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Activity and Accuracy are keys to playing time in the frontcourt

Production in a few key areas could lead to more playing time for the Grizzlies young frontcourt depth.

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2022 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot Photo by KeShawn Ennis/NBAE via Getty Images

One of the bigger narratives of the Grizzlies offseason so far is Memphis once again focusing on adding versatile, young depth to an already youthful, talented roster. The Grizzlies, perhaps surprisingly to some, added five new pieces to their roster during the 2022 Draft. The big focus from adding these pieces, along with Ziaire Williams and Santi Aldama during the 2021 draft, was for Memphis to get deeper and more versatile at the combo forward position and in the frontcourt when it comes to roster depth.

The departures of De’Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson this summer, along with Jaren Jackson Jr’s injury, makes immediate production from this depth critical for the Grizzlies to have a successful start to the season. While a healthy Dillon Brooks and the progression of Williams will certainly help, contributions from Jake Laravia, David Roddy, Xavier Tillman, and Santi Aldama will be needed.

Two specific areas in which production will be needed from the Grizzlies young frontcourt depth are through defensive activity and accuracy on corner threes. While it is unfair to expect this collection of talent to replace the elite turnover production Melton, Anderson, and Jackson Jr provided in the past, production in these specific areas could be a path to consistent rotation minutes for Laravia, Roddy, Tillman, or Aldama.

To date, there is not much of a sample size to indicate who among this group could potentially thrive through defensive playmaking and making corner threes. However, there are some indications that, if given the chance, each of these names could surprise with how quickly they could offer production in these areas if giving the chance.

Defensive Playmaking

Without a doubt, especially in the regular season, a big part of the Grizzlies success was they ability to create turnovers and disrupt the flow of opposing offenses on defense. Melton, Anderson, and Jackson Jr. each played significant roles in that success. In reality, it seems hard to expect the current Grizzlies roster to replace that production. However, defensive playmaking presents a key path to playing time several members of the Grizzlies young front court.

Among the names mentioned above, a bigger role for Xavier Tillman has some merit. Over the past two seasons, Tillman is one of only 21 players to produce steal and block rates above 2% (min. 1750). He ranked in the 88th percentile among bigs in steal rate during his rookie year and in the 99th percentile in steal rate among bigs last year.

In general, Tillman’s consistency in making positive plays when he is on the court also allows for him to be reliable in key situations. A great example was the impact he made against Karl Anthony Towns early in the first round series against Minnesota. Tillman has done well in big moments for two straight seasons when the Grizzlies have needed him. Though Tillman did fall out of the rotation for much of last season, without Anderson and Jackson Jr., the Grizzlies knowing more of what they have in Tillman than others also could allow for him to see minutes early next season.

Though Aldama has far less of a track record than Tillman so far in his NBA career, he has show flashes when it comes to making a difference on defense. Aldama produced a 2.5% block rate last season, 11th among rookies who played 300 or more minutes. He also proved to be a reliable rebounder. Aldama may have been the most impressive member of the Grizzlies 2022 Summer League team as well, and not just because of his offense.

As can be seen, Aldama’s awareness of how to use his length and athleticism on both ends of the court is continuing to improve. As a result, he could provide good defensive value in short sports off the bench.

As for LaRavia and Roddy, both showed good defensive playmaking potential in college. Their combined impact through steals and blocks was pretty rare among college players last season. Both combo forwards are loosely similar to Anderson in that neither is elite athletically. However, they also both show good instincts and intelligence along with giving consistent effort. While it would be unfair to expect either to make the impact Melton or Anderson did right out of the gate, LaRavia and Roddy should be able to settle into their roles within the Grizzlies’ defensive concepts fairly quickly.

Memphis’s bench has been one of the best in the league in Taylor Jenkins’s three years as head coach. A big reason for that is the defensive playmaking and versatility the Grizzlies’ reserves offered when on the court. Both of these traits of the Grizzlies’ roster have been big sources of success over the past few years. As a result, if one of the Grizzlies young frontcourt options shows success in these areas early in the season, it could lead to consistent rotation minutes.

Consistency with Corner Threes

Overall, three-point shooting certainly remains a work in progress for the Grizzlies’ roster. This becomes even more valid without Melton and Jackson Jr., who were second and third on the team in three pointers made last season. While Anderson took a step back last year from three compared to his production during the 2020-2021 season, he and Melton produced the two best 3P% on corner threes among the six Grizzlies who attempted the most corner threes last season.

While production through corner threes may not seem that critical, it could be a logical way for the Grizzlies to achieve more consistency from beyond the arc. Many playoff teams from last year were among the best corner three shooting teams in the league. With the Grizzlies ability to produce in the paint and move the basketball, corner three attempts could be frequently available for good looks at the basket.

As a result, showing the ability to consistently hit catch and shoot corner threes could be a deciding factor in determining which members of the Memphis roster will get rotation minutes. Jenkins loves putting one of his frontcourt players in the corner as a shooting option in the flow of the offense. This is where the Grizzlies young front court options could shine.

Last season, Tillman took a significant step back in his overall ability to shoot threes, regressing from nearly 34% on 55 attempts his rookie year to just over 20% on 49 attempts last season. However, he has shot nearly 35% on corner threes so far in his career, and again, has shown the ability to hit them in big moments. Even though it may only be once or twice a game, Jenkins has built confidence in Tillman to take good looks if they are there. If Tillman can covert these looks early in the season, it will be another source of support for him to remain in the rotation.

Like the Grizzlies as a whole, Aldama’s shooting success is a work in progress. However, he was 4-12 on corner three’s last year. Yes, that sample size is not something to much value on; however, Aldama’s willingness to take open shots as he got more minutes last year and during Summer League action is something to work with. Furthermore, Aldama has shown he can add offensive value in the paint and off the dribble at his size. If he can show improvement with his shot, the depth in his offensive game could lead to consistent minutes.

As for LaRavia and Roddy, this is one of the aspects of the Grizzlies offense approach in which they hoping for immediate contributions from their rookies. The Memphis’ first-round picks combined to go 74-178 last year from beyond the arc last year in college, and were especially productive in catch in shoot opportunities. Like Ziaire Williams last year, LaRavia showcases a shooting form that could easily find success in the NBA. The key for him is gaining the confidence to let it fly when it makes sense. Roddy’s overall offensive game is highly intriguing, both from the mid-range and as an open-court finisher. Like Aldama, if Roddy can hit shots consistently, his offensive potential could prove valuable off the bench.

During the past two drafts, the Grizzlies have made it clear they wanted to create frontcourt depth that could feature good shot selection, versatility, and value on both ends of the court. The opportunity for this depth to showcase these traits will be immediately available once the 2022-2023 season starts. As a result, if multiple options among Tillman, Aldama, Laravia, and Roddy can succeed early on, especially through shooting an defense, they could fill needed minutes for the Grizzlies off the bench.

And while no one should expect any of the frontcourt options to replace the production Melton, Anderson, or Jackson Jr. provided, it also should not surprise anyone if one or more of these young Grizzlies thrives as many other Memphis players have in recent years.

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