The Memphis Grizzlies finished the 2020-2021 NBA season with a 38-34 record. The team made the playoff play-in game tournament as the ninth seed in the Western Conference. They would win both games against the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors to obtain the eighth seed in the playoffs. In both games, Grizzlies superstar Ja Morant excelled in his first taste of the NBA playoffs.
The Grizzlies would face the Utah Jazz, who had the NBA’s best record this season. Morant led the Grizzlies to a game one win, as he dominated throughout the series. Ultimately, the team would lose the next four games and be eliminated from the playoffs.
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The Grizzlies came into the season as one of the NBA’s youngest teams, and expectations were not high. Expectations that surrounded the team were mostly targeted towards the progression of Ja Morant. The roster built in Memphis was finely tuned to compete for the play-in tournaments, but many believed the team would fall short during the tournament. The Grizzlies would succeed in passing their team’s expectations and even taking a win against and having their young core play well against the Utah Jazz was a great sign for their future.
The progression tracker of the team was always on the watch. Morant showed minor progression but was still great. Dillon Brooks, Jonas Valanciunas, and Kyle Anderson all showed major improvement that helped the team’s success this season. The only regression that the team had dealt with was with Jaren Jackson Jr. His regression is mostly due to the forward still recovering from his injury, but Jackson looked awful even with 11 games played Jackson looked awful.
Team Award Winners
MVP – Ja Morant
Nobody will deny that Morant is the team’s best player. Although Morant did not take a big step forward that many hoped he would have. Morant proved to be more confident this season. His dominance on the court with the ball in his hand is very frightening. As he is a highlight reel guard, ready to posterize your favorite player.
The guard averaged 19.1 points, four rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game. His play was exquisite, and many already believe that he will be one of the leading players for the NBA’s next generation. His explosive playstyle lights up the game, and even with all the highlights, Morant can still control the game and help win games.
Defensive Player of the Year –Jonas Valančiūnas
Valančiūnas for most of his career was never the best defender on his team but was always an underrated one. This season Valančiūnaswas the team’s best defender, rebounder, and arguably post player. Valančiūnas averaged one steal and 1.6 blocks per game this season. The center also posted a 108 defensive rating which is the team’s highest rating for a high minute player. A breakout season for Valančiūnas, as he not only dominated the post offensively but defensively as well. Valančiūnas’s success in his defense in the post helped the team reach the playoffs and break their expectations.
Valančiūnas’s successful defensive year also came with the help of his rebounding. Rebounding is a very underrated defensive stat. Boxing out and securing a defensive rebound ends the opposition’s offense. Valančiūnas was a top rebounder this season, and most of his rebounds came from the defensive end. These rebounds, were not easily obtained as well. Valančiūnas has to box out or fight through contact to end the opposition’s offense turn. Being able to easily control the boards in a game helps for the team’s defense and overall success.
Sixth Man of the Year – Brandon Clarke
With Valančiūnas being the starting center, Clarke was unable to find starting minutes for the majority of this season. In his role as being the sixth man of the team, Clarke excelled. A huge energy boost off the bench helped rally the team in tough positions. The Grizzlies bench is not very deep in talent, as most of the bench is very young. Clarke is only in his second year but has been very efficient this season.
Averaging 10.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists per game the big man played with high energy and high efficiency. Coming off the bench and being the team’s best rebounder, defender, and scorer in only his second year in the NBA.
Biggest Surprise – Desmond Bane
Bane was the 30th pick in the recent NBA draft. Many believed that Bane would receive very few minutes in his rookie campaign. However, the guard came into the season red hot. He would also finish the season looking like a veteran guard. Bane was very consistent all year round, and become the focal point to the team’s bench output. Bane averaged 9.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists per game in his rookie season.
Biggest Disappointment – Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jackson was awful in the 11 games that he played this season. A lot of the blame could be towards the injury that he was still recovering from. Jackson tore his meniscus in his left knee last season and was out for most of the season. When he returned in late April, Jackson came back very out of tune.
In 11 games, Jackson averaged 14.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. Jackson shot very poorly on the year as his percentage from the field was under 43 percent. The forward also shot 28 percent from three on five attempts a game. These shooting splits are not favorable for a player even coming off an injury. His shooting should not be heavily affected by his knee injury, especially when Jackson isn’t a high flyer athlete. The way his shot is posed should not be heavily impacted by this injury, as Jackson barely gets any lift from his jump shot. Grizzlies fans are hoping that Jackson will bounce back for the next season.
What’s next for the Memphis Grizzlies is having their players progress. This is the third-youngest team in the NBA, and each of their young core players needs to take another step forward. Morant needs to shoot the ball better from three and break the 20’s for scoring. Brooks needs to become more efficient with his shooting, so the team can rely on him more. The Grizzlies need to see better development from Grayson Allen, as he needs to expand his game outside from shooting threes. Jackson should be focusing on healing this offseason.
The Grizzlies should look into the free-agent class and try to find veteran leadership to help fill out the roster. Goran Dragic would be a great backup point guard to help Morant and Brooks develop into all-star caliber players. Dragic is a great leader, and can still be productive off the bench. The team should look into Tim Hardaway Jr., as a possible sixth man. Hardaway had a tremendous season and can be a player to average 20 points off the bench. The guard could also start for Memphis and become the third or fourth option. Memphis is a few years away from contending for the Finals. Progression is their top priority for this offseason, as they want to grow their young core.
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