Hint: play the starters as much as you can + a wrinkle.
In the first two games of the series, the Grizzlies’ starting lineup of Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Jonas Valanciunas has held their own against the top-seeded Jazz. Mainly due to the injury recovery timeline of Jackson, this lineup logged only 104 possessions together during the regular season per Cleaning the Glass. During this time, they were +19.3 points per 100 possessions, putting that lineup in the 88th percentile of regular season groupings across the league.
The other four starters sans Jaren played 821 minutes together this season and had a net rating of +8.4. This group was Taylor Jenkins’ most used 4-man combination for the year, so clearly they have developed significant chemistry and achieved a certain level of success together.
In the first two games of the Utah series, aforementioned 5-man lineup starting has logged 66 possessions together per pbpstats and has a +4.5 net rating if you extrapolate out to 100 possessions. Not quite the same dominance that they experienced during their short regular season stint, but still a positive.
Seeing as how the Jazz are statistically the best team in the league, this decrease in dominance makes sense.
Even though Jaren played 11 regular season games before the playoffs, he has continued to struggle shooting the basketball and also been a weak link on the defensive end as well. The quickness that Utah whips the ball around to the open shooter is a thing of beauty and is reminiscent of Gregg Popovich squads of the past. Jackson is just not quite in game shape yet and with the wing-heavy Jazz, he is a step behind in challenging shots. Also, in the possessions when he has had to play center vs Rudy Gobert, it’s pretty much been game over before the entry pass is even received.
In a series where the Grizzlies are a severe underdog, it’s still a positive that your starters are putting in solid minutes and competing against the top seed in the West.
On an even brighter note, Taylor Jenkins does have a lineup option that is very enticing and has produced at spectacular levels in a decent amount of time together.
The second most used 5-man lineup during the regular season consisted of Morant, Brooks, Desmond Bane, Anderson, and Valanciunas. This squad logged 469 possessions together and netted a +10.6 net rating, right on the fringe of being in the top quarter of the league. This group shot a middling eFG% of only 57.1%, but held their opponents to a 53% eFG%. This group excelled by rebounding the ball well and limiting second chance opportunities for opponents – in other words, they did the little things right. This unit flows nicely defensively and forces other teams to take mid-range jumpers and denies frequent opportunities at the rim with their quality defensive effort.
Through two games, when Bane has taken Jaren’s spot and played alongside Morant, Brooks, Anderson, and JV, Memphis has a net rating of +101.2 per 100 possessions in their 11 minutes together. Yes, that number is insane and I would expect CTJ to go to that well a little more as this series develops. Bane has hit a trio of threes in only four attempts in the series, sniping at a crazy 75% level. In his 42 playoff minutes, he has been the most efficient Grizzly by far. You would hope to see Morant exploit Desmond’s hot shooting by finding the former Horned Frog once the Jazz collapse on Ja’s drives. That is, unless he is able to get to the rim at will like he has been so far. I’m assuming the Jazz will game plan and force some other Grizzlies to beat them, but I would love the opportunity for Bane to be that guy.
A lot has to happen for Memphis to continue to be competitive in this series, but they have proven their moxie over the past few weeks and are hanging with some of the toughest competition in the league. Another thing to keep an eye on is Donovan Mitchell. How much of a game-changer will his return continue to be. Obviously, he was electric in his return on Wednesday night. Can Dillon the Villain slow down the explosive Jazz guard? We shall see.
- Ten of Utah’s 19 made three pointers in Game 2 were catch-and-shoot threes that were either uncontested, or the defender had to travel a significant distance to closeout – essentially making it an open shot.
- Jackson is shooting poorly from the field, but is getting to the line. During the regular season he drew fouls on 13% of his shots, but during the playoffs (including play-in) is drawing fouls at a 30% rate on his shots.
- Ja Morant is awesome, in case you didn’t know.
- The Grizzlies have made 7 and 8 three pointers respectively through two games. In the regular season, they hit 8 or few threes only 15 times. Memphis has attempted only 20 and 23 threes in these games. During the regular season, they attempted 23 or fewer threes only ten times.