Jury Finds Jenkins Wronged by Select Grizz Fans


Hubie Brown. Lionel Hollins. Dave Joerger.

Despite only making the move to Memphis in 2001, the Grizzlies have still managed to have their share of elite coaches. The latest name on the docket? Taylor Vetter Jenkins.

Now, there are those among the Grizzlies’ faithful who would have him stand trial rather than place him in this esteemed company.

Of late, it seems more common to nitpick Coach Jenkins — for forcing certain rotations, not exploiting mismatches in game, and failing to administer a cohesive offensive game plan — than praise him for his work in this team’s rebuild.

He’s a big reason they remain ahead of schedule, even with the Grizzlies’ championship odds at ninth best in the league right now (make your bets now). If a head coach is never able to get a roster to buy in, you can certainly count on drowning in this league.

With a title now not just within reach but considered the next step for this organization, fans of Memphis have started to question their head coach.

“Does Taylor Jenkins’ have the ability to elevate this team to the championship level?”

Are these types of questions warranted? They certainly must be asked— feedback is an imperative part of growth. Suggesting Jenkins isn’t the man for the job, however, is incredibly shortsighted.

After examining the almost-four-seasons worth of evidence we have of TJ as a head coach, his worth is unmistakable.

Jenkins belongs in the “best coaches in franchise history” conversation. There’s a chance he ends up being the head coach that brings that elusive first title to Memphis.

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Presentation of Evidence, 2019-present

Announced as the 11th head coach of the Grizzlies on June 11th, 2019, Jenkins already boasts the second-highest winning percentage in franchise history, behind only Joerger.

Of the aforementioned coaches, Jenkins is the only one whose win totals have increased with each subsequent season. Additionally, he’s only posted one sub-500 winning record during his tenure on Beale Street— his first season as head coach.

Each of Taylor’s seasons in Memphis has resulted in development internally as well as quantifiable improvement across the league standings. His entire tenure as head coach has basically turned into net positives for this franchise with each passing season.

Today, we intend to present each of Coach Jenkins’ individual seasons as evidence supporting his continued employment in Memphis. Not only does TJ possess the ability to get this team to a championship— I dare you to find a better suited candidate for the gig.

Once finished, any calls for his job will ring hollow, as his track record will undoubtedly speak for itself.

Exhibit A, Season 1, 2019-2020

The situation Jenkins was stepping into could’ve been much worse. In fact, he greatly benefited from a roster that wasn’t completely devoid of talent, thanks to Zach Kleiman.

It would be the start of the abysmal 2017 season when Kleiman would be named Grizzlies’ Senior Director of Basketball Operations. Over the next two seasons, he would begin laying the foundation for his new head coach.

Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Tyus Jones, Brandon Clarke and John Konchar would all be on this team.

Additionally, players like Jonas Valanciunas, De’Anthony Melton, Kyle Anderson and Grayson Allen — all integral to Memphis’ rebuild — were also on the roster. Not a bad team foundation, right?

This team would greatly improve offensively this season. The Grizzlies jumped from 27th in offensive efficiency to 20th under Jenkins’ first season. He stressed a more up-tempo offense, and the team responded.

The year before Jenkins took the job, Memphis was 26th in the league in two pointers made and 27th in three pointers. After his first season concluded, they were ranked second and 25th, respectively.

That type of leap is proof of a team buying in to a coach’s philosophy, and was enough to power the Grizzlies into the inaugural NBA Play-In Tournament.

Although they would ultimately lose to Portland, the loss was imperative to the team and Coach Jenkins’ development.

Exhibit B, Season 2, 2020-2021

As Coach Jenkins entered his second year at the helm in Memphis, he was returning to essentially the same team.

There were couple new pieces. Memphis had just drafted Desmond Bane with the 30th pick and this would be the first (and only) year of the Justise Winslow experiment.

As he continued developing a steady presence on offense, TJ would begin solidifying this team’s defensive identity.

During his second season, Jenkins took this team up the ranks of each of the defensive four factors save one (opponent effective field-goal percentage).

The Grizzlies opponent-turnover percentage would increase from 16th in the league to seventh, their defensive-rebound percentage from 13th to 10th, and their opponent-free-throws-per-field attempt from 23rd to 17th.

Not to mention they jumped from 12th to first in steals for his sophomore coaching season.

This jump in defense paired with their gradual offensive climb was enough to propel the Grizzlies back into the play-in tournament where it would require two wins for them to reach the postseason proper.

Memphis answered the call as TJ coached them to back-to-back victories against the Spurs and Warriors, the latter of which would ignite the fire of what is quickly becoming one of the NBA’s best rivalries.

The Grizzlies would go on to lose their first playoff series against the Utah Jazz in five games. Regardless, this would be the team’s first playoff appearance since the 16/17 season.

The importance of this playoff appearance to this young roster cannot be overstated. They had tasted the postseason for the first time, something Coach Jenkins used as primary motivation entering his third season in Memphis.

Exhibit C, Season 3, 2021-2022

Now we get to the strongest argument in favor of TJ as the coach for the Grizzlies: the 21/22 season.

For the first time under Jenkins’ tenure, the Grizzlies finished the season with a top-ten offensive and defensive rating.

It would actually be the first time since the franchise made the move to Memphis that they would rank top ten in the league in both offense and defense.

Let me say that again: the Memphis Grizzlies had NEVER boasted a top-ten offensive and defensive unit in a single season before Coach Jenkins.

Would Morant’s arrival as a genuine superstar in this league be a contributing factor to this? Absolutely.

Bane’s second-year leap as well as Trip’s continued growth would both also figure into the Grizzlies’ success. A team doesn’t reach these heights solely on the back’s of their players, though.

At the end of his third season coaching this team, he had them ranked first in the league in the following categories: field-goal attempts, two-point field-goal attempts, offensive rebounds, total rebounds, steals and blocks. They also ranked second in the league in field goals made, two-point field goals made and points scored while finishing in the top ten in free-throw attempts (7th), defensive rebounds (8th) and assists (6th).

These jumps cannot be attributed to simply player performance. Consider this: the Grizzlies went 20-5 without their superstar this season.

The leaps this team made during Jenkins’ third season was enough for him to finish second in the voting for Coach of the Year.

Despite being booted from the post season by the eventual champs, Memphis’ confidence, in addition to TJ’s, would not be shaken.

Would this new confidence translate to on-court production? Well, that’s a different story.

Exhibit D, Season 4, 2022-2023

And so, we find ourselves presently amidst the fourth year of Jenkins’ regime.

Quick recap… In each of his first three seasons coaching the Grizzlies, the roster saw increased production and better results. Memphis was competing in the postseason each the last three years under TJ.

Oh, and he coached them into the top ten, league wide in offensive and defensive rating. Since the franchise moved to Memphis, no coach had accomplished this. Ever.

It’s what makes the beating he takes among fans so hard to stomach. Besides, calling for Jenkins’ job is a completely illogical way to express discontent with this team.

Consider some things…

Every Grizzlies’ starter has missed at least five games due to injury, and three have missed at least fifteen. Additionally, there were 44.2 minutes in their rotation that would need replacing after losing Kyle Anderson & De’Anthony Melton.

Memphis clearly would have different obstacles this season. With this newfound parity in the West? Any regression would honestly not come as a surprise.

Instead, Jenkins has them on track to maintain a hold on the West’s No. 2 seed for a second-straight year.

He has Memphis on pace to out-produce last year’s squad while playing a tougher schedule (28th ranked SOS last year, 14th this year). The Grizzlies are currently on track to finish with a higher defensive rating compared to last season as well.

Now, I will freely admit Memphis’ offense has dropped off significantly. Luke Kennard helps, but after a middling first half of the season, matching last season’s mark will be tough.

You can get mad at Jenkins’ stubbornness with his rotations and in-game adjustments, that’s fine. But if you truly think jettisoning TJ suddenly makes Memphis better offensively?

There’s three seasons worth of evidence saying you’re wrong.

Closing Arguments

Ladies and gentleman of the jury— Taylor Jenkins has been wronged.

Despite having three widely successful seasons under his belt, fans seemed eager to blame him for any setback. Can’t explain a loss? Easy to blame Coach Jenkins. Can’t explain a win? Easy to ignore him for that too.

Understandably, the NBA is a ‘what have you done for me lately’ league. For better or worse based on the three-season sample size we have, the Memphis standard has become a sustained level of excellence.

Being on the verge of championship has this fanbase salivating.

If you remove emotion from the equation? Calls for his job at the first sign of the Grizzlies plateauing become downright asinine.

Plus, if not Jenkins then who? Find another coach capable of drawing this level of potential from a roster in such a short amount of time. They don’t exist.

Taylor Jenkins is on the brink of delivering the city of Memphis its first title and quite frankly, the city has earned it.

As has Coach Jenkins.

The evidence is clear, and when the dust has settled? Well, TJ may not have to hear people talk about his job security for a long, long time.

The defense rests.

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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