The Memphis Grizzlies finished last season with a 38-34 record, landing them in the newly added play-in tournament. They faced the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1, which they won with ease. In the second game, they faced the Golden State Warriors, where Ja Morant upset MVP candidate Stephen Curry in an overtime thriller. Thanks to those two play-in wins, Memphis entered the tournament as the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Morant and company would eventually lose to the top-seeded Utah Jazz. In that series, we saw the emergence of Morant, who took the extra step forward into becoming a star in this league. The team dealt with injuries throughout the season, as Jaren Jackson Jr. became available just when the playoffs were about to begin. The forward showed a lot of rust throughout the playoffs. This year, the team is looking to stay healthy with their main core and make another run for the playoffs.
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To begin the offseason, Memphis traded away an expiring contract in center Jonas Valanciunas for the rights of center and point guard Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe of the New Orleans Pelicans. A week later, the team flipped Bledsoe to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for center Daniel Oturu and guards Patrick Beverley and Rajon Rondo. General Manager Zach Kleiman was not done there, as he would later flip Beverley for guard Jarrett Culver and forward Juan Hernangomez from the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Grizzlies would then move Hernangomez to the Boston Celtics, in exchange for guards Carsen Edwards and Kris Dunn along with draft considerations. After all these trades, the team would release guards Rondo, Edwards along with center Oturu. Memphis traded for players while acquiring low-end draft capital and flipped those same players for more draft capital and to free up cap space for the future. Klieman in the long run added a center that should play better with Morant and Jackson while also freeing up cap space for future endeavors.
The team drafted Stanford forward Ziaire Williams. They traded up to acquire this pick through the Valanciunas deal with the Pelicans. Many believed this was a reach of a pick as the team selected him in the lottery when he was rated as a late first-round pick. Williams was drafted for his athletic frame and defensive star potential. The team needed a wing player that could potentially turn into a starting ‘3 and D’ forward.
The Starting Five
PG – Ja Morant
SG – Dillon Brooks
SF – Kyle Anderson
PF – Jaren Jackson Jr.
C- Steven Adams
Morant is the catalyst for the team’s success, as he is the clear No. 1 option for the team. If Morant plays well, the team will play well. Both Brooks and Anderson will be valuable players offensively and defensively. Their style of play will not be eye candy, but they do their jobs well. Anderson is a great defender who can stretch the floor and play make for others. Brooks is a solid third option on offense as he can score on all ends of the court. His defense is very underrated, as can defend up to four positions.
The biggest question coming from this starting five is whether their bigs can stay healthy. Jackson has been injury-prone since his inaugural season. He is coming off an intense knee injury that sidelined him for half a year. The power forward played incredible when on the court, and helped open up the court on offense. Defensively, Jackson needs to work on his lateral movement which hinders him on the perimeter. Thankfully, with his long wingspan, he is able to protect the paint at an above-average rate. The addition of Adams in the starting lineup means Jackson does not need to be relied on in the post for defense. The former Pelicans center is amongst the best low post defenders in the league.
Adams is also a high rate rebounder, and his game is very physical which fits the organization’s style. Trading for a physical center who succeeds in the low post will help a young Jackson and Morant do what they do best: play offense around the perimeter.
The Memphis bench is filled with gritty defense. Desmond Bane may be the only obscure bench player on the team, as he is more relied on for his offensive output. In his rookie season, Bane averaged 9.2 points on 43 percent from three and 46 percent from the field. The sophomore season forward should be the team’s best scorer off the bench, and his production should result in more points this season.
Defense has always been Memphis’s focal point, and the bench is riddled with defenders. De’Anthony Melton and newly acquired Culver will be the headliners guarding the perimeter, as they both excel in slowing down the opposition’s guards. Brandon Clarke will act as the team’s backup big for the low post. The forward will be able to replace Jackson and Adams and fill in the role of the physical presence in the paint. Xavier Tillman should also have another big role this season off the bench. Tillman is a player who can do a little of everything from the center position. He rebounds, passes, shoots, makes plays, and gets low on defense.
One Potential Move
This Memphis franchise could stand to acquire a backup point guard. Tyus Jones is a solid rotation player. If the Grizzlies are serious about becoming a threat in the Western Conference, they should look into finding a point guard who can compliment Morant when they share the court and take over when he’s off the court. Finding an ideal point guard will be difficult, as the team will be looking for a selfless guard who can play off the ball, and still become a playmaker when asked. Since Memphis is a small market, it will be hard to find a disgruntled talent to accept a trade to this franchise.
The best procedure would be to find an aging guard who is looking to prove himself one more time. Goran Dragic of the Toronto Raptors will be looking for a buyout, and from last season is still capable of performing at a high rate. Dragic is a tremendous offensive player who has shown his ability to play off the ball. In his prime, he was also a tremendous half court playmaker, which will help the team out when Morant is on the bench. The team should invest in acquiring the guard whether they wait for a buy-out or trade for him outright.
The Western Conference is very tight, as most teams are likely in contention for a playoff spot. Morant alone should get this team to the play-in game around the seventh-to-10th seed in the conference. The team made the playoffs after winning the play-in tournament for the eighth seed. With that experience and a deeper roster than last year, they should be able to achieve a higher goal this season. Memphis is capable of making the playoffs, but it would be great for Morant to have an MVP-caliber season, leading his team just past the play-in bracket as the sixth seed. With the West as strong as it is, the realistic expectation will be to get a bid for the play-in as one of the higher seeds, such as seventh or eighth.
Morant is headed into his third season. This season is going to have a huge impact on the team’s future. Expect Morant to be an All-Star and at a consideration for an all-NBA team at the bare minimum. If the Grizzlies can stay healthy and overperform, it should not come as a surprise that he will receive votes for the season’s Most Valuable Player award.
Season Prediction: 44 – 38, second in the Southwest Division
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Main Image Credit: via Air Alamo