Since joining the staff this past summer, Jerry Stackhouse — and his pickup game — have energized the Grizzlies

By Omari Sankofa II 

When asked about Jerry Stackhouse’s pickup basketball game, Mike Conley’s eyes briefly grew wide.

“I don’t play him, man I don’t play him,” Conley said, laughing. “I don’t want no problems.”

He and Stackhouse have played one pickup basketball game against each other. That game, which took place during training camp in September, was enough for Conley. Stackhouse took it more seriously than he anticipated.

“After that I left him alone, man,” Conley said. “I don’t need to mess around with him. He’ll play you all night.”

When Stackhouse joined the Grizzlies as an assistant coach back in June, he brought with him the experience of successfully running Toronto’s G League team, Raptors 905, from 2016 until 2018. In that span, the Raptors won the D-League Championship in 2017 and was the runner-up in 2018. He was named D-League Coach of the Year in 2017.

Stackhouse also brought 18 seasons of NBA experience to Memphis. A two-time All-Star, he was one the league’s premier scorers during his time in Philadelphia and Detroit. And even though it’s been five years since he last played an NBA regulation game, he uses every opportunity he can to show that he still has something left in the tank.

Pickup basketball is a major part of Stackhouse’s coaching strategy. Whether it’s one-on-one, three-on-three or 3-point shooting battles, the 44-year-old takes pride in going against different Grizzlies’ players after practices and before games.

Several Grizzlies have said they’ve never been around a coach who plays more basketball than Stackhouse. And when Stackhouse reflected on all the coaches he’s played for, he couldn’t think of one who played more pickup basketball than he does, either.

“I’ve tried to implement that everywhere I’ve been because I love to play, I love to get the workout myself,” Stackhouse said. “It’s part of building a bond and relationship with players, and they’re competitive. They don’t want to get beat by me or anybody. We do our drill work but at the end of it I like to compete.”

Stackhouse started using one-on-one basketball to teach younger players when he was a veteran playing for the Dallas Mavericks. He named J.J. Barea and Gerald Green, who were younger role players on the team, as guys he would regularly go against. He did the same as head coach of Raptors 905, putting down the clipboard to play guys like Norman Powell.

“Edge” is the word Stackhouse used for the mentality he wants to establish with players. Those pickup battles allow players to get into a competitive mindset and learn some of the finer nuances of the game. They also build camaraderie, and Stackhouse doesn’t shy away from trash talk during and after battles.

“He brings that competitive nature, he brings that Grit-and-Grind mentality that was already here,” Garrett Temple said. “He challenges you to be great, especially on the defensive end. It’s been really good to have him on staff.”

He may be a step slower than he was in his prime, but make no mistake — Stackhouse is fully confident in his ability to beat anyone on the team.

“I always welcome that opportunity because I tell them all the time, you’re not going to guard anyone like me,” Stackhouse said with a laugh. “If you can guard me, you’ll definitely be able to guard whoever you’re playing tonight.”

Get to a Grizzlies home game early enough, and you’ll see MarShon Brooks and Stackhouse on the main FedExForum court playing each other one-on-one.

It’s become their pregame ritual. They were teammates for a season when Brooks was drafted by the Brooklyn Nets in 2012. That’s where Stackhouse spent his final season as a player before retiring in 2013.

While Stackhouse enjoys the competition, he’s really trying to test defensive instincts. He’ll often post up Brooks when they’re facing each other so Brooks can be better prepared when facing guards who have the ability to do so.

“He’s still got it, especially in the post,” Brooks said. “He can’t move like he used to, but in the post he can still get that fadeaway out. Just a big body to bump up against every once in a while.”

Stackhouse was an offensive dynamo in his prime. He drew Michael Jordan comparisons when the Sixers drafted him out of North Carolina with the third pick of the 1995 draft. He averaged at least 19 points a game during six of his first eight seasons in the league, and was a capable playmaker throughout his career.

But for the Grizzlies, he’s had a major impact on the defensive side of the ball. It’s no surprise, considering Toronto 905 was first in defensive rating and last in pace last season. He’s played a role in shaping the Grizzlies’ defense this season, which has been one of the best units in the NBA, and one of the slowest, pace-wise.

Beyond scheming, Stackhouse’s day-to-day attitude has helped give Memphis an edge on that side of the ball — an edge that the team lacked throughout most of last season.

Conley said there already have been several moments that showed the Grizzlies why Stackhouse was one of the hotter names in NBA coaching circles this past summer.

“There’s been plenty of them, every day,” Conley said. “We’ll have defensive drills and coach will talk us through one thing and then Jerry Stackhouse will stop the whole thing and say ‘Nah, this is what we’re doing.’ We kinda go through it and we’re like ‘whatever you want, Stack.’ We do it. We follow.”

Stackhouse said during defensive drills, he can play more of the “bad cop” role next to J.B. Bickerstaff, who can be the good cop or bad cop depending on the situation. As the head coach, Bickerstaff “wears all of the hats,” Stackhouse said. It was Bickerstaff who approached Stackhouse with the assistant coach job offer this past summer, and the two have worked closely to revamp the Grizzlies scheme, along with the rest of the coaching staff.

“I probably would carry a little more of the bad cop on the defensive side of the ball, just because being anal with middle drives and guys not being beat backdoor,” Stackhouse said. “I wear a lot more of that angst on the possession-to-possession basis. When he sees something becoming an issue he can be as animated and critical to these guys to try to get them to do what we need to do. We understand that and we’re aligned from that standpoint of understanding who we are and how we need to get there. It’s been really good.”

Stackhouse’s edge extends to the locker room. After pickup games, he doesn’t shy away from bragging if the game went in his favor. And players keep the same energy when talking to him.

“I go back to the locker room, I walk in the locker room, “What happened today Stack? What happened today?” Stackhouse said. “They’re running back telling me they kicked my ass but they never say it when they lose. I had to walk in, I’m like ‘Was anybody in here talking today?’ It’s fun man.”

Brooks said he beats Stackhouse every time they play a one-on-one match.

“I kill him every time I get a chance, because he talks too much,” Brooks said. “You don’t want to let him get a game. You let him get one game, and that’s when he starts. I kill him every time I get the opportunity.”

Brooks added that if you ask Stackhouse who wins most of the games, Stackhouse would agree that he does. When asked, Stackhouse did not agree.

“Of course he would say that!” Stackhouse said, incredulous but also amused. “I wouldn’t agree with that statement at all. But as competitors, that’s what I’m trying to build. My mentality is ‘OK, I won.’ But it’s good, starting to get that edge before the game starts.”

Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle has been able to see much Stackhouse’s transformation into a future coach up-close.

Carlisle coached Stackhouse from 2001-03, when he was the head coach of the Pistons and Stackhouse had already transformed into one of the NBA’s most dominant scorers. Carlisle’s second stint coaching Stackhouse was in 2008, when he took over as the Maverick’s head coach. By that point, Stackhouse was approaching his mid-30s, had been slowed by injury and was settled into his second career phase as a role player.

He only played 10 games that season due to injury struggles. But Carlisle has nothing but praise for Stackhouse.

“He’s always found a way to make situations better than he goes into, whether he’s a front-line player, whether he’s a backup like he was in Dallas when we went to the Finals in ‘06, or whether he’s a depth player just keeping guys up and being one of those veteran guys that has experience that guys will listen to,” Carlisle said. “And now he’s doing it as a coach, which is great to see. They’re doing a great job with this team.”

It’s no secret that Stackhouse aspires to be a head coach in the NBA. It’s a goal he’s often declared himself, and he was strongly considered for the New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors head coaching jobs before joining Memphis this past summer.

Memphis reached out and offered Stackhouse an assistant coaching job while he was waiting for New York and Toronto to make their decisions. After those jobs were filled by David Fizdale and Nick Nurse, respectively, the Grizzlies reached out again.

“We knew what his track record was and how he helped that G League team,” Bickerstaff said. “Just speaking to him and understanding his knowledge of the game, his respect that people have for him, and he fit the mold of the type of people we wanted to bring in. We talk about being mentally and physically tough. He fit the mold.”

“There’s a no nonsense-type attitude, nothing falls through the cracks,” Bickerstaff added. “He holds people accountable. He’s dedicated to what we’re doing, he’s committed to what we’re doing. The experience of being a great offensive player, how that helps offensive players but then understanding what defenses can do to great offensive players, too. He brings a well-groundedness to the team.”

Stackhouse said that while landing a head coaching position is still his top goal, there are still things he needs to learn and get better at as a coach. Memphis gave him that opportunity. After negotiations fell through with Toronto and New York, he didn’t even have to interview for the assistant job with the Grizzlies. They told him the job was his if he wanted it.

“It’s fun man,” Stackhouse said. “I love what we’ve got with these guys. I love being here, Memphis has been good. Has an identity of a team that I want to be a part of. We play defense first, we want to play great offense but we know that we’re giving ourselves some chances to win just from what we’re doing defensively and being competitive and being tough.”

While his career aspirations have been made clear, some Grizzlies players are suspicious that Stackhouse is still gunning for a roster spot.

“He’s still trying to play,” Conley said. “The other day I was looking at him in shootarounds, like ‘Are you trying to come back, or what are you trying to prove by coming out here?’ He’s a competitor, man. He still has some game.”

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