considering the expectations coming into the season I find it difficult to find a coach who has done a better job than Taylor Jenkins.

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