The Memphis Grizzlies tied their franchise record win total last season thanks to Ja Morant’s superstardom, Desmond Bane’s leap, and Jaren Jackson Jr.’s defensive dominance. However, Memphis’s success would not have come without one of the best bench units in the NBA. One of the deepest teams in the league, the Grizzlies’ supporting cast was vital to Memphis’s run last year.
Last season, De’Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson were two of the Grizzlies’ most important bench players. Melton’s defensive energy and Anderson’s veteran presence helped the Grizz build leads with their stars on the sidelines.
Memphis averaged 9.8 steals per game last season, the most in the league. Melton led the Grizzlies in steals with 1.4 steals per game and Anderson was fourth, averaging 1.1 steals per game. The Grizzlies’ ability to create turnovers was why they were second in the NBA in transition offense. It is yet to be seen if Memphis can replace the contributions of Melton and Anderson, and after the Grizzlies sat out free agency, they will rely on their rookie class to step up.
Over the course of an 82-game season, players get injured, often missing long stretches of play. In order to compete in the stacked Western Conference, Memphis will need their bench to once again play at a high level. With a second unit full of talent, who are the Grizzlies’ most important bench players this season?
Honorable mention: Santi Aldama
After being drafted 30th overall in the 2021 draft, Santi Aldama spent much of last season on the sidelines. First, Aldama injured his calf and then he hurt his foot, and then he suffered a sore right knee. When he did play, however, Aldama showed flashes of the potential that mesmerized Memphis in the draft process. In his last three games, the Spaniard averaged 13.3 points in only 20.5 minutes per game. He shot consistently and averaged 6.7 rebounds in that span as well.
He still needs to work on his three-pointer but with JJJ out for a couple of months, Aldama will finally get some consistent playing time and he could earn himself a spot in the playoff rotation.
5. Jake LaRavia
Last season at Wake Forest: In 33 games (34.2 minutes per game) – 14.6 points on 55.9 FG% (38.4% from 3-point, 77.7% from the FT line), 6.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.7 steals
The Grizzlies did not trade up to draft Jake LaRavia 19th overall to not make him a featured part of the rotation. Last season, when Memphis traded up to draft Ziaire Williams, they made sure to get him involved early and often. Filling in the vacancy that Anderson left, LaRavia will play at the four as part of the second unit.
LaRavia was a good three-point shooter at Wake Forest and his high IQ and playmaking ability will make him a valuable part of the rotation. Memphis targets experienced college players that are ready to play at the professional level and LaRavia fits that bill. He played three seasons in college and will be 21 in November. With no Jackson to start the season and two valuable role players from last season gone, Memphis will need players ready to step up, and LaRavia can be that guy.
The Grizzlies have made it their mission to surround Morant with three-point shooters. LaRavia shot 38.4% from deep last year and he will have plenty of open looks with defenders focused on Bane, Morant, and Dillon Brooks. If LaRavia is able to get settled in early, he can be a valuable bench player for Memphis.
2022-2023 Projection: 7.6 points on 44.4 FG% (36.3 from 3-point, 76.0 from the FT line) 2.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.2 steals
4. David Roddy
Last season at Colorado State: In 31 games (32.9 minutes per game) – 19.2 points on 57.1 FG% (43.8% from 3-point, 69.1% from the FT line), 7.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.2 steals
LaRavia was not the only player Memphis traded up for in this year’s draft. The Grizzlies selected David Roddy with the 23rd overall pick. In order to get their guy, Memphis traded Melton, a valuable part of the Grizzlies’ recent success. To get rid of a key rotation player, Memphis’s front office has to be very high on the 21-year-old.
One of the most peculiar draft prospects of recent memory, Roddy has the build of a tight end with the agility of a running back. In basketball terms, he is a point forward. As the primary ball handler at Colorado State last year, Roddy was incredibly effective. He averaged nearly 20 points on only 12.5 shot attempts. Roddy’s three-point shooting jumped significantly from his sophomore season and he averaged three assists while reeling in 7.5 rebounds, despite only being 6’5”.
Like LaRavia, Roddy will try to fill in Anderson’s role. Also, like his fellow rookie, he brings college experience and three-point shooting to the Grizzlies. Adding another ball handler, like Roddy, to the second unit will relieve pressure from Tyus Jones and give Morant more opportunities to play off-ball when they share the court. If he is able to mimic his college efficiency, Roddy will be a fan favorite among the Grizzlies’ faithful.
2022-2023 Projection: 8.0 points on 47.5 FG% (39.6 from 3-point, 70.0% from the FT line), 4.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.0 steals
3. Brandon Clarke
Last season: In 64 games (19.5 minutes per game) – 10.4 points on 64.4 FG% (22.7% from 3-point, 65.4% from the FT line), 5.3 rebounds (2.1 offensive), 1.3 assists, 1.1 blocks
Without Brandon Clarke, the Grizzlies likely do not defeat the Minnesota Timberwolves and advance to the second round. Clarke’s energy and impact off the bench sparked multiple Memphis comebacks. Against Minnesota, Clarke averaged 16.5 points and nine rebounds. He recorded three double-doubles, including a 21-point, 15-rebound (nine offensive) performance in Memphis’s pivotal Game 5 comeback.
With Adams inserted back into the rotation against the Golden State Warriors, Clarke did not get as much playing time, but he was still effective. In the regular season, he averaged only 20 minutes per game but he made his impact felt every night. Clarke was drafted only 19 picks after Morant in 2019, and the two have had incredible chemistry since. They run electric pick-and-rolls, often ending in fierce jams. After a sophomore slump in 2020, Clarke was back to himself last season.
With Jackson out to start the year, Clarke is the most sensible pick to replace him in the starting lineup. However, in the playoffs, the Grizzlies showed hesitancy to promote BC. This is understandable as his spark off the bench has been crucial to many Grizzlies wins but Clarke remains the most qualified substitute for JJJ. A frontcourt duo of Steven Adams and Clarke would dominate the boards but could struggle to stretch the floor. No matter how the starting lineup shakes out, expect big things from Clarke this season as he enters restricted free agency in 2023.
2022-2023 Projection: 11.5 points on 62.2 FG% (29.4 from 3-point, 70.0 from the FT line), 6.4 rebounds (2.8 offensive), 1.5 assists, 1.4 blocks.
2. Ziaire Williams
Last season: In 62 games (21.7 minutes per game) – 8.1 points on 45.0 FG% (31.4% from 3-point, 78.2% from the FT line), 2.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists
After a rocky start to his career, Ziaire Williams proved himself to be a core player of Memphis’s future. Williams started the season averaging 4.7 points on 35.4/24.6 shooting splits but upon returning from a sprained ankle injury, the game slowed down for him and he settled in on defense.
Williams was in a unique spot for a lottery pick. Expectations around the league were low after a disappointing freshman year at Stanford. Top-10 picks are usually not drafted to teams that go on to finish with the league’s second-best record. Williams was considered such a raw prospect it was unclear how much playing time he would get, but after Brooks had hand surgery, it was trial by fire for Z.
Williams rose up to the challenge, averaging 15.4 points in his final five regular season games on 44.1% shooting and 37.5% from three. Rarely is a rookie asked to play significant minutes in the playoffs, never mind guard Klay Thompson or Stephen Curry. In the playoffs, Williams averaged 8.2 points in 22.5 minutes against the Warriors. Going into his sophomore season, Williams already has playoff reps against NBA champions.
Ziaire Williams on offseason plans, getting stronger, learning and working out with Desmond Bane and looking forward to NBA Summer League— Evan Barnes (@evan_b) May 15, 2022
“Everyone’s gonna see me now but the next time on the court, it’ll be wow okay he was serious. He really put the work in” pic.twitter.com/3937LfsP3e
If Grizzlies fans are expecting Williams to take a second-year leap like Bane’s, they are setting themselves up for disappointment. Bane leveled up in a way that very few players have in their second season and while Williams will likely improve this year, it is also possible he could have a sophomore slump as many players do. Williams is a unique talent with incredible athleticism. He has been in the gym all summer and showed flashes of growth in Summer League. Ziaire has the potential to be the final piece for a Grizzlies championship, so do not expect him to be on the bench for much longer.
2022-2023 Projection: 14.2 points on 45.5 FG% (34.4% from 3-point, 79.55 from the FT line), 2.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.0 steals
1. Tyus Jones
Last season: In 73 games (21.2 minutes per game) – 8.7 points on 45.1 FG% (39.0% from 3-point, 81.8% from the FT line), 2.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 0.9 steals
After signing a 2-year, $29.0 million contract this offseason, Jones is back as the leader of Memphis’s bench unit. Jones’s stat line does not represent his importance to the Grizzlies. While he is the best backup point guard in the NBA, Jones also started 23 games last season in Ja Morant’s absence. As a starter last year Jones averaged 12.7 points on 45 FG% (39.6% from 3-point), 6.6 assists, and only one turnover.
In 2019-2020, Jones set the league record for assist-to-turnover ratio. Last season, he eclipsed his own mark, recording a 7.04 assist-to-turnover ratio. Jones had a career year last year – he set new highs in field goals made (249) and three-pointers made (80).
Jones’s efficiency and consistency were critical in the postseason. In Game 6 against the Timberwolves, Stones hit the dagger three that sent his former team packing. After Morant went down in the Warriors series, Jones scored 19 and 21 points in back-to-back games. When asked to step up last season, Jones delivered. This season, expect much of the same.
Jones would be a surefire sixth man of the year candidate if not for the fact that he will likely start 15-20 games when Morant sits. His importance to the Grizzlies is immeasurable and resigning Jones was one of the most underrated moves of free agency.
2022-2023 Projection: 10.2 points on 46.1 FG% (39.6% from 3-point, 84.0% from the FT line), 1.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.0 steals
Even after a quiet offseason, Memphis remains one of the West’s top contenders. Last year, this group took the league by storm surprising everyone, even some of the team’s biggest fans. The Grizzlies will face much higher expectations this season and if they are to meet them, they will need consistency from their bench.
Some of Memphis’s bench unit is returning but they will also rely on rookies to contribute early. For better or for worse, the Grizzlies sat out free agency because they believe in their homegrown guys. Memphis’s confidence will be tested early with rookies and sophomores seeing significant playing time. Zach Kleiman and the rest of the Grizzlies’ front office have given fans very little reason to doubt them so far but headed into this season, with expectations higher than ever, Memphis will need its bench to rise up to the challenge.