The 2010’s brought Memphis Grizzlies fans sweet memories and hope for the future. They spent the majority of the decade as a playoff team behind a “core four” of players that became larger-than-life figures in the city of Memphis.
Though all the Z-BOunds, “Captain Clutch” moments, First-Team All-Defense plays, and Gasol dimes had to eventually fade away, the Memphis Grizzlies are entering an era that could perhaps deliver the most success in franchise history.
In year one of the full rebuild, the Grizzlies already have a trio of players that could usher them into this glorious age.
Jaren Jackson Jr. defies traditional basketball, as he’s a 7-footer that launches six 3-pointers a game, handles the ball like a guard, and possesses the post footwork of an elite big man.
Brandon Clarke, acquired in a trade for franchise great Mike Conley, is a high-energy big man that could defend multiple positions, protect the rim, score with incredible efficiency, and space the floor.
Ja Morant is the superstar that puts the Grizzlies on the map with his nifty ball-handling, elite athleticism, flashy passing, and the “**** you” edge that’s captivating to the national media.
Behind this trio, and a bright, forward-thinking front office, the Memphis Grizzlies are entering the new decade with hope beyond making noise. They’re looking to build a sustainable product that could ultimately bring a Finals parade to Beale Street before 2030 begins.
Zach Kleiman, Jason Wexler, and company are off to a fantastic start with this plan, as they’re surpassing most expectations this season. They got this trio, a modern coach that’s integrated a beautiful, free-flowing system, and a platoon of assets in the form of young players, veteran contracts, and draft capital. It’s a modern basketball enthusiast’s dream.
However, there are some things they need to do in order to bring sustainable success this decade.
Find Ja Morant’s running mate
Jaren Jackson Jr. has his fellow frontcourt partner-in-crime of the future in Brandon Clarke. The Grizzlies must find Ja Morant’s running mate.
How this player joins the fold remains to be seen.
If you were to pick someone on this current team, De’Anthony Melton seems like the perfect option. He’s already an elite defender for his position and can alleviate pressure off Ja on that end of the floor. Offensively, he’s flashed potential as a 3-level scorer and a secondary playmaker. In the process, he won’t take shots away from Morant or Jackson — which has been a complaint about some members in the starting lineup.
The question with Melton is about his position. Do they see him as someone with enough size to be a starting 2-guard every night? Or, does he transition into a backup point guard in the mold of Fred VanVleet — one that handles floor general responsibilities in the second unit, but can play alongside the starter in crunchtime?
It’s too early to tell, but it could come in the form of the draft — pls, Jalen Green.
Or in free agency.
Or in the next big All-Star trade.
The Grizzlies must keep this in mind, as most title contenders posses two, sometimes three, elite perimeter players on their squads. They desperately need to find a wing or 2-guard that can take pressure off Ja Morant as a playmaker, hit 3’s, defend good enough, and create his own offense.
The franchise has been longing for that type of player since Rudy Gay’s departure, and finding a player of that skillset between Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. would bolster their probability of long-term success.
Expand the Horizons of Your Best Players
The Memphis Grizzlies have their trio, and the crazy thing is, they have room to grow. As it stands right now, with experience and time, the Grizzlies could become a playoff team — if these players stay the course. However, empowering them to add dimensions to their games and to take on different roles can launch both the team and the players to new heights.
With Ja Morant, there’s already a lot to like. He’s an elite playmaker with dazzling ball-handling, 3-level scoring potential, and jump-out-the-gym athleticism. Where his game could go another level comes with experience and empowerment. Over time, he’ll learn the nuances of running a NBA offense and reading NBA defenses. Taylor Jenkins must continue empowering him to be that go-to scorer when needed, as well as keeping others involved in the offense. It won’t be surprising to see him have at least one 20-10 season in this decade.
Jaren Jackson Jr. is already one of the NBA’s most unique big men. He plays like a big guard with his three-point volume and efficiency, ball-handling, and rebounding. For Jackson to catapult himself into the “elite big man” conversation and maximize his potential, it’ll come down to fouling — obvious, but fixable — and rebounding. Jaren can become one of the league’s best big men this decade, and for him to be one, the Grizzlies must continue to explore these unique aspects of his game, while working on his current flaws.
Brandon Clarke is the x-factor here. He has the makings of a top-end role player; even if he’s what he is now, he’s an excellent 6th-7th man off the bench. Where Clarke can take the Grizzlies and his game to new heights comes as a playmaker. He’s flashed the potential to be a good passer over the past few games, and he must continue honing his craft in that area. In addition, if he puts more work into his ball-handling, it opens up more transition opportunities, as well as more chances for him to create offense from the perimeter. If he starts averaging between 3-5 assists, and facilitates out of the short roll, he could easily become the Draymond Green of the 2020’s — a versatile big man that can defend all 5 positions, space the floor, and serve as a secondary playmaker.
The Grizzlies’ young trio is already good. If the coaching staff can expand the horizons off their game, and empower them to play a bit out of their comfort zone, you could easily see these three lead Memphis to long-term, sustainable success.
Continue Accumulating Assets, but Know When to Cash In
Being completely honest, the post-LeBron West is open.
The Nuggets will be good with Nikola Jokic, and will be even better if Jamal Murray becomes a perennial All-Star, and Michael Porter Jr. becomes something.
Dallas has Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.
Yes, the next generation of the West will be challenging, but behind Morant, Jackson, and Clarke, the Grizzlies are in that race.
It’s easy to get caught up in their surprising playoff race right now, but let’s not forget the long game here. Kleiman and company must continue accumulating assets in the form of draft capital and young players — whether that comes from deals involving Andre Iguodala, Solomon Hill, Jae Crowder, or even Jonas Valanciunas.
However, when the time comes where they have a shot to win it all, they must cash in on the accumulated assets. We’ve seen what happens when you cash in — the Toronto Raptors. And we’ve seen when you fail to cash in — the Boston Celtics.
It could be something as small as adding that veteran starter, or two, on a bad team to bolster the bench. It could be another deal that Dallas and Atlanta did with Doncic and Trae Young — please, please, God, I want Jalen Green. Or it could be making a play for the next disgruntled All-Star and persuading him to stay with the attraction of being a title contender — Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, Donovan Mitchell, Karl-Anthony Towns... all players that come to mind.
The Grizzlies already have two prized assets in the Utah Jazz pick from the Conley trade — based on early returns, that pick will be sweet — and the Warriors pick in the Iguodala salary dump — when Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green will be on the wrong side of 30.
The Grizzlies possess a forward-thinking front office that’s in the game of asset accumulation. They can’t be like Danny Ainge and hold them to their chest. They have to go in when they feel like they can bring a championship parade to Beale Street.
I don’t think many people realize how special the 2020’s could be. Yes, the GNG days were amazing, and it’s easy to want to compare these guys to that era.
This is entirely different though.
The pieces are there to build a legitimate title contender — not just a dark-horse favorite.
They have two of the best 5-6 guys from the past two drafts — one, a dynamic playmaker that drips with superstar potential; the other, a unicorn big man that’s literally a dream of any modern NBA enthusiast.
A third fiddle that could evolve into an elite role player that could become another Draymond Green, one of the most integral players of one of the best teams of all time.
A coach that already has installed an offense that’s already generating league-best assist rates and pace.
The assets to strike in franchise-altering move.
And a front office that’s preaching the long game and seeking sustainable success.
The recipe is just about there. If they can find Ja Morant’s running mate, expand the horizons of their best players, and capitalize the “asset-catching” game, the Memphis Grizzlies could deliver something this city deserves ...
A championship parade on Beale Street.