Last season was tough. Tough on the players. Tough on the coaching staff. Tough on the fans. Tough to watch. It was just tough.
One of the greatest movie quotes in my memory is from The Dark Knight: “The night is darkest just before the dawn.”
The hope for Grizz fans is that the darkness only spans one season. Sadly, the third longest playoff streak in the NBA came to an end with Memphis falling to the lottery. A season like last season after seven straight years of winning can be hard to swallow, but is it possible that it was just an anomaly and not a sign of things to come?
It would be a normal expectation to expect a team outside of the top three in the lottery, that did not sign a star in free agency or make a major trade to not compete for the playoffs the following season either.
I present to you an outlier: The 2018-19 Memphis Grizzlies. This is not the typical team coming off a high lottery season. For starters, their should-be All Star point guard Mike Conley missed 76 games last season leaving a second year point guard to run the show.
So the team is gaining an above average player back to their lineup. They also added in free agency a top-10 defender in Kyle Anderson who know hows to play in a system rather than demanding the ball to be effective. It is also hopeful and maybe even possible that Chandler Parsons’ knees decide to not hate him this season and he is productive.
But there are two major reasons why the 2017-18 season will be a key factor in this season’s success.
Drafting for now and the future
Obviously having a terrible season allows for a high draft pick. The basketball gods frowned upon the city of Memphis the night of the Draft Lottery, but it may have been a blessing in disguise.
It seems as if the Grizzlies got the guy they wanted all along in Jaren Jackson Jr. If Summer League is any indication (sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't), Chris Wallace and the gang may have landed a player that can contribute in a big way right away and be the franchise cornerstone moving forward.
Coach Bickerstaff can elect to start Jackson Jr. along side Marc Gasol at the four or make him the primary backup to Gasol. Either way, JJJ is poised to have big minutes from the jump and contribute on a nightly basis.
The Grizzlies also had the second pick of the second round in the NBA Draft which led to Jevon Carter joining the fold. Carter was targeted early on as a prototypical Grizz. He was labeled by his peers as the top defender in the draft, but also flashed signs of being a capable offensive player as well.
There is a logjam for some reason at point guard on this roster, but Carter’s defense and bulldog mentality may force Bickerstaff to find him minutes.
Without a tragic 2017-18 season, the Grizz may still be in search of a future cornerstone player and direction as a whole. So thank you 2017-18 for Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jevon Carter.
Injuries created opportunities
Mike Conley missed 76 games. Tyreke Evans missed 30 games. Wayne Selden missed 47 games. JaMychal Green missed 27 games. Chandler Parsons 46 games.
Injuries devastated this roster. The five players above were all expected to be major contributors to the team last season. The five players above combined to miss a total of 226 games. This forced players into action that otherwise might not have seen much action.
Andrew Harrison was heading into his sophomore season expecting a bench role but ended up starting 46 games. He improved his field goal from his rookie season (33%) to 42%. His three point percentage rose from 28% to 33%.
At the age of 23, he has the benefit of having started 64 games in his career. He has yet to reach his prime and still has more room to reach his ceiling.
The injuries also paved the way for two rookies to play minutes as well. Dillon Brooks quickly became a fan favorite with his heart and hustle. He played 29 minutes a night, starting 74 games and playing all 82 AS A ROOKIE. Would he have had the opportunity had the team been healthy?
Brooks, on a nightly basis, took on the task of guarding the best player on the opposing team. That is some of the most valuable, immeasurable experience a rookie could gain. Many nights, Brooks became the primary scoring option, and often times he delivered admirably. He stepped up to every challenge and that confidence will bode well for him and the Grizzlies in 2018-19.
Ivan Rabb was the other rookie forced into action. He was a projected top 10 pick after his freshman year at Cal. He stayed for his sophomore season and the Grizzlies bought their way into the second round last offseason to take him. Low risk, high reward type player.
Rabb only played in 36 games in his rookie season, but it was perhaps 36 more than he would have played had injuries not paved the way. In those 36 games Rabb posted an above average Player Efficiency Rating at 16.6
The exciting part about Rabb is his ability to spread the floor and rebound. Ivan does not have to have his back to the basket to be effective. His average distance from the goal on his shots was 7.5 feet shooting 56% from the field. He shot 69% within 3 feet from the basket, 41% between 3 and 10 ft, 48% between 10 and 16 ft and an impressive 49% between 16 ft and the three point line.
Depth is the key to the season
The Grizzlies are not loaded with superstars. They aren't even loaded with stars. What the Grizzlies have this season is depth. The injuries last season allowed for young players to gain valuable experience, experience that will give them confidence to contribute this season.
The Grizz are not only an easy two deep at every position with quality NBA players, but in some spots they are three deep. Even better, they are more versatile with lineup possibilities than ever before.
So thank you, 2017-18, for giving our young guys playing time and experience.
But thank you most of all for being over.
All stats were found at basketball-reference.com