It is that time of year again that gets us all excited. That wonderful source of debate, angst, confusion, joy, surprise, and just utter bewilderment that basketball fans look forward to every year.
I am not talking about the start of the NBA season. It is the unveiling of ESPN’s NBARANK: The annual list of the top 100 players in the NBA.
The first 90 selections, numbers 100-11, have already been revealed here and here. Though the basis for these rankings could leave room for deliberation (mainly using the advanced metric known as Real Plus-Minus, or RPM), the overall goal of providing an idea of where the best talents in the NBA rank when compared to each other is achieved. While there are some head-scratching omissions (where the heck are Brandon Clarke and Jonas Valanciunas?) and “aggressive” placements (Zion at 19? REALLY?), there is also plenty of clear evidence that the present and future of the league are in great shape.
This is especially true when it comes to the Memphis Grizzlies. This list offers further proof that the dynamic duo of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. are well on their way to becoming one of the most prominent pair of teammates in the NBA. In fact, a sound argument can be made that they have already reached that elite status in the present.
While many teams have two or more players listed among the top 50 on this list, the true significance of the rankings of Jackson Jr. at 43 and Morant at 31 centers on the fact they both have achieved these statuses at the age of 21. In fact, Morant and Jackson Jr. are two of only five players who are 21 years old or younger that made the Top 100 this year, along with Tyler Herro, Zion Williamson, and Luka Doncic (assuming he made the top 10.) While time will tell the true potential of Morant and Jackson Jr., it is hard to deny that the Grizzlies have one of the best pairs of talent as their foundation for the future in the NBA.
Finding a pair of Grizzlies in the Top 50 of the NBARANK list is not unprecedented. Both Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, who rank 96 and 71 on this year’s list, respectively, have made multiple appearances in the top half of this list in the past. In fact, they both ranked in the top 30 of this list as recently as 2017, when Gasol was placed at 29 and Conley was placed at 23.
The fact that Jackson Jr. and Morant land in similar locations on this list in comparison to where Gasol and Conley landed just four years ago is significant for a few reasons. For one, it shows how tremendously successful the Grizzlies rebuild has been in transitioning from the Grit and Grind era to the this current version of the franchise. It also proves that with Morant and Jackson Jr. already being this high on the list at their young ages, the argument that they could be the two best natural talents to ever play for the Grizzlies’ franchise is certainly valid.
This recognition of both Morant and Jackson Jr. in the present is certainly profound. Their natural talents warrant their inclusion among the best talents in the NBA right now. However, the most exciting aspect of this development is that both players certainly have significant room for growth and potential when it comes to their consistency and overall impact on the game. Though Morant’s rookie season was historically productive and Jackson Jr.’s productivity from beyond the arc is truly unprecedented for a player of his age and height, both of them can still take significant steps toward reaching their immense ceilings over the next few years.
Without a doubt, time will certainly tell just how realistic the Grizzlies chances are to become title contenders with Jackson Jr. and Morant as their pillars of prosperity. The need remains for another significant talent or two to be added to the current Memphis roster for it to evolve into a true title contender. However, both in the present and the future, both the Grizzlies franchise and their fans can take pride in knowing they truly have one of the most dynamic, exciting, and talented duos in the NBA.
And though Memphis nor the Grizzlies need anyone else’s stamp of approval, they both will gladly take pride in the rising relevance and recognition of Ja and Jaren with the hopes that the franchise is well on its way to unprecedented yet sustainable success.