Why Luke Kennard is safest option for Memphis Grizzlies during Ja Morant's suspension

The Memphis Grizzlies have an opening on the wing after electing not to re-sign Dillon Brooks. The Grizzlies also didn't add a natural small forward in free agency.

So what does it mean?

It appears the Grizzlies trust their internal options. And after recent comments from Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins and the front office, maybe it's time to entertain the idea of Luke Kennard being a fill-in starter with Ja Morant's absence to start the 2023-24 season.

Memphis traded for Marcus Smart primarily because of his defensive ability and guard skills. In a way, he's a replacement for Brooks, and Smart already pointed out he doesn't mind guarding taller players. When Morant returns from his 25-game suspension, it makes sense for the Grizzlies to entertain lineups with the star point guard alongside Smart and Desmond Bane.

But what will Memphis do for the first 25 games? Smart and Bane are more than likely going to fill two of the three spots at small forward, shooting guard and point guard. While small forwards David Roddy, Ziaire Williams, John Konchar and Jake LaRavia present the more natural lineup options, the Grizzlies have mentioned the idea of adding another sharpshooter to the starting group.

"If Ja is off the floor, Marcus can be a primary ball-handler, Des can be the primary ball-handler," general manager and president of basketball operations Zach Kleiman said at Bane's contact extension press conference. "It allows us to get Luke Kennard on the floor even more so as well. I don't think it was lost on anyone just how dynamic our offense was when we had both Des and Luke out there together. So being able to throw Marcus into the mix with them... Having multiple ball handlers, multiple shooters, with Jaren, the gravity he brings on the floor as well. ... We feel great about the versatility of our options at this point."

The Grizzlies believe that Smart's offensive and defensive versatility gives them the option of at least entertaining Kennard as a starter. If Memphis starts Kennard with Smart and Bane, the idea would be to assign Smart to the top wing scoring option. Bane would likely get the next best offensive threat and Kennard the least effective perimeter threat.

This is similarly to what the Grizzlies have done with Brooks and Bane alongside Morant. Brooks often took the top scoring option while Bane got the next most difficult matchup, and Morant often guarded spot-up shooters who posed small threats as shot creators with an offense.

The playoffs unlocked how dangerous the Grizzlies could be with Bane and Kennard playing together. In 68 minutes of the first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers, the lineups including Bane and Kennard had a net-rating of 33 and an effective field goal percentage of 59.9%. That was the highest effective field goal percentage of any Grizzlies two-man lineup in the first-round series. Two other two-man groupings has net ratings over 30 and both had Kennard in them. One was with Morant, and the other was with Xavier Tillman Sr.

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It will be a while before Kennard plays again with Morant, but his encouraging numbers with Tillman should bode well for when he has Steven Adams setting screens and clearing space.

Much is still unknown about the NBA upside of Williams, LaRavia and Roddy, but with Kennard, the Grizzlies have a better idea of what to expect.

It might be the safest option in Morant's absence.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Ja Morant suspension: Memphis Grizzlies' best option is Luke Kennard