Two weeks ago, the Memphis Grizzlies were celebrating the returns of Mike Conley and Tony Allen. At the time, head coach Dave Joerger mentioned that he wanted to get his rotation down to 8-9 players. This did not seem like a necessity given the Grizzlies’ rash of injuries this season, and the likelihood they would want to get rest for banged-up and aging players whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Nonetheless, Joerger wanted a shorter rotation, and he has one — it just changes from week to week.
At first, it was Jon Leuer who was the odd man out. He did not register one second of action in the first six games after the All-Star break. Leuer saw his first action against the Brooklyn Nets last Wednesday because Zach Randolph got sick and someone needed to backup Ed Davis at the power forward spot.
At the time, Davis was only playing 5.5 minutes per game in four out of the six games since the All-Star break, so it wasn’t as if Joerger was set on playing Davis a ton of minutes. In the game against Brooklyn, Davis played 13 minutes of uninspired basketball, while Leuer registered 26 minutes and scored 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
Since the Brooklyn game, Davis has gone back to registering DNPs, and Leuer has joined the rotation as Memphis’ backup power forward. This was a move that has been in the works ever since Marc Gasol came back from his knee injury. The Grizzlies had been playing Davis less and less, while giving backup center Kosta Koufos more and more minutes on the court, even pairing him with Gasol for significant minutes each night.
Davis has proven that if he is not getting more than 15 minutes per night, he is better off night playing at all.
Leuer was also not playing was because Joerger was giving James Johnson minutes at the power forward spot, allowing Memphis to play small ball. Now that Leuer has proven his worth — 16.6 MPH, 12 PPG, 3.3 RPG, and 13-of-21 shooting over the last three games — the Grizzlies realize he needs to be in the rotation, but it has meant less minutes for Johnson.
Not having minutes for Johnson is a big issue. I understand that Leuer gives the Grizzlies a good 3-point threat and is someone who can stretch the floor, but Johnson is a maniac, and I mean that in the best way possible. He wreaks havoc on the defensive end, he drives relentlessly to the basket and is good for at least one highlight-reel putback dunk per game. Johnson brings energy and gets the team hyped up when they are in a lull.
Granted, Johnson can also be turnover-prone and fouls too often, but he brings more to the table than he takes away, and that is why he should still be playing.
Courtney Lee, Tayshaun Prince, Conley, Randolph and Gasol are all starters, and Nick Calathes is the only backup point guard option. Allen, Koufos and Mike Miller are all going to get 12-25 minutes per game, so playing Leuer and Johnson gives the Grizzlies an 11-man rotation. The only way to play both Leuer and Johnson more minutes is to shorten the minutes of other players.
Prince’s minutes have dipped to 19 per game over the last three games, which is down from his season average of 26.1. I am assuming Miller will be the next to see his minutes reduced; he just doesn’t have the athleticism to hang on the defensive end against the elite of the Western Conference.
It’s kind of funny to say that the Grizzlies front office did too good of a job acquiring talent, but that is the case. There are too many players that deserve minutes, and not enough minutes to go around. Barring an injury, they will be able to match up against any opponent for the remainder of the season.
The only question is who will be ready to step up? It doesn’t look like Joerger is going to settle on a permanent bench rotation, so guys like Leuer and Johnson have to be ready to produce in limited minutes, or risk being buried on the bench with Davis.