After an inconsistent start, the Grizzlies sit at 5-2 and are beginning to sort out the rotation and look something like the most optimistic version of themselves.
Acknowledging the small sample size, we likely won’t know the ceiling or floor for this Grizzlies team until the new acquisitions get more opportunity to gel with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley and further solidify their roles. Thankfully, the coaching staff has been quick to make adjustments to alleviate early growing pains.
The detour the offense took on opening night toward Spurs style egalitarianism was swiftly corrected to run through Marc and Mike where the team has always found success. While the roster continues to find its way, Mike Conley and Jaren Jackson Jr. have been two of the Grizzlies most consistent contributors in different ways.
Mike has not shot the ball well early on (38% from the floor and 31% from three before last night’s disastrous shooting performance) but he has picked up right where he left off running the offense effectively and elevating the play of his teammates. He has also held up well to a higher usage rate and does not appear to be affected by off season heel surgery.
Conley is still getting acclimated after a year of not playing basketball but any fears of lingering foot issues have been alleviated. You know what you are going to get from him on a nightly basis and that is crucial for a roster that underwent a pretty significant overhaul this off season.
It also appears that Conley is benefiting from a competent backup, something he has often lacked in his career. It is surprising to say the least that player is Shelvin Mack but my early indignation at him playing 30 minutes a game has quickly morphed into enjoying the quality minutes he is giving the team and dreaming about the possibilities he presents allowing Conley to play off the ball. It is remarkable how much fun the team is to watch when Conley plays compared to the gloom and doom of last season. It has been said before but early season returns are further confirmation that while Marc at his apex was the best player of the core four, Conley has always been the MVP and the team rises or falls with him.
Jaren Jackson Jr. has emerged in a different way. Even in the games he has gotten into foul trouble there are flashes of the unique, impactful player he can be; an impressive close out block or a deft post move you thought he wouldn’t have in his arsenal this early on in his career.
Defensively, Jaren has not been consistent but even when he is struggling he usually makes the correct reads and his issue fouling and adjusting to NBA speed are very fixable. While he might not put together complete games night in and night out, there are moments in every game that should make Grizz fans giddy about the future. It is impossible to watch Jaren put the handles on the reigning defensive player of the year and not have a giant grin on your face. I would wager the most fun Grizzlies fans will have this season is going to be watching Jaren continue to develop.
The best news as a fan is that enjoyment will be there whether the season implodes or not. The 2018 draft class has looked promising early on and while Deandre Ayton’s polished offensive game and Luka Doncic’s playmaking has been impressive, it possible to see how Jaren Jackson might emerge as the player from this class that most contributes to winning basketball.
The Grizzlies still do not know what they are getting game to game from much of their roster. Marc has been able to right the ship after early struggles in the first few games but his decline looked very real to start the season. Garrett Temple is averaging a career high 14 points a game but that is bound for regression. Kyle Anderson has been a complete enigma.
It is reassuring that Mike Conley looks like Mike Conley and Jaren Jackson Jr. shows glimpses of his potential every game. As the rest of the roster comes along, the Grizzlies ceiling might be higher than we initially thought.