The Memphis Grizzlies were not very good last season.
This surprises no one who witnessed the carnage that was the 2017-2018 campaign. What may be somewhat shocking to those that don’t closely follow the bears of Beale Street is that instead of blowing it all up and moving on from Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, the Grizzlies Front Office prioritized getting that core back to competitive, and the postseason, sooner rather than later.
The question on everyone’s mind is - just how successful were they?
Last year’s record: 22-60
Key Losses: Tyreke Evans, Mario Chalmers, Kobi Simmons, Ben McLemore, Deyonta Davis, Jarell Martin
Key additions: Garrett Temple, Jaren Jackson Jr., Kyle Anderson, Jevon Carter, Omri Casspi, Shelvin Mack
- What significant moves were made during the offseason?
The Grizzlies were actually fairly busy this offseason, restructuring their roster and shaping it in the image of “new” head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. Gone are the youngsters with “potential” that seemingly won’t ever materialize with limited basketball IQ, and in their place are an eclectic mix of veterans and younger talent. For the first time in a long time, it felt as if Memphis wanted to emphasize the here and now without sacrificing the future.
In the here and now? The most significant signing was Kyle Anderson away from San Antonio, an investment in one of the NBA’s most unique talents. Anderson won’t be an elite scorer, but he can do a little bit of everything and figures to make Memphis more versatile both offensively and defensively. Looking forward, Jaren Jackson Jr. is projected to be the future cornerstone of this Memphis team for years to come. Year one for him is more about growth and adaptation to the NBA game than it is immediate impact, however...
That is, until he figures it out. Whether that is in October, May, or a year or two from now, when he does? It’s gonna be special.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
Uncertainty...which sounds weird, but for the first time in a long time it seems like the Grizzlies are...dare I say...unpredictable? With so much roster overturn, plus a first time “full” Head Coach, aside from Grizzlies mainstays Mike Conley and Marc Gasol there are a lot of questions. Who will start at the two (probably Garrett Temple or Dillon Brooks)? Who will start at the four (JaMychal Green almost surely to start the season, but it feels like Jaren Jackson Jr’s job to earn)? Heck, we thought Kyle Anderson was a lock to start at the three but then Chandler Parsons started the preseason opener. That doesn’t mean that is the way it will stay, but it is another example of the unpredictable nature of these Grizzlies.
What can they expect from Chandler Parsons? Who will run the back-up point guard position? What will be the best use of Kyle Anderson? Who will facilitate the offense to allow Mike Conley to be a scorer? As long as the team is able to develop sound answers to these questions through training camp and the preseason, the element of surprise and the versatile nature of the new pieces on this roster create opportunity for Memphis to start fast this season.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
Remember when uncertainty was a strength? There is one still universal truth that has been accurate when talking about the Grizzlies for years...
Who is going to score the basketball?
Mike Conley figures to have a massive season as long as he is able to stay healthy, in large part because he has to if Memphis has a chance to be successful. The depth of the rotation should allow for several six-to-eight point per game scorers, but even if Bickerstaff wants to focus on length and defensive execution with scoring being secondary at some point someone needs to put the ball in the basket.
Dillon Brooks, Marc Gasol...and then who? The defense should be sound, but offensive execution will have to be extremely efficient to allow for Memphis to make a run back to the postseason.
4. What are the goals for the season?
This depends on the level of shade in your blue glasses. If you’re going the homer route, a return to the playoffs and nothing less is the expectation. A healthy Conley and Gasol are arguably the most underrated duo in the NBA, and there is no denying that this roster is smarter, tougher, and more versatile than it was six months ago. But can that really result in the more-than-likely necessary 20+ game improvement over their 22-60 record from last season?
Probably not, says those who are a bit more level-headed. The Grizzlies over-under number being set at 34.5 is a fair mark, considering that still shows a considerable improvement for Memphis while also acknowledging there is still a drastic talent difference between them and the top of the Western Conference. Memphis would need career years from multiple players and healthy 70+ games from both Conley and Gasol to reach the 45-ish wins needed to make the playoffs out west...
They can be much better than last season’s disaster, go over that 34.5 number in wins by six or seven games, and still not make the playoffs. But if their pick they owe Boston conveys this season and the draft ledger of the Grizzlies can get clean sooner rather than later as the inevitable rebuild post Gasol and Conley approaches? That in of itself will be a success.