NBA Season Preview: Memphis Grizzlies

2019-20 Regular Season Record: 34-39 (.466%), 9th in Western Conference, Missed Playoffs
Head Coach: Taylor Jenkins

After a franchise best 7 straight playoff appearances from 2010-11–2016-17, the last three seasons have been a rebuilding phase for the Memphis Grizzlies. Last season, behind Rookie of the Year Ja Morant, the Grizzlies were one of the feel-good stories of the NBA. They were 32-33 when the season was shutdown for COVID, and although they faltered in the bubble by going 2-6, they put up a great fight, bowing out to Portland 125-122 in the play-in game. Despite the loss, there is a lot to feel good about moving forward. Besides Morant, there are a number of young players on the up-and-up – rookie Brandon Clarke (12.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg on an ultra-efficient 61.8% shooting), 3rd year man Dillon Brooks, 2nd year player Jaren Jackson Jr., and a still-quite-young-veteran Jonas Valanciunas. JV put together his best year as a pro (14.9 ppg on 58.5% shooting, 11.3 rpg) and is making the Marc Gasol trade a true win-win for both teams - Gasol helped the Raptors win a Championship and JV is playing the best basketball of his career for the Grizzlies.  

How Good is Ja Morant?

Ja Morant is the real deal. The #2 overall pick from the 2019 draft and last year’s Rookie of the Year put up a stellar first year in the NBA – averaging 17.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 7.3 apg, shooting an excellent 47.7% from the field, all in only 31 mpg. Already one of the fastest players in the league, Morant is a brilliant passer who has a knack for making one-handed hook passes with either hand, throwing great lobs and hitting shooters in their pocket. He also has the unique ability to see not only the pass in front of him, but the pass that could exist dependent on his manipulation of the defense. It doesn’t hurt that he’s likely the most athletic player on the court, too. What can Morant accomplish in his 2nd season? There is no doubt that Ja can improve his scoring and assist numbers, as he will play more than 31 mpg, and he should be able to wreak havoc defensively with more than 1.5 spg. If he can extend his range out to the 3-point line and shoot better than 33.5%, the sky is the limit for Morant and the Grizzlies.

Tom's Take: Ja Morant will take the leap and earn his first of many All-Star appearances this year. 

How Good is the Supporting Cast Around Morant?

Having only lost Josh Jackson and Anthony Tolliver over the offseason, the Grizzlies bring back a talented and cohesive unit to the new season. Entering his 3rd year, Jaren Jackson Jr. will be counted on to continue the improvement seen in his first two years in the league. He averaged 17.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg & 1.6 bpg in 28.5 mpg, while shooting a very respectable 39.4% on 6.5 3-ball attempts. Unfortunately, Jackson missed 24 games in his rookie year and his season ended in the bubble by tearing his meniscus. Can the big man from Michigan State stay healthy? If so, he and Morant could make for a deadly 1-2 combo for years to come. 4th year man Dillon Brooks scored an inefficient 16.2 ppg last year (overall 40.7% shooting), and if he can bump up his shooting percentages (35.8% on 3-pointers), he will be a solid 3rd option to Morant/Jackson Jr. combo. Rookie power forward Brandon Clarke (21st overall pick) was a revelation, making the All-Rookie 1st Team. Look for Clarke to make improvements in his game and get better playing beside his young, ever-improving teammates. Jonas Valancinius, the old man of the young Grizzlies, is about as solid a center as you will find in the NBA. JV provides the Grizzlies with a double double every night and defensive rim-protection. The core around Morant is rock solid and youthful. They will grow together and learn how to compliment one another as they work their way through the gauntlet of NBA powers in the Western Conference.

Can the Grizzlies get Into the Playoffs?

Young and exciting, the Grizzlies are going to be a team to reckon with in the years to come. Management will need to be patient with this group of players, as they have a lot of young talent on the team. With a relative lack of playoff experience on the team (JV leads the way with 43 playoff games - all with the Raptors), the Grizzlies will need to learn on the fly when it comes to rigors of challenging for an NBA playoff spot. Being invited to the bubble, and competing in the inaugural play-in game will only positively impact the Grizzlies for the upcoming season. 

Tom’s Take: The Grizzlies will be involved in the play-in tournament and come away with a playoff berth.

Photo Credit: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire