Should Memphis Grizzlies go with Kyle Anderson or Desmond Bane as fifth starter?

Evan Barnes
Memphis Commercial Appeal
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The Memphis Grizzlies open preseason play Tuesday against the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks. Besides a healthy Jaren Jackson Jr., one thing to watch at FedEx Forum will be what lineup combinations coach Taylor Jenkins uses.

A few scenarios involve the starters. Point guard Ja Morant and forward Jaren Jackson Jr. will resume their starting roles. Dillon Brooks would also start, but he is out Tuesday due to thigh soreness. Steven Adams will likely start at center.

The intrigue comes with the fifth starter. Forward Kyle Anderson started a team-high 69 games, but the Grizzlies could also go with guard Desmond Bane, who started 17 games last season as a rookie. With Brooks out, both could start against the Bucks but when he  returns, the Grizzlies could have decisions to make after evaluating Anderson and Bane.

For now, let’s explore the Grizzlies’ possibilities with either player as the fifth starter assuming Brooks will be healthy by the season opener on Oct. 20.

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Kyle Anderson at small forward

For the first time in his career, Anderson mostly played power forward last season with Jackson out due to injury. He responded with career-high in scoring, assists and looked comfortable on the perimeter as a willing 3-point shooter.

Even when Jackson returned, Anderson was productive moving back to small forward. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Grizzlies’ starting lineup with Anderson and Jackson, along with Morant, Brooks and Jonas Valanciunas, averaged 121.2 points per 100 possessions. Their plus-19.3 net rating also would’ve been second among NBA lineups that played at least 400 possessions.

Those numbers also come with a caveat that Jackson was still finding his form after missing most of the season. So with a healthy Jackson, those totals can increase if Anderson can keep up his play at small forward.

Memphis Grizzlies forward Kyle Anderson shoots the ball over Dallas Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith during their game at the FedexForum on Tuesday, May 11, 2021.

A starting lineup with Morant, Brooks, Anderson, Jackson and Adams gives Morant at least three potential shooters on the floor and another playmaker in Anderson. Anderson may not be a knockdown shooter but he’s a threat to shoot which gives Memphis more options than they had two seasons ago when Anderson became a starter after Jae Crowder was traded.

Anderson is also one of the team’s better defenders. He might not be quick enough to defend faster small forwards but he’s physical enough to keep players off balance. He and Brooks would form a strong 1-2 perimeter tandem to go along with Jackson’s shot blocking.

It all hinges on Anderson not having a drop-off season and Jackson staying healthy. His best fit in Memphis has been at small forward and as a better shooter, it gives the Grizzlies more options to use him and consider his future with being a free agent after this season.

Desmond Bane at shooting guard

Bane’s 3-point shooting was a welcome addition last season as a rookie. With Grayson Allen traded to the Bucks, it means Bane, who shot 43.2% last season, will get more minutes and shot attempts.

Brooks not playing Tuesday also gives Bane more room to show how he improved as a playmaker and finisher at the rim. He was one of the better performers in NBA Summer League, and that confidence should carry over.

When Brooks is healthy, starting Bane can space the floor even more than with Anderson. With teams respecting both Bane and Jackson as shooters, it opens the floor for Brooks and Morant to get their shot while also allowing Morant more to room to facilitate without facing double teams.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane drives past Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson during their Game 4 first round playoff matchup at the FedExForum on Monday, May 31, 2021.

The Bane-Brooks partnership is also intriguing since it worked well last season. With both on the court, the Grizzlies averaged 116.5 points per 100 possessions last season, per Cleaning the Glass, and had a plus-8.6 net rating.

The only problem is Bane was more productive off the bench (9.5 points, 47.0% 3-point shooting) than as a starter (8.4 points, 32.9% 3-point shooting). That must change if he gets more minutes, and he also needs to improve as a defender. With this lineup, Brooks would handle the top perimeter assignment but he’d have to compensate for Bane and Morant being defensive liabilities.

That said, Bane earned the chance for a bigger role. The Grizzlies’ best shooter needs to be on the floor more,  and if he can take advantage, the Grizzlies will be a much more effective team in the half-court.

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You can reach Evan Barnes on Twitter (@Evan_B) or by email at [email protected]

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