Don't Look Now, But These Grizzlies Are Competitive
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With just over a quarter of the regular season complete, the Memphis Grizzlies currently sit 13th in the Western Conference standings with an 8-16 record. The Ja Morant era has gotten off to a rousing start, mostly thanks to the rookie’s electric play over the first quarter of the season. However, he's already been sidelined for a couple of weeks due to injury and to make matters worse, the organization has dropped nine of the its last 12 contests. Nine of the Grizzlies’ losses were decided by a double-digit margin, leaving concerns over whether or not Memphis can remain relatively competitive throughout the season. This particular situation is a complex one with multiple layers; these are a couple of key aspects to consider when considering rest of the Grizzlies’ regular season.
As nice as it would be for Grizzlies fans if the team could manufacture a winning streak or two, I’m not sure that would be what’s best for the future. Memphis has succeeded in recent drafts, and already possesses a dazzling young core of Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr, and Brandon Clarke. Dillon Brooks is another quality player who should see a significant role in his future as well. However, the Grizzlies are a couple pieces away from being a playoff team, let alone a title contender. Morant seems destined to rise to star status, and Jackson Jr. should continue to develop into one of the league’s top two-way big men.
The question needs to change to: SHOULD the Grizzlies remain competitive? The 2020 NBA draft class has a top tier of prospects that have quite a bit of potential star power. The Grizzlies’ first-rounder is also a top-six protected pick (if it lands between seven and 30, it goes to Boston); with Memphis not being a popular free agent destination, the draft is the only real avenue for obtaining star power available to the organization.
The focus should be on giving Morant a young, high-calibre running mate in the backcourt, and a successful top-six pick would almost certainly launch the team back into playoff contention, with title contention not far off if they get a little trade-savvy.
Sitting eight games below .500, the team will more than likely miss the playoffs. Flipping guys like Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill and others for young assets and picks would go a long way in keeping their top pick. Will it be a tough year for Memphis and their fans? Of course. But will it be worth it? No doubt.
The name of the game is consistency, which will be the most important aspect of the respective young players’ seasons. Health is important too, considering Morant and Clarke have both been fighting injuries. Like last season with Jackson Jr, Memphis has been in no hurry to rush their players back from rehab; mitigating re-injury risk while discreetly tanking has thus far been a brilliant move from the front office.
Morant was my preseason selection to win NBA Rookie of the Year (ROTY), but I wasn’t expecting him to look so comfortable right off the bat. The Murray State product leads the team with 19.1 PPG to go along with 6.4 assists per contest. If Morant can maintain those numbers, he'll almost certainly win ROTY, and will likely be the next Memphis Grizzly to don an All-Star jersey in upcoming seasons.
Jackson Jr’s sophomore campaign has been an up and down affair. He has increased his scoring and offensive feel, but the big man has continued to have issues with defensive maturity and staying out of foul trouble. Even if the Grizz continue to lose, JJJ will need to become more poised while continually impacting the game on both ends.
Brooks and Clarke, both double-digit scorers, have solidified themselves as key role players alongside Morant and JJJ. Brooks’ scoring, along with Clarke’s energy and tenacity, are coveted NBA luxuries that the Grizzlies happily possess. Others like Tyus Jones and De’Anthony Melton could also be solid contributors down the road if trades deplete the roster.
The Grizzlies are almost ready to be competitive again; led by a fearless young point guard, paired with prodigious size and skill in the post, Memphis will soon make for a fearsome Western Conference Playoff foe once more.