Dear Overanxious Fan of the Memphis Grizzlies,
Hi. How are you doing? How about that weather, right? And the politics! MAN. Those guys and gals sure do know how to politic.
Enough small talk - you need to chill out.
I know, that three game winning streak was fun. It brought back memories of times not so long ago when the Grizzlies were good, and Memphis was buzzing because of the fact that they had a competitive NBA team year in and year out. I lived in the city for a few of those years, and I remember the energy entering FedExForum, or turning on the TV for an away game. The excitement. The pageantry...
Ah, who am I kidding, there were duds.
Like on December 22nd, 2012, when the then 14-12 Rockets blew out the mighty 18-7 at the time Grizzlies 121-96 in Houston behind mighty performances from Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin (as well as James Harden). Or maybe you’ll recall January 3rd, 2015, when the Grizzlies (24-9) went to Denver (14-20) and lost by 29 points after the likes of Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo dropped 48 on Memphis.
“But Joe, those were on the road. Home games were way different!”
March 3rd, 2015. The 42-17 Grizzlies lose at home to the 24-35 Utah Jazz 93-82.
January 14th, 2013. The 24-12 Grizzlies get blown out at FedExForum 99-73 against their rival, the mighty 29-9 Clippers near the peak of that rivalry. Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and Zach Randolph shot a combined 11-40 from the floor.
27.5%. Even our greatest legends have off nights.
So why are we holding a team whose two best players aren’t able to drink yet to such high standards?
This is usually where people - like you, overanxious Grizzlies fan - try to stop me and say the following...
“Nobody thought they’d be good. I just want to see some fight, some heart, some leadership. Jaren didn’t even get a single rebound! Why aren’t you concerned about that???”
Let’s tackle these in order.
“Nobody thought they’d be good”. This is true. Even the most optimistic/delusional prognosticators had them in the 30 to 35-ish win category. That’s a bad basketball team. But the funny thing is, when teams are going to have bad records, usually terrible basketball is going to accompany those records. If the Memphis Grizzlies are to lose 50+ games it is unlikely it’ll be in 50 or so barn burners. They’re going to get their asses kicked. Some times by bad teams. That’s how this works.
“I just want to see some fight, some heart...” So let’s combine these two and just call it a general “energy”. From the beginning of last night’s contest against the Warriors, you could tell it was not your usual “Warriors” game. By that, I mean the bandwagon Golden State fans that flooded FedExForum the last five or so seasons were not present. No Steph Curry, no Klay Thompson, no Kevin Durant, no Warriors fans. It’s shocking.
The sad part is, there weren’t many Grizzlies fans either. The building was relatively empty. It was almost as if it was a Tuesday night home game involving two bad teams that not many people wanted to attend...
So when the young Grizzlies come out with no energy in this situation, why are you surprised? They had a three day break from games ahead of them without travel and a date with LeBron James and arguably the best team in the NBA in the Los Angeles Lakers on a Saturday night ahead of them. Were they looking past the Warriors?
You bet they were. Should they have? Of course not. But they did.
AN ADDITION! “But they’re professionals, they shouldn’t look past anyone.” Have you ever interacted with someone in their early 20’s? Did you forget that this team literally has no one (active) on the roster that was born in the 1980’s?
Young. People. Do. Dumb. Things. It doesn’t matter if they’re millionaire young people. And remember, the greatest teams in Grizzlies history looked past people, or laid eggs in games. Potentially one of the worst teams in Grizzlies history is going to do the same thing, just more often.
Not just young people mess up. People mess up. Regardless of how much money they make.
“...some leadership...” Alright, I’ll bite, who is supposed to be the leader on a night-in, night-out basis? The rookie point guard who just played his 13th NBA game? The 2nd year big who is younger than him? The center who just got here nine months ago, or the wing who arrived in June? The head coach that is also only 14 games in to his new job? The most “Grizzly” member of this roster Dillon Brooks, who arrived in Memphis in 2017 and may not be here eight months from now?
Whatever the Grizzlies “culture” is supposed to be, it is still being established and that’s going to take time. They have played 14 games. They don’t know who the leader is yet. Zach Randolph and Tony Allen aren’t walking through that door. Your expectations of this group are too high. That’s a you problem.
“Jaren didn’t even get a single rebound! Why aren’t you concerned about that?” Ah yes, my personal favorite. Jaren Jackson Jr. got booed on draft night by many Memphis Grizzlies fans. Most of them booed because they saw him as a project, a player who could be the best player in the draft three or so years down the road but wasn’t going to contribute to a team that was supposedly still trying to win at the time. He had foul issues at Michigan State, which was a contributing factor to him being an inconsistent, but highly skilled, player for Tom Izzo’s crew.
Guess what? Jaren Jackson Jr., 71 games in to his NBA career, is still an uber-talented unicorn that can’t stay on the floor due to foul issues. He is what we thought he would be.
Does that make him the wrong pick? No. On the contrary - he is even more the right pick in the space we now reside in because he can “in theory” develop free from the pressure to be dominant every night.
Should he be able to defend more effectively, or attack the boards more consistently? Sure. But we have enough of a sample size to see that he isn’t capable of those things yet, and so does the NBA. They are targeting him, both in terms of trying to get him in foul trouble and as one of the biggest threats on the Grizzlies to score. He’s not used to that. He’s younger than Ja Morant and literally three years younger than Brandon Clarke.
He. Will. Grow. Literally and figuratively.
If Jaren is not better than Clarke two years from now, I’ll be worried. He is physically superior in terms of God-given ability. Right now? Clarke has more experience playing the game at a high level (he was a better college player than Jaren, too) that fell in the draft because of his age, which is a topic for another column (I could have a boat, or the mystery box...) and perceived limits in his game that all combined outweighed the fact that he was the 2nd best player in college basketball last season.
The NBA landscape has drastically changed. Memphis is not immune to that. In an era where such shifts are common place, the Grizzlies went against the grain and finally chose to move on from a veteran-heavy roster to one where youth would reign supreme. Consequences come with that. The three game winning streak wasn’t an accident - they’ll have stretches where they play well. They will just be overwhelmed by runs where they play horribly.
At least now there’s a reason.
If you’re going to panic about the long-term prospects of the likes of Jaren Jackson Jr, and the team at large, at least wait until Christmas. That way there will be another 13-15 games on top of the current sample size, and Jaren will have played a full NBA season in terms of actual games, and the roster will have had another five weeks to gel and work together. Plus, you’ll be in a better mood because it is the holidays. More than a quarter of the season will have come and gone, and what it means to be a Grizzlies player in 2019 will have come in to more focus.
Until then? Enjoy the holiday season. And don’t worry so much about the Grizzlies. They’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to.