Merry Grizzmas Eve, everyone!
The Memphis Grizzlies are back in action in games that actually count Wednesday night against the San Antonio Spurs. As others release their preseason previews, a familiar refrain rings out - the Grizzlies are either not expected to do very much, or they’re being underestimated. Memphis should be used to this treatment by now...but ironically, that evaluation of the current state of things for the Grizzlies shouldn’t be as infuriating as perhaps it was during the Grit and Grind Era. As the likes of Zach Lowe and Chris Herrington have pointed out, progress for this team will likely not be linear. Improvement toward the goal of the next great Grizzlies team won’t necessarily mean a certain playoff spot after last season’s play-in. Growth and health should be the goal - and it appears to this point the Grizzlies front office agrees.
To help me preview the season ahead for Memphis, I have enlisted eight terrific GBBers. Four join me here in part one - Associate Editor Parker Fleming, Senior Writer Ben Hogan, and Writers Greg Ratliff and Lauren Harvey.
Finish this sentence- the Memphis Grizzlies will be an outright playoff team (1-6 seed) in the western conference if...
SITE MANAGER JOE MULLINAX (@JoeMullinax)- It isn’t just Ja Morant that takes a leap beyond what is expected. Morant would have to be an All-Star level player, and not a snub - a legit “he has to make the team” start to the season. But beyond Ja, at least one of Jonas Valanciunas or Dillon Brooks would have to play the absolute best basketball of their careers while Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justise Winslow are out due to injury. And THEN, once those two return, they would need to not just return to prior form but better than they were before they got hurt.
In a shortened preseason? With a lack of experience playing together? Those are a lot of boxes that would need to be checked...and they almost certainly will not be. This is a stretch - even for the biggest Grizzlies fans.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR PARKER FLEMING (@PAKA_FLOCKA)- They have a clean health bill after the Winslow and Jackson returns, and Jackson takes the All-Star leap with Ja. I’m banking on Ja taking the All-Star leap regardless, based on what we’ve seen thus far in the bubble and preseason. What his co-star, Jaren Jackson Jr., does this season could signal a larger jump in the standings. Jaren showcased his unicorn-like abilities in the bubble, and building on that for a 21-6-2-2 line on 40% shooting from 3 season could be enough to get the Grizzlies above the play-in race. Maybe his inevitable contract extension could serve as extra motivation?
SENIOR WRITER BEN HOGAN (@NotTheGolfer)- The Memphis Grizzlies will be an outright playoff team in the Western Conference if one of two things happen. The first is if Ja Morant makes the jump to NBA superstar a year or two earlier than expected. If he turns into a player that can take over games, that makes the Grizzlies that much more dangerous. The other thing would be key injuries to the upper tier teams in the West. The West is loaded and I think the Grizzlies are a year or so away from being a playoff shoe-in.
WRITER GREG RATLIFF (@GregRatliff)- Luck is involved. The rest of the West isn’t any worse off than they were last season. The injury status of Jaren and Justice will also go a long way towards the Grizzlies’ success. Ja will be Ja but what exactly are you going to get from the rest of this very young team?
WRITER LAUREN HARVEY (@DragicKingdom)- Ja Morant is an All-Star and makes a Luka Doncic type leap in year two, and Jaren Jackson Jr. misses less than 10 games to start the season. The supporting cast is solid enough that if these two things happen it should be enough for the Grizzlies to get an outright playoff spot. They may need some help from an unexpected team dropping out of the race but if these two things happen an outright playoff spot should be in reach.
What is more likely - Dillon Brooks averaging 4+ assists per game, or Jaren Jackson Jr. averaging 8+ rebounds per game?
MULLINAX- This is super strange to say...but I think Brooks averaging 4 or more assists per game is more likely. The reasoning is two fold. One, we have actively seen evidence of Dillon prioritizing this in the preseason. He understands the type of basketball that Taylor Jenkins wants them to play, and he is buying in (for now). Secondly? Dillon has had the time to work on his game and improve. Jaren has had to focus on recovery from injury more than anything else, unfortunately. Jackson Jr. returning to what he was - a “big” that cannot rebound at a high rate, but can shoot the hell out of the basketball - would be enough of a win for Memphis at this point. Production beyond that in this shortened season seems possible, but unlikely.
FLEMING- Dillon Brooks averaging 4+ assists is more likely, just because of the system. Coach Jenkins’ systems revolves around pace-and-space, drive-and-kick, and interchangeability on both ends of the floor. Given Brooks’ usage, and some role players improving their outside shot deep (Melton and Anderson in particular), and 4+ assists isn’t out of the question. For Jackson, he plays with a rebound gobbler in Valanciunas, and often finds himself on the perimeter on either end of the floor. He doesn’t need to be an 8+ rebounds per game guy to impact the game.
HOGAN- Brooks averaging 4+ assists is more likely. In a small sample size during the preseason, Dillon has shown an interest in getting his teammates involved more. One problem for JJJ is that he spends a decent amount of his time on offense around the perimeter, and that takes away opportunities for offensive rebounds.
RATLIFF- Gotta be Jaren. I don’t see any way that Dillon Brooks can ever get more than about 2.5 assists per game. The Grizzlies move the ball well but Dillon loves to shoot. That’s a big positive and negative all at once. Jaren’s size should make it easier for him to get more rebounds but it depends on how much he’s asked to do that once he’s back.
HARVEY- Dillon averaging more than four assists. It’s entirely possible that Jaren never averages more than eight rebounds at any point in his career and Grizzlies fans should make peace with that and focus on everything else he brings to the table. DIllon has shown a refreshing willingness to pass this preseason and I hope it sticks around.
What are realistic expectations for Kyle Anderson, Grayson Allen, and De’Anthony Melton as they fill in for Justise Winslow and Jaren Jackson Jr.?
MULLINAX- It’s most fair to say you expect the most from Anderson, because he is the most veteran of the three and he also has the most experience in his current role as a starter. Kyle needs to be the best version of himself - which is basically what he has always been as a defender and facilitator, with a splash of being a threat to shoot from beyond the arc (which he has never really been until maybe now). For Melton and Allen, it appears combined (with Grayson getting the start) they must replicate the best of Winslow. Passing, versatile defense, sound decision making in transition...with the main exception being Allen with his probable role as a three point launcher, they essentially should not force the game and allow for the larger cogs in the Grizzlies machine (Morant, Jonas Valanciunas, Brooks) to get the oil needed to chug along as necessary. Memphis doesn’t need them to be anything more than themselves.
FLEMING- Kyle Anderson should provide what Winslow, in theory, adds — occasional outside shooting, secondary playmaking with some initiation responsibilities, and 5-position defense. Grayson Allen should be a high volume 3-point shooter who only takes 2s when presented with an open lane to the basketball, with the expectation that he’s a 38-43% 3-point shooter. De’Anthony Melton should deliver the same level of impact but in larger doses; the outside shot could be a game-changer.
HOGAN- Realistic expectations for Anderson, Allen, and Melton are to bring about 25 to 30 points per game while JJJ and Winslow are out. I am not asking them to do too much more than they already do. With Jaren, they will have to replace 17+ pts and 4+ rebounds a game, on top of what they were bringing. I think that is more than doable.
RATLIFF- Kyle Anderson has the potential to be a good veteran voice to keep guys on track. On the stat sheet, I don’t expect him to be a huge difference maker on offense but defensively he can help guard multiple spots. For Grayson, it’s probably unrealistic to expect what he did in the bubble to be the standard going forward but just being consistent would be a good start. Same goes for Melton. Keep the ball moving and make a consistent amount of your shots when you get them. Any decent defense would be a plus as well.
HARVEY- If Grayson and Kyle can continue their hot shooting and play sound defense it will go a long way in helping the Grizzlies stay afloat and provide some of what the team is missing with Justise and Jaren out. Kyle in particular can also help recreate some of the playmaking the front office anticipated they’d be getting when they traded for Justise Winslow. De’Anthony Melton just needs to continue to be Mr. Do-it-all.
Tomorrow on gameday four more GBBers will join me to answer three more questions about the season ahead for the Memphis Grizzlies!