Betting on How The Grizzlies Will Consolidate Their Bench


With three weeks left to go in the NBA regular season, Memphis is peering into the face of uncertainty.

For the first time in the #GrxNxtGen era, they will be down key pieces entering the playoffs. It makes betting on how the Grizzlies will consolidate their bench more challenging than the past.

It helps that Ja Morant returned to action March 22th against the Rockets. This was after serving an eight-game suspension without pay for conduct detrimental to the league.

It’s a step in the right direction for the young superstar.

This Ja Morant Memphis Grizzlies Bighead Bobblehead is coming out of hibernation and on the prowl for buckets. Get yours before they’re gone today.

There’s still two key pieces of the rotation they will be without.

The Grizzlies will also be missing Steven Adams for the foreseeable future, as he awaits reevaluation for his knee.

Again, let’s say this stem-cell treatment works exactly as planned, ideally ala Kobe Bryant circa 2013. So let’s go ahead and pencil Steve-O in too.

Despite optimism surrounding Morant and Adams, the Brandon Clarke loss is another story. The surgery on his injured Achilles was a success, but this still means a recovery time between six-to-twelve months.

He will decidedly not be present on the court as the Grizzlies’ gun for the title. At least not this year.

Did I mention the 391 playoff minutes logged between Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton yet? No? Well, those will have to filled too.

Memphis is running out of time to reconcile their reserves. Waiting to fully integrate them until the playoffs are knocking will doom this team’s title hopes.

Let’s look towards the best possible options as the Grizzlies consolidate their bench.

Reshuffling the Deck

Last year, Memphis’ bench unit was ranked sixth in the entire league. They’ve spent this season, however, plummeting to eighteenth.

That’s a mighty big swing of the pendulum wouldn’t you say? Let’s break down this steep decline…

Memphis had 12 years’ worth of experience they needed to replace with the loss of Anderson/Melton in FA. Harder than it looks, right? The team’s answer for replacing this lost production?

A conglomerate of rookies, a trade target, and some player ‘projects’. Seven in total with a combined seven years experience between them.

That’s one way to do it.

Look, I get trusting internal development, but this level of hubris is astounding. Not every player develops into Desmond Bane after year one.

On the contrary, most players take significantly longer to develop into quality NBA players. Case in point: Slo-Mo and Melt.

Did it work?

…Kind of sort of?

Per Cleaning the Glass, Memphis is the only team with two lineups ranked in the top 15 in point differential.  Notice the three reserves present.

Players are clearly staying ahead of their developmental track— exactly what we’ve come to expect from this organization.

Does this give these players a fair shake though? I’m personally of the mindset that if a player is focusing on their development, they shouldn’t also have to focus on expectations.

Try explaining year two of the Ziaire Williams experience. His development has stalled because of expectations following last season.

Regardless, the Grizzlies still have the talent rostered to field a cohesive bench mob.

If past postseason rotations can indicate, Coach Jenkins will most likely use a 10-man rotation in the playoffs. That’s seven players vying for five spots in the rotation.

What can we realistically expect as the Grizzlies consolidate their bench?

The ‘Shoo-Ins’

These three players are all but guaranteed to be a part of Memphis’ playoff rotation.

Tyus is about as sure of a thing as you could have in a reserve. Considered to be one of the best — if not the best — backups in the league, Jones has been a steadying presence steering the bench all season.

He, along with Aldama, have been the two most consistent bench performers (minus Clarke) throughout the season. Tyus has proven that he’s capable of producing in the post-season as well.

In 21.8 minutes/game during last year’s playoffs, he averaged 9.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.2 steals on 39.4/40.0/93.3 shooting splits.

It’s worth noting that Jones is currently posting a career high in points/game. At this rate, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see his role increase even further.

Ditto Santi Aldama, who is posting career highs in everything.

His development has been one of the highlights of the Grizzlies’ season. The Spaniard has doubled his minutes/game to 22 on this season while posting 9.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists per contest.

Look at the 6.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists over 18.4 minutes per game Slo-Mo accounted for last post-season. Pretty easy to imagine Santi sliding into this spot— he’s been doing it all season.

Now, replacing what Clarke brings to the table is more challenging. In last year’s playoffs, he was averaging 12.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.0 assists in 24.7 minutes/game.

Lucky for Memphis, they’ve got a proven commodity in Tillman.

When he plays more than 20 minutes this season, X averages 9.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists a game. That’s just a tick off of BC’s season averages.

Tillman Maximizing His Time With Memphis

All three should be locks as the Grizzlies consolidate their bench.

The ‘Safe Bet’

It took two years and three days, but Memphis finally did it— they made a trade. Maybe not the ‘all-in’ move fans were clamoring for, but trading for Luke Kennard unquestionably makes the Grizzlies better.

Don’t believe me? Well…

Imagine you are Zach Kleiman. It’s the end of last season, you’ve just lost in the second round of the playoffs. You decide to let the aforementioned Slo Mo and Melt walk, meaning you lose your primary backup minutes at the two and the three.

There are still days where the loss of Melt particularly stings.

After the starters, he was Memphis’ sixth-leading contributor during the regular season.

Now, ‘Mr. Do Something’ was now doing his thing elsewhere. Kleiman decides next that searching internally for the heir to the backup two spot is the best course of action.

Bless him.

All due respect to both players, but a 21-year-old in his sophomore season and a converted two-way guy are not the same thing as a quality sixth or seventh man in a rotation come playoffs.

With the acquisition of Kennard, the Grizzlies instantly have more rotational flexibility and better shooting.

He continues leading the league in 3PT%, which immediately has impacted this roster for the better. In just 14 games with Memphis, he already boasts the highest 3PT% and FT% on the roster.

Kennard’s also averaging the eighth-highest minutes/game (74% logged at the two) on the roster since the trade. An trend that ideally continues.

The goal is replacing Melton’s career 5.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 16.9 minutes/game in the playoffs correct? Well, when Kennard’s playoff minutes increased, he was averaging 15.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game.

Expect any increased minutes — and his roster spot — to solidify by the playoffs.

The ‘Wild Card’

David Roddy permanently bullying his way into the playoff rotation was not on my Grizzlies’ bingo card. The NBA is a strange place my friends.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Roddy was appearing in every game prior to the Christmas Day game against the Warriors. Despite this, the rook saw his playing time get more sporadic after the holiday.

As guys return from injury, they would have to be acclimated back to the flow of the game. It makes sense that a rookie would potentially disappear from the rotation.

Coach has still found him minutes in all but 11 games since, though. This accounts for four G League reassignments squeezed in before the league’s break as well.

Roddy went off for 20.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists in 33.0 minutes/game while shooting the ball at 36.7% rate from deep in these appearances. This is to be expected— good players ball in the G League.

Unexpected, though, was the way his effectiveness skyrocketed upon his return to the roster.

Since the All-Star break, Roddy’s FG% and 3PT% has jumped from 41.9-50.7% and 29.3-35.9%, respectively. He’s averaging more than a point in roughly four fewer minutes of action per game too.

That’s what we call effectiveness.

It’s something Memphis utilizes regardless of what position he’s logging minutes at (68% of his minutes have been at SF).

This versatility has led to an increased workload at times. Proving actually better with more minutes, he’s averaging 10 PTS, 3.2 REB, and 1 AST when he plays more than 22 minutes/game.

If his 43 points on 75% FG/58% 3PT shooting in the two recent Dallas games is any indication, Roddy may continue crashing the party.

Three weeks to claim this final spot in the playoff rotation? Smart money says yes.

The ‘Long Shots’

Look, when you’re debating about who to consider for the 10th spot in your rotation, it’s a good problem to have. It’s an honest testament to the Grizzlies’ depth.

But you can’t play all 15 guys in the playoffs.

I mean… I guess you could but I wouldn’t.

You have to narrow down your options, and that involves tough conversations. These decisions aren’t ultimately a condemnation of the player themselves; you just have to have your best guys on the court.

Especially if your goal is to win a title.

I love John Konchar. Love his story. I love how efficient he’s proven to be when he plays. He’s basically the poster boy for what a serviceable NBA reserve should look like.

He’s capable of not just starting in a pinch, but also producing in these moments. His durability never comes in to question (inactive in just 14 games since his rookie year) and his contract is excellent.

But this will not matter in the playoffs— Jitty is a non-factor there. There’s no nice way to put it, Memphis has better players than Konchar.

Want to win in the postseason? Play your best guys.

The Ziaire Williams situation is a bit different.

Last season, he was a top-seven rotation guy for Memphis in the regular season, which resulted in moderate playoff success. Thus, the wait for the ‘second-year leap’ began.

Unfortunately we’re still waiting.

Z’s made 36 appearances so far this season, with injuries stalling most his development. Setbacks are commonplace in the league.

He’s only 21. There’s still plenty of time to develop, but maybe the playoff aren’t the place to do so?

As the Grizzlies consolidate their bench, plan on Jitty and Z being the odd men out of their playoff rotation.

Avoiding a Bad Beat

  • Projected Playoff Starters: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
  • Projected Playoff Reserves (nine-man rotation): Tyus Jones, Santi Aldama, Xavier Tillman, Luke Kennard
  • Projected 10th man (if needed): David Roddy

The end of the season is right around the corner. It’s time for the Grizzlies to buckle down and figure this bench thing out.

This roster has more than enough talent— there’s no reason for their second unit not to be money in the playoffs.

If they can figure out this right combination of reserves, there’s a chance opposing team’s will have zero answer for what Memphis brings to the table.

It’s not just the starters who deliver a championship. A team’s reserves matters.

The sixth-through-10th roster spots will prove equally as important to a cohesive title plan as the team’s five starters.

The odds the Grizzlies consolidate their bench correctly?

…Ask me again in three weeks.

*Only players on the roster averaging at least 14 minutes/game were considered for this piece. #FreeJunior

About Luke Hatmaker

Luke is based out of Nashville, TN where he lives with his cat, Dr. Alan Grant. In addition to contributing to Grizz Lead, he is one of the hosts of the No Bluffin' Podcast for the Grizz 901 Podcast Network and is also a cast member the RPG Radio Show Podcast.

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