Grizzlies

5 Grizz Takes after 5 Games

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Five games. Two hundred and forty minutes.

This is how much game time the Grizzlies have under their belts in the 2020-2021 NBA season. In this short amount of time, we witnessed the power of Ja Morant all while being reminded of his mortality. Several Grizzlies are outperforming their pre-season expectations, while another has fallen off a cliff with his efficiency. Though the season is far from over, it is never to early to share our thoughts. With this in mind, here are our five takes after five games.

1. The Grizzlies are going to lose a lot without Ja Morant

Any team that loses their leading scorer and distributor for any length of time should expect to see some extended struggles. This is especially true for Memphis, who does not have the offensive firepower like some of the other teams in the league. Morant going down with an ankle injury in the third game of the season was devastating for the Grizzlies and their fans. While the official injury report released by the team estimated Morant will be out 3-5 weeks, you can expect them to take increased caution and to hold him out for several weeks past that window.

At the time of his injury, Morant was boasting a bizarre 37.2% usage rate while averaging 27.3 points and 6.3 assists per game. These per-game averages take into account that he only played 13 minutes in the game in which he was injured.

So much of the Grizzlies’ offense is predicated on Morant’s ability to slither into the paint and find his expecting teammates who are awaiting a kick-out pass. In the small sample size this season, he has also been phenomenal at creating his own shot and finding the bottom of the bucket himself. The biggest example of this is his 44-point explosion in the season opener against San Antonio.

Tyus Jones is a very serviceable backup point guard who will fill in for Morant admirably. We should be clear, however, that there is no replacing Ja and the production that he brings to this Grizzlies team. Without him on the court, Memphis will experience some severe growing pains and should be prepared to lose a lot of games.

2. Brandon Clarke needs to un-fix his shot

Last season, Grizzlies forward Brandon Clarke showed incredible shooting efficiency – 64.2% eFG% – in his rookie season. I’m not sure who told him that he needed to work on his shot and form, but I really don’t appreciate them sharing that advice.

In 2019-20, Clarke’s shooting splits were 61/35/75. So far this season, he is only putting up splits of 44/20/43 while seeing his minutes increase from 22 to 26 per game. Through the first five games of the season, he is only shooting 28% on jump shots compared to 45% last season. If you take a gander at the video below, you will see how his mechanics have varied from season-to-season dating back to his college years.

With the recent injury to Grayson Allen, Taylor Jenkins bumped Clarke into the starting lineup against Charlotte on Friday. If this is the game plan going forward, Clarke will be able to play more alongside Tyus, who was also added to the starting lineup. Hopefully the chemistry that these two possess from last season will translate to some open shots for Clarke. If he can see a few of these go down, then maybe it will allow him to get back into the groove that he was in last year during his rookie campaign.

3. Kyle Anderson is fun

I want to formally apologize because I have been a ringleader over the past year or so of the get-rid-of-Kyle club. I guess the guy’s shoulder is actually feeling better this time. He has gone from a putrid three-point shooter in Memphis, to a league-average shooter from deep on substantial volume.

If there is one player on this Grizzlies roster who has stepped up in the absence of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant, it’s Anderson.

While he doesn’t lead the Grizzlies in many statistical categories, Anderson is in the top three on the team in points, assists, rebounds, field goal and free throws attempts per game.

He has played nearly every position on the floor in the short season, and has found a way to impact the game at each spot. His diagonal saunters across the lane that frequently end in reverse layups are now commonplace for Grizzlies fans to witness, yet these moves still confound defenders. The usage rate of the former UCLA point guard has skyrocketed from his career range in the realm of 13-15%, to 22%.

Anderson has already set career game highs in points and rebounds in this infant season. He’s taking over twice the amount of shot attempts per game this season compared to last season.

In every way, shape and form, Anderson has been the Grizzlies’ MVP this season. To be fair, this probably isn’t a great thing for a team with playoff aspirations, but it is encouraging that he has stepped up in the absence of Ja and is doing his best to hold this young group together.

4. It’s time to let the fire rise

After seeing Desmond Bane log 117 minutes, I am even more excited about his future as a Grizzly than I was after he was drafted by Memphis.

There is a strong contingent of Grizzlies Twitter that is frustrated that Bane is coming off the bench still, despite the productive minutes he has provided this injury-riddled team. Seeing as we are only five games into his career, it’s perfectly fine to have him come off the bench – as long as he is consistently logging strong minutes. Currently, he is averaging 23.4 minutes per game, but expect that number to continue to rise based on the roster situation. In the last two games, Desmond played 31 and 28 minutes respectively, which – if that were to become the new norm – would easily put him in the top five of minutes played on the team.

Bane is 6th on the Grizzlies in total field-goal attempts, but third in three-point attempts, of which he has hit the second most on the team at a blazing clip of 45.8%. So far in his young career, he has been the sniper from distance that Draft Twitter promised. Bane’s premier even puts him in the hunt for an obscure NBA record.

Bane is doing everything that he has been asked to do and more so far. Personally, I am fine with Clarke getting a starter spot over Bane for now, because the Grizzlies need to see what Brandon’s true potential is. Discovering Clarke’s ceiling is crucial because it has significant long-term ramifications for the franchise. Bane will have his chance to be slotted into the starting lineup soon and that will be a joyous day for many Grizzlies fans.

5. We are not at a point where we can judge Dillon yet – and we may not get there

Dillon Brooks draws the ire of so many Grizzlies fans. It seems like he is the subject of a debate almost nightly. He is the hottest and coldest of the Grizzlies and has been since he was drafted several years ago.

No matter where you stand on your opinion of Dillon, certainly you can admit that there are some things he does very well, and some things he does not. This was going to be the season where we could all observe Brooks and see if he would be able to settle into a more consistent role as the tertiary play-maker and decrease his shot load in a trade-off for more consistency. With Morant out, that plan has been thrown out the window.

Brooks is leading the Grizzlies in field goal attempts at 18.2 per game, which is five whole shots more than Kyle Anderson and nearly eight shots more than Jonas Valanciunas. Fortunately, he is shooting decent from three at 35% on a team high 7.4 attempts. However, the trend of his subpar scoring inside the arc remains, as evidenced by his 46% shooting from two.

I hate to encourage bad habits, but can you blame him for continuing to take a high amount of shots? Think of the guys that are out for injuries. That doesn’t leave many guys left who have  a penchant to score. Sure, he could be more selective with his shots, but with guys like Jackson, Grayson Allen and Morant out, Brooks is still going to get his shots, and I don’t think right now it’s fair to judge him for that.

It’s also only fitting to point out how much improved Dillon’s distribution of the ball has been. Through five games, Brooks is averaging 3.2 assists. Even with an increased usage rate this season – I know, it seemed like it couldn’t get any higher – his assist percentage and usage-to-assist ratio have all increased. By no means is he the perfect offensive teammate, but he has taken a giant step in the right direction.

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About Zak White

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