That was a hell of an offseason, right?
The new-look Memphis Grizzlies begin the 2018-2019 campaign tonight in Indiana against the Pacers, and there’s a lot of mystery surrounding the squad. Plenty of questions loom about rotations, how the new players will best amplify the skills of returning cornerstones Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, and more. That’s part of the fun, of course - in the past folks have complained (myself included) that Memphis had become stale and predictable, either unwilling or incapable of change.
Those days are gone.
So, in such uncertain times, why not try to predict the unpredictable? Here are ten Grizzlies predictions for the season ahead (that will almost certainly be wrong, but let’s have fun).
Mike Conley will post a career high in points per game
Because someone has to score, right?
One of the clearest things about the current direction of the Memphis Grizzlies is their desire to have as many facilitators and creators as possible. Garrett Temple, Chandler Parsons, Marc Gasol, Kyle Anderson, Shelvin Mack, Andrew Harrison...they all have varying levels of ability when it comes to initiating offense and finding teammates. Combine that with the skills of Conley both with and without the ball in his hands, what he has shown he is capable of when healthy (20.5 points per game, 46% overall shooting, 40.8% from three two seasons ago), and it isn’t so far fetched to say he will average 21 to 22 points per game.
Of course coming off of injury is scary, especially for an undersized point guard on the wrong side of 30. But Conley had bucked trends for much of his career - as long as he can stay healthy (65 games played would be terrific), the production will be there.
Chandler Parsons will be “the third man”...as a sixth man
Chandler may begin the season as the starter on the wing - a statement shocking to write considering what Parsons has been so far as a member of the Grizzlies - but logic and history suggest that that may not be the best sustained use of him moving forward. Even as 75-80% of what he was in Dallas - which would be a darn good basketball player - he probably won’t be able to hang with NBA starting wings for long.
He can, though, be a force as a reserve. So while Parsons will finally live up to the job he was signed to do as the third scoring option for Memphis, it will most likely be done as the sixth man for this Grizzlies roster. The last time the Grizzlies were good two seasons ago, Zach Randolph served that role as a big and posted a 14.1 points per game season.
Chandler, as a wing and stretch four, will post roughly the same scoring season. Which will be terrific, considering how far we have come.
None of the Grizzlies “shooting guards” will be able to be starter quality
There are currently four players seemingly capable to start at the “two” position, assuming Kyle Anderson cannot (which maybe he can) - Garrett Temple, Dillon Brooks, Marshon Brooks, and Wayne Selden Jr. All of them have flaws, however - Temple is very malleable and can fit with most lineups, but has a pretty limited ceiling as a starter/contributor. Dillon had a great rookie campaign, but his ability to contribute consistently on a team trying to be good remains an uncertainty. The same can be said for MarShon Brooks, who showed he can score during a lost couple weeks at the end of the season. Wayne Selden Jr. has given flashes of ability, but has never been able to be on the floor doing it for extended periods of time.
This isn’t meant to be an insult to any of these players. It’s just a prediction that while all of them are or could be good role players, they probably aren’t good enough to get Memphis to the acknowledged goal of a return to the postseason if they have to start the whole season.
Memphis will deal for a wing at or before the Trade Deadline
This prediction hinges on whether or not Memphis is in the mix for the playoffs come January 2019. Assuming they are, here’s a list of players that could theoretically be available once teams realize, usually by around Christmas, that they aren’t going to compete for the playoffs-
- Evan Fournier of the Orlando Magic
- Kent Bazemore of the Atlanta Hawks (may be available sooner, since the Hawks appear to be tanking)
- Demarre Carroll of the Brooklyn Nets
- Courtney Lee or Tim Hardaway Jr. of the New York Knicks (possibly sooner because see Atlanta)
They also all, including filler of some kind (usually a young big, considering what Memphis is sending out in this scenario) fit within the trade confines of the expiring contracts of JaMychal Green and Garrett Temple. Some options make more sense for the Grizzlies than others - Fournier would be the best of this lot, but Hardaway Jr. and Bazemore also could be good fits both in terms of competitive timeline and set of skills - but the point is that Memphis has what teams like the Knicks would value more than usual heading in to a busy summer of 2019 in free agency - expiring contracts.
Considering that the Grizzlies are not heavy hitters in free agency, it could be an opportunity to acquire a talented young player in exchange for two players who probably don’t figure in to the long-term plans of Memphis. This could be achieved without giving up a serious long-term asset, especially in the case of New York or Atlanta, so they could have cap space flexibility.
Fournier, Bazemore, and Hardaway Jr. would be the preferred options, in that order.
Memphis will have 0 All-Stars, but two participants at All-Star Weekend
The aforementioned Mike Conley won’t make the All-Star Game, nor will Marc Gasol because the Western Conference is a war zone. But Conley will be in the skills challenge on All-Star Saturday night and the other participant will be Jaren Jackson Jr. in the Rising Stars Challenge.
Honorable mention goes to Dillon Brooks as a possible Rising Star as well, who will still get opportunity as a scorer with the second unit of the Grizzlies and he should be able to hold off Wayne Selden Jr. for wing minutes. He simply won’t get enough run to repeat the performance of last year, though. Jaren, meanwhile, will take on a larger role as the season goes on and he earns the trust of J.B. Bickerstaff to go in games and not foul at an exceedingly high rate. Jackson’s talent is undeniable, and the sooner he shows he is capable of staying on the floor the sooner he will become the starter...and the sooner that happens, the more likely it is that this next prediction comes true.
Jaren Jackson Jr. will make the All-NBA Rookie 1st Team...and receive Rookie of the Year votes
The award will almost certainly go to either Deandre Ayton or Luka Doncic, simply because they will get more opportunity to post big numbers on their respective teams than JJJ will in Memphis in year one. But Jackson could very likely be a game changer both as a floor spacer (made threes could very well be around 110-115) and rim protector (ditto blocked shots). His size and ability to position himself on both ends of the floor will only improve as the 19-year-old gets meaningful NBA reps, and that will add up as time goes on and the season grinds along.
Trae Young, Wendell Carter Jr., Mo Bamba, Marvin Bagley III, and others will also be in the mix. But NBA GMs said that Jaren Jackson Jr. has a real shot to be the best player in this draft in their recent survey. He will show that earlier than many (myself included) expected him to this season.
Now, the big finale...
The Memphis Grizzlies will go 39-43, outperforming expectations but missing the playoffs
Perhaps more importantly, their 2019 1st round pick to Boston will indeed go to the Celtics.
This Grizzlies organization has really done something impressive. They have been able to sell the fan base on the idea of competing now - which they will, within the definition of fighting for a playoff birth - while also setting themselves up to rebuild for the upcoming reality of life without Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. Marc may leave this summer (bonus prediction upcoming) and expedite the process, but if Gasol stays Memphis has at least another season, the 2019-2020 campaign, to plan for. If Parsons, Gasol, and Conley can stay healthy (a big if), this team will remain relevant in the Western Conference in terms of competitive games and playoff races.
Meanwhile, Jaren Jackson Jr. is a solid future cornerstone. Kyle Anderson is an investment in the here and now as well as the beyond. If the trade prediction comes true in terms of Fournier (26 this month, two years left on contract including player option), Hardaway Jr. (27 next season with two years left on a contract including a player option), or Bazemore (30 next season but with a player option for next season and that’s it) the next couple years of their primes fit within the context of the Gasol/Conley window and also allow for the flexibility to decide whether or not Memphis wants to make a move on those players long-term. Once that 2019 1st rounder is sent, the clock for the rebuild officially can start. The future can be set and seen.
Memphis got better this offseason while acknowledging and accepting their fate. It will show on the court...just maybe not in the way fans want it to.
Bonus Prediction- Marc Gasol will stay in Memphis
Some will disagree with the idea of trading for a Fournier, Bazemore, or Hardaway Jr. because it will limit what Memphis can do if Gasol leaves this summer. But If the Grizzlies want to show Marc they intend to continue to try to compete, such a deal would drive that point home and lead to Big Spain staying in Beale Street Blue. The activity (or inactivity) of Memphis in trade deadline season will be telling regarding this - expect Gasol to remain a Grizzly (that’s a LOT of money to leave on the table for an aging big man), and for the front office to continue the trend of being as competitive as possible while not sacrificing long-term assets.