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The state of the Grizzlies playoff rotation

Will Taylor Jenkins follow the crowd, or beat to his own drum, when it comes to playoff rotations?

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Memphis Grizzlies v Denver Nuggets Photo by Ethan Mito/Clarkson Creative/Getty Images

Taylor Jenkins loves using 10-man rotations. No matter who was available, if there were at least 10 players available, 10 players were playing.

It’s honestly hard to argue with as well. The Grizzlies have had great bench production this season, and it seems like they are in position to win regardless of who steps on the floor. You also know how the saying goes — if nothing’s broken, don’t fix it.

While that holds true, rotations typically shorten come playoff time. Starters are going to need more minutes. Rather than playing in the 28-33 minute range, they need to be in the 35-38 zone. With that, there are fewer minutes available, and it makes little sense from a rhythm standpoint to give 5 players off the bench a small amount of playing time. So once the postseason starts, the rotations are typically cut down to 7 or 8.

What will Jenkins end up doing?

Last postseason, he went with 9 players. Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Jonas Valanciunas started — while Grayson Allen, Desmond Bane, De’Anthony Melton, and Tyus Jones came off the bench. It was usually 8, but Jones was the only person that could run the offense when Morant needed a breather, so that squeezed him into the rotation. He didn’t go with 10, because the options weren’t as intriguing. Brandon Clarke wasn’t playing well and wasn’t healthy. Xavier Tillman was solid, but he was outmatched for Utah’s frontcourt. Then, there was Justise Winslow, and you know how that went for them.

The dynamic now is different.

You can make a better argument for going 10 players than last season, as each of the 5 main bench players provide something at a high level. Kyle Anderson is deft at two-way playmaking. De’Anthony Melton causes havoc defensively, while evolving into a flamethrower from 3. Tyus Jones’ floor general prowess is as good as it’s ever been. Brandon Clarke has bounced back to return to astonishing levels of efficiency and to solid defensive versatility. Then, Ziaire Williams has been showing a lot more stuff since the calendar year flipped, and has shot 39% from 3 (3.8 attempts per game) since February.

If Jenkins elects to go with 8 or 9 players, who’s out of the rotation?

In this situation, there are 3 bench players that have solidified spots in a playoff rotation: Tyus Jones, De’Anthony Melton, and Brandon Clarke.

I could probably write a thousand-word blurb on each of these players and why they’re locks for the playoff rotation, and their importance in these situations. However, I’ll sum it up quickly, so we can get into the nuts and bolts of this rotation discussion.

Tyus Jones has been a great care-taker of the basketball, and the 2-guard lineups with him and Morant have rocked (+14.9 NET rating in 334 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass). That’s something they may lean on in a potential series with the Minnesota Timberwolves, where Pat Beverley will try to be a thorn in Morant’s side.

De’Anthony Melton is the team’s main event creator on both sides of the ball, and he’s also capable of going through solo runs with his microwave shooting.

Brandon Clarke isn’t a shooter, but he’s the only big man on the team with above-the-rim roll gravity, which is a major momentum-shifter. His interior presence on offense and his defensive versatility make him a staple in closing lineups.

So that leaves us with Kyle Anderson and Ziaire Williams.

Anderson, like Clarke, isn’t much of a shooter. Though he lacks vertical pop, he’s savvy on both ends of the floor and can fill up the stat sheet in the secondary compartments.

Honestly, it should feel like a win that we’re talking about Ziaire Williams being a playoff rotation player in year 1. He flies up the court for transition opportunities, he’s finding his rhythm from 3, and he’s held his own in star defensive assignments. The question with him may be if the moment is too big for the rookie.

If they go with 9 players, it’s likely between those 2 guys. For Taylor Jenkins, he’s faced with the question of rolling with the steady veteran or giving a big growth opportunity to his young rookie. He also has to prioritize the defense and playmaking of Anderson, or the outside shooting of Williams.

If the rotation shrinks in the postseason, that angle is something to keep an eye on. In this 9-man rotation hypothetical, I don’t have a strong preference either way. I’d probably lean with Anderson, since he’s played a key role in the team’s main stagger lineup that dominates people, and he provides a good dose of two-way playmaking that’s necessary to spark transition offense.

Memphis Grizzlies v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Contrary to the norm, the Grizzlies should stick with 10 players. However, in the second half of games, it should be trimmed to 8 players. This line of thinking allows the coaching staff to assess who has it going on any given night, rolling with those guys, and having them stay in their rhythm. If they had 8 players in the rotation, and someone didn’t have it, you’re throwing in another player off the bench that might be a bit cold.

In addition, they have had 10 consistent players add value and impact winning throughout the season. There isn’t much harm in rolling with their usual rotation patterns in the postseason.

In terms of how the playoff rotation is structured, staggering is key. They cannot afford all-bench lineups in the postseason. At all times, they need to make sure that these players are on the floor.

  • 1 of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.
  • 1 of Desmond Bane and Dillon Brooks
  • 1 of Jackson and Steven Adams

That should bode well for lineup stability and weathering any sort of storm with your starters — particularly Morant or Jackson — off the floor.

When it comes to closing games, it may just end up varying each night off player performance. If there was any sort of guessing on what it may look like, it’d likely be Morant, Bane, Brooks, Clarke, and Jackson. Adams could be in the mix depending on the matchup, but we’ve seen Jenkins typically opt for more defensive versatility down the stretch in tight games. It’s tough to see him go away from there. Melton could find himself here as well, based on how his shooting is going in the certain game. Jenkins could opt for a smaller lineup with Morant, Melton, Bane, Brooks, and Jackson — as he trended that way a bit last postseason.

Regardless, the Memphis Grizzlies are in a good spot. They have 10 players that can be relied on in crucial situations, and that same thing can’t be said for plenty of teams around the league. Now, we wait and see if Taylor Jenkins and his coaching staff will stick to the playoff norm with a shorter rotation, or if he’ll continue to rely on the Grizzlies’ strength in numbers.

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