In the 1994-95 season, the Dallas Mavericks had assembled a trio of young players soon dubbed “Triple J Ranch”. Now, the Memphis Grizzlies have that, only better.
Over the last few years, the Memphis Grizzlies front office has done a lot to help the team rebuild after a few years spent struggling in the years following a very successful playoff streak.
The moves made have lead to a successful rebuild, and the Grizzlies saw themselves in the eighth seed of the Western Conference and well into the playoff picture before the season hiatus.
However, as we know, history has a tendency of repeating itself, and the Memphis rebuild bares similarities to one team’s attempted rebuild back in the mid-90’s: the Dallas Mavericks.
Modern NBA fans might not be aware of this, but for a brief time in the 90’s the Dallas Mavericks had a core of three young players in Jim Jackson, Jamal Mashburn, and Jason Kidd; the trio was soon dubbed “Triple J Ranch”, and the rebuild process with that team strikes a lot of the same chords that the current Memphis rebuild does.
To understand the “Triple J Ranch” Mavericks, you need to go back to the 1992 NBA Draft, two years before the “Triple J Ranch” area would begin. With the fourth pick, the Mavericks selected Jim Jackson. A promising prospect from Ohio State, Jackson averaged 19.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 4.0 assists in three years of college.
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The subsequent season saw the Mavericks win just 11 games, fire their head coach after 29 of those games, and have their assistant coach finish the season.
In the 1993 draft, the Mavericks had another lottery pick, and selected Jamal Mashburn, again with the fourth overall pick.
That season, the Mavericks would win just 13 games, keeping their head coach for the entirety of the stretch, but firing him soon after.
The following draft saw the Mavericks select Jason Kidd with their third straight lottery pick, though this time it was the second overall pick. For two straight years, the Mavericks had been the worst team in the league, they had a stockpile of three straight lottery picks, all of whom would go on to have great careers. That year, they brought in a new coach, who was an assistant to Phil Jackson.
And that season the Mavericks won just 36 games, with yet another new head coach.
Yeah, it turns out the “Triple J Ranch” experiment didn’t really work out that well. Jackson and Mashburn were notorious ball hogs, and the three players personalities just didn’t mesh. By the 1997-98 season, all three players were gone, they’d had another coaching change, and they still struggled to break 40 wins. Don’t worry though, it would work out for Dallas in the end. That season, Don Nelson took over as coach and GM, he would draft Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash, and the rest is history.
But how does this all relate to the Grizzlies rebuild? And am I saying it’s bound to fail.
Well, read on; and no.
You see, two seasons before their own “Triple J Ranch”, the Grizzlies had won just 22 games, and fired their first head coach after 19 games. That’s twice as many wins and 10 less games than the Mavericks in the same span before their “Triple J Ranch”. Albeit, Memphis didn’t have a lottery pick in the 2017 draft, they didn’t even have a pick, but Josh Jackson was selected fourth overall by the Phoenix Suns, and that’s what I call some serious foreshadowing.
The following draft, in 2018, the Grizzlies used the fourth pick to select Jaren Jackson Jr. A triple J ranch unto himself, JJJ had averaged 10.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game in his one season with Michigan State.
In the 2018 NBA season, the Grizzlies kept their same head coach, and made a marginal improvement in the wins column; getting 33 wins over the season. Soon after the end of that season, the head coach spot was empty.
Then, the 2019 NBA draft came along, and the Memphis Grizzlies used the second overall pick to select Ja Morant. That offseason, they hired Taylor Jenkins, who was an assistant to a similar coaching great in Mike Budenholzer and was an assistant on the wildly successful 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks. They also brought in Josh Jackson, in a trade with the Suns.
Two number four overall picks and a second overall pick in three back-to-back-to-back drafts, a litany of coaching changes, and an unheralded coach coming from successful systems. Jim, Jamal, and Jason. Ja, Jaren, and Josh. The Grizzlies had their “Triple J Ranch”.
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And that’s precisely where the comparison ends.
The Grizzlies did (likely) end the first season with their “Triple J Ranch” with 32 wins, just one less than the Mavericks in the same scenario. However, the Mavericks had played a full 82 game season and had missed the playoffs. The Grizzlies were in the eighth seed and still had about 20 games left in the season when the NBA implemented an indefinite suspension.
When the Mavericks had their trio of young prospects, they suffered from off-court issues, and their personalities not meshing. The Grizzlies are just the opposite. Morant, Jackson Jr., and Jackson have all shown great chemistry on the court, and instead of working for themselves, they consistently work for the benefit of the team, giving up their personal gain if it means the team prospers. This was shown no where better than in Ja Morant’s interview with SportsCenter. Can you imagine Jim Jackson, or Mashburn, or Kidd talking about each other like this. Not a chance.
The Grizzlies seem to have found the recipe that the Mavericks were searching for back in the 90’s. Memphis made improvements on the previous model by bringing in a coach who all three players respect, and who works his system around them instead of trying to cram them into his system unsuccessfully. With these improvements, and the early signs of success, it’s not at all unlikely that the Grizzlies will show the Mavericks exactly how their “Triple J Ranch” experiment should have worked out.