Like a preening peacock begging to fly (shout out to The Other Guys), Memphis Grizzlies fans are coming out of the NBA obscurity bushes to declare that not only has Memphis had a tremendous offseason, but that the Grizzlies should be considered favorites to get back in to the NBA Playoffs. It certainly doesn’t help when you have respected NBA minds tentatively agreeing with that line of thinking-
.@GTemp17 has quietly been a solid wing for a few seasons now. In all the "pick your 8 West playoff teams" barroom debates I had in Vegas, Memphis rarely came up. People are sleeping on them a bit if Mike and Marc are healthy https://t.co/862Mhgpx4r— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) July 17, 2018
From here, it looks like Memphis (2 All-Star-caliber guys, multiple NBA rotation players, not as young) should finish with more wins than the Lakers and yet I don’t feel like that will happen whatsoever.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) July 17, 2018
Between Jaren Jackson Jr.’s dominant Summer League showings, the signing of Kyle Anderson, and turning Ben McLemore, Deyonta Davis, and a 2021 2nd round pick in to Garrett Temple, many Memphians are feeling very optimistic about the prospects of the team moving forward. There is positivity, there is excitement, there is hope...
Perhaps a bit too much hope.
There is no denying that Chris Wallace, the master arsonist fireman who excels at putting out fires of his own creation, and his front office crew have been on a roll since the season ended. Anderson, Jackson, Jevon Carter, Omri Casspi, and Temple actually fit the roster well and the direction they are trying to go in - smart, hard-nosed, versatile players that make sense alongside Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. They’ve conducted smart business trades (bye Jarell Martin) and signed intriguing two-way contract prospects (Yuta Watanabe, Japan and Memphis love you!) They’re in a groove and should be commended...
PLAYOFFS??? WE’RE TALKING ABOUT PLAYOFFS????? YOU KIDDING ME?????? PLAYOFFS??????
I just want to start with winning 30 games...which would be an 8-game improvement record wise, a decent jump considering the way the Western Conference has somehow gotten even tougher.
I know what you’re thinking, “contrarian blog boy yells at real fans, hates fun and dreams”. This isn’t true, though - the Grizzlies truly are better now than they were three months ago, and that improvement will make them far more fun to watch moving forward. They will compete, and after the dumpster fire that was last season that is all anyone self-respecting Grizzlies fan can ask for.
Just please, don’t set yourself up for heartbreak. A lot still has to go right for this team to make a return to the playoffs.
Here are the top assumptions that should cause more pause for those thinking postseason when it comes to the future success of these Grizzlies-
You are assuming star player health. And you shouldn’t.
Mike Conley went toe to toe with Kawhi Leonard in the 2017 NBA Playoffs for the title of “best player on the floor”, and it looked like “Captain Clutch” was ready to take this team and make it is. Marc Gasol was still a cornerstone piece of the organization, but he has made it clear he isn’t comfortable being the focal point. He wants to be a part of the beautiful game, not have to take it over over and over again. Mike Conley could be that guy, and was ready to be “the man”.
Then, he played in 12 games the next season and the rest is history.
Conley had surgery on his heel six months ago, and should be pretty close to full tilt in terms of physically being ready to play. But there is reason to be...kind of...nervous about that being reality.
First, the Team USA Camp, which Mike Conley was invited to be a part of. A cool opportunity to get some light work in, right?
Person I spoke to with Memphis doesn’t expect Mike Conley to participate in Team USA camp. (I”m betting he hangs out with them though.) Hasn’t been cleared.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) July 10, 2018
There is an expectation he’s ready for camp, however.
OK OK, you’re thinking to yourself, he doesn’t want to risk it. Makes total sense. Be ready for the fall!
Well...then there’s Shelvin Mack.
Free agent guard Shelvin Mack and the Memphis Grizzlies are progressing in talks on a one-year deal, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 20, 2018
After drafting Jevon Carter #32 overall, and with Andrew Harrison already on the roster (but with a possibly waived contract due to a lack of guaranteed money), why (possibly) bring another point guard in? Is it possible Harrison is cut, or that the Grizzlies see him as a wing more than as a point guard? Sure. Is it also possible that Mike Conley isn’t guaranteed to be 100% healthy?
Yes. It is.
While Andrew Harrison wasn’t elite last season, he was serviceable in his role and has shown growth in several areas of his game on both ends of the floor. Carter perhaps will spend more time in Southaven with the G-League Memphis Hustle than he will with the Grizzlies, at least at first, which would mean Mack would be needed more. This team has multiple facilitators on the wing now, though - Temple, Anderson, Chandler Parsons if he actually exists. The need for more than one true “point guard” behind Mike isn’t as necessary as it has perhaps been in the past...
Unless he may not be there, and you need a starter and a back-up.
This is reading perhaps far too in to things, and it is totally possible that Conley is ready to roll come September. No one is questioning Conley’s toughness, or willingness to come back. The question is age, and the question is explosion, and the question is why (again, potentially, it has not been finalized yet) bring in a veteran point on a roster when you will have to waive either a guaranteed contract or a young talent (or even a combination of both) just to sign him?
It has been three seasons since the last time both Mike Conley and Marc Gasol both played at least 70 games in a single campaign. Three long years have passed since that time, and neither Conley nor Gasol are as durable as they once were. To assume they both will do so this year is lofty at best, foolish at worst. And if one, or both, of those players miss more than 12 games this season?
Playoffs feel pretty unlikely.
You’re assuming elite rookie production. And that’s not fair.
Here are some undeniable truths to be excited about when it comes to JJJ-
Fact: Jaren Jackson Jr. over-performed most expectations at Summer League.
Fact: Jaren Jackson Jr. will be more of a contributor offensively right away than originally thought.
Fact: Jaren Jackson Jr. will impact games defensively on a consistent basis.
Now, here are some truth takes that should help temper expectations-
Fact: The last five Rookie of the Year winners were all at least 20- Malcolm Brogdon (24), Michael Carter-Williams (22), Ben Simmons (21), Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins (20).
Fact: Jaren Jackson Jr. will be 19 for the duration of the 2018-2019 NBA season.
Fact: Jaren Jackson Jr., for all his potential, still has areas of his game that need refinement.
That last point is true of all rookies. However, much of the euphoric line of thinking around Memphis making a remarkable jump from 22 wins to playoffs is the idea that Jackson could contend for Rookie of the Year, or at least 1st Team All-Rookie squad. While this is possible, to make it an expectation is extremely unfair to a player who wasn’t able to consistently dominate the Big 10.
We can all now agree that his coach at Michigan State Tom Izzo did not do him any favors. Izzo must not have seen the value in using Jackson the way that the Grizzlies surely will, as a perimeter big that can rim run off the pick and roll instead of as a back to the basket low post player. Yet to expect any player to come to the NBA and be a 3rd or 4th best player on a good team as a rookie is not only unfair, it is unrealistic more often than not. Yes, there are exceptions - Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell among “true” rookies last season - but the rule says that it is unlikely a rookie dramatically shifts the fortunes of a team that quickly.
Especially 19 year old the entire season rookies.
That in no way, shape, or form, is a knock on JJJ. He was the right pick. He will be great, maybe sooner rather than later. Be cautious projecting lofty goals on such a young player, though. He needs to be able to grow in to the role that the Grizzlies need him to embrace organically. Rushing him to be something he isn’t too soon can stunt growth, which would hurt the long-term health of the franchise. They should do nothing at this stage - be it trade a first round pick or overwhelm their 19 year old wunderkind - to jeopardize that.
You’re forgetting the Western Conference is a labyrinth of despair. And it’s only getting worse.
Who are your top playoff contending teams in the West right now?
It has to include the following squads...in no particular order
- Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers should be locks. Don’t try to be cute and say the Lakers won’t get in. That’s disrespectful to LeBron James.
- The Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers, Minnesota Timberwolves, San Antonio Spurs, and New Orleans Pelicans all made the playoffs last season and should be in the mix again. The Pelicans could possibly be a team that slips post-DeMarcus Cousins, but those other four could very well be as good as last season (Spurs will be competitive until proven otherwise, Kawhi Leonard or no Kawhi Leonard).
Then, some lesser playoff possibilities-
- The Denver Nuggets added talented players like Isaiah Thomas on low-risk deals and kept together their core than had them a game away from the playoffs this past year. They’re barely lesser - they’re more likely than lesser.
- The Dallas Mavericks added arguably the most pro-ready rookie in NBA history (Luka Doncic) and their long-sought after center (DeAndre Jordan), making them far more ready to compete now than they were several months ago.
That is eleven teams that should be in the mix for the playoffs out west. That is not even mentioning the L.A. Clippers, who should be bad but not THAT bad, and a Phoenix Suns team that is young, hungry, and looking to be ready to try to compete after a long rebuild. The only team that is “sure to be bad”, or at least not competitive in games on a consistent basis, is the Sacramento Kings.
How you look at those teams and think the Grizzlies could be higher than a seven or eight seed as a best case scenario feels like looking at things through Beale Street Blue-colored glasses. The Western Conference now features 12 of the 15 players selected to the All-NBA teams last season with DeMar DeRozan and LeBron James joining the party of pain. In a league driven by stars, a staggering 80% of the best of the best from 2017-2018 call the west home.
I don’t think Kyle Anderson and Dillon Brooks on the perimeter is making the likes of Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson too nervous.
Realistic hope is the best hope.
Chris Wallace has put out yet another blaze. This Grizzlies team is smarter, they are tougher, and they are better than they were when our regional nightmare ended back in April. The organization deserves credit for making the most of what they had, and the reward will be far more interesting and intense basketball to watch come this fall and winter.
Do not mistake that for being good enough to make the playoffs in the western conference in the spring.
Say Mike Conley’s return adds 8 wins to the record. According to basketball-reference.com, Conley has only done that three times in his career by their win shares measurement, but again lets be optimistic. Then let’s say Jaren Jackson Jr. starts and is indeed a top-five rookie in the NBA and contributes 8.3 wins to the Grizzlies, the same amount Karl-Anthony Towns did in his Rookie of the Year campaign in Minnesota. JaMychal Green gave a 2.6 win share number as a starter last season, so simple subtraction there means another 5.7 wins.
Now add two wins from Kyle Anderson compared to last season’s various starters at the small forward spot, and 3.5 other wins from the other moves made (Temple, JaMychal as a bench big, assume a healthy Chandler Parsons just for fun, etc.) and you’re at a respectable roughly 19 game improvement over last season! Nice!
Congrats, you’re 41-41. That would’ve been good enough for the 11 seed in the playoff race just a season ago. This doesn’t even take in to account the Grizzlies losing last season’s win shares leader, Tyreke Evans, to free agency.
So rejoice in the return to Grit and Grind, folks. Praise the direction and the moves that were made. Be hopeful in the idea that this team will turn it around...that they may well make massive strides this season.
Because they almost surely will. But there is nowhere to go but up and even massive strides likely will not make up enough ground.
Keep in mind where those strides are starting from, and where they will be being made. The Grizzlies could be vastly improved, and send that 1st round pick to the Celtics in a reportedly weaker draft, and make this season far more fun to watch, and still miss the playoffs by five or more games.
Such is life in the NBA. Keep that perspective, and you’ll enjoy the journey to come.