The last eight months, Memphis Grizzlies fans have been building up a sense of euphoria. Euphoria about a change atop the Grizzlies front office. Euphoria about a culture change within the Grizzlies organization. Euphoria that the Grizzlies finally have star caliber player(s) in Beale Street blue partnered with a front office that has a plan to take this team further than any other.
Euphoria is an unreal feeling. The definition of euphoria “is a feeling or state of intense excitement and happiness.” You’ve probably been experiencing this feeling the last month or even longer if you’ve been inside FedExForum, or even watching this young team succeed on TV.
The euphoria around the young Grizzlies is clear. It’s real. The young Grizzlies are surpassing everyone’s preseason expectations, and could be changing the formula to the rebuilding process to other teams that have tried quick rebuilds around the NBA. If Memphis executes this plan correctly, it could be a big blueprint for other teams in their rebuild projects.
A little luck was needed, but that wasn’t all of it:
In basketball, and our personal lives when we make power moves, we all come face to face with a little luck. The Grizzlies first offseason luck? Falling to the number two pick in the NBA Draft lottery and landing rookie Point Guard Ja Morant, and then topping that with trading up for arguably the best forward in the draft in Brandon Clarke, which was also just dumb luck. The change in Memphis started from the top of the organization all the way down to the coaching staff, lucky or not.
A new era Begins:
Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Memphis Grizzlies Zach Kleiman was quoted when he was first introduced with a quote I still remember from April: “The big picture is building this thing to be both competitive, and compelling on the court.” Kleiman continued, “We are going to build out a staff of individuals who work incredibly well together.”
Flash forward ahead to today, and the Memphis Grizzlies are sitting eighth in the Western Conference and are riding a seven game winning streak through stellar team basketball. Following a month of December that saw the Grizzlies escape with a record of 8-8 and sitting a game and a half back of the eight seed. Without the chess moves the Grizzlies front office made this past offseason, none of it would be possible.
The biggest story around the national and local media outlets has been Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, and how good he is right now. One could argue that another big story line would be how Memphis’ new front office put the weapons around Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Brandon Clarke. How the front office nailed down one of the best up and coming coaches in the NBA in Taylor Jenkins - for a franchise that had been through four coaches in five seasons.
Since December 9th, the Grizzlies are leading the NBA in points per game (119.2), assists per game (29.2), and sit second in the NBA in field goal percentage (49.1). Kleiman talked about the big picture of competitive, and compelling in Memphis, but I don’t even think the front office expected it this quickly. Competitive and compelling basketball that has Grizzlies fans feeling that playoff vibe again in the bluff city.
Of course lucky things happen here and there, but an underrated part of luck is - how did Memphis capitalize on those lucky events this offseason? Clarke falling to the 21st pick, Memphis falling in the NBA Draft Lottery to snag the number two pick. Memphis built around the core of Morant, Jackson Jr., and Clarke faster than the original front office could with the core four in eight seasons. It is a testament to not settling, and while Memphis has had early success - in the front office eyes it seems like they haven’t scratched the surface despite early success.
The Grizzlies Front Office made the most of each move:
Memphis hasn’t been a part of a true rebuild in about a decade, but each move is crucial in those trade talks, or offseason moves to build your organization from the ground up, while not trying not to settle. One of the first moves that the Grizzlies front office made this offseason, was moving on from former cornerstone point guard Mike Conley as he was traded to the Utah Jazz.
A deal that Memphis, among other things, added a veteran wing in Jae Crowder who has started all 38 games that he has appeared in this season. Despite the fan base being split on if Crowder should be dealt at the trade deadline - it is a testament to Crowder and the front office for building up his worth in the NBA again.
Then, adding two first round picks, and one in which we are seeing on the floor in Memphis right now in Brandon Clarke. Clarke has been sensational for the Grizzlies, and has added more talent to a bench unit that has been thriving. Brandon has ranked in the top ten in the NBA in field goal percentage for a good portion of this season, and show that he was better than the 21st pick.
Memphis also acquired a young guard out of Duke University in Grayson Allen who was drafted by Utah last year in the second round. Allen has played a solid role on this Grizzlies roster, and has shown that there is a spot for him in this league. Allen only appeared in 38 games for the Jazz in his first season in Utah. With Memphis? Allen is up seven more minutes a game, and is on track to appear in more games this season than his first season in Utah.
Then, arguably one of the biggest offseason moves was flipping their 2018 second round pick Jevon Carter, for two one year rentals. One year rentals, and one big surprise. That surprise being De’Anthony Melton out of USC. “Mr. Do It Something,” as Grizzlies Fox Sports Analyst Brevin Knight has popularly named Melton based off of his play. Melton does it all, and has been everything and more off the Grizzlies bench. A bench that Clarke and Melton lead, oh, and is one of the best bench units in the NBA this season. Parker Fleming and Connor Dunning wrote an excellent article on Melton’s production with Memphis so far this season.
Then, there was free agency where the Grizzlies inked up 23 year old Tyus Jones to a three year $26.4 million contract to back up Morant. Jones, who doesn’t have mind blowing numbers off the bench this season, has orchestrated Memphis’ bench unit perfectly. Jones shares Morant’s attitude in terms of looking to get his teammates before focusing on his own shots. Tyus has accepted the role of mentoring Morant, and leading the Grizzlies bench unit, and has done a great job.
Empowering the youth in Memphis:
In life it is easier to perform without the pressure of “if I mess up, this could be it for me.” Kleinman made it clear on Grizzlies media day back on October 2nd that there was an understanding from that top down in this organization that there were no serious expectations this season. “This season, from our perspective, and the coaching staff, it’s that we continuously improve, lets really compete.. Let’s lay it all out there,” when Kleiman was asked about his expectations this season.
A change of culture that has the players playing at the highest of levels (given their experience), and while you want to put a limit on these youngsters, they are not listening to your win totals. This team could potentially, at any point this season fall apart due to their youth. Or, because the front office has just let them just play ball this season, could continue to be one of the brightest stories in the NBA.
The front office deserves a lot of credit for the early success, and not settling for another tanking season, but wanting the organization to progress each day. This young Grizzlies team has put the league on notice that they aren’t scared of anyone, the same can be said for the Grizzlies front office that is set up for an exciting trade deadline.