It’s certainly possible the Memphis Grizzlies make the playoffs in this strange and fragile NBA season we are all about to embark on. But it’s just as possible (if not probable) that they miss out, given all of the the adversity ahead of them. It’s not just potential COVID protocol fatigue and the talented teams in the Western Conference. It’s the fact that they, themselves, have not been at full strength - or what they perceive their full strength to be - in over nine months. Integrating Justise Winslow and reintroducing Jaren Jackson Jr. to this team while in the middle of a pandemic-stressed campaign won’t be easy. And because of that, the tight rope walk for Memphis between staying on as a play-in contender and tumbling to the Lottery will be stressful at times.
But thankfully, this season (likely the last season) without great expectations should still allow for growth organically within the second youngest squad in the NBA.
In today’s Roundtable, I am joined by GBB Senior Writers Justin Lewis and Bryce Hayes, and GBB Writers Jordan Peterson and EdMemphis.
Finish this sentence- the Memphis Grizzlies will miss the playoffs entirely (11-15 seed) if...
GBB Site Manager Joe Mullinax (@JoeMullinax)- The guys in the picture above don’t return at all this season. And that’s not to say that’s the expectation - we have every reason to be hopeful that as of now, by the end of January both Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justise Winslow will be in uniform and not in street clothes. But Memphis simply isn’t built to be a playoff contender with a team that is driven by a big three of Ja Morant, Jonas Valanciunas, and Dillon Brooks. We saw that for a majority of the Bubble. They’ll play hard regardless, but if the cavalry never arrives the Grizzlies will miss out on the play-in.
GBB Senior Writer Justin Lewis (@J_Timberfake_)- If there is nothing related to the lack of effort from the Grizzlies at all. Being down Jaren early will be tough to recover from the Gauntlet that is the West. Grizzlies might miss simply because the West is completely loaded. Even the bad teams like Minnesota and San Antonio have very talented players.
GBB Senior Writer Bryce Hayes (@nxtprodigy)- The Grizzlies will miss the playoffs entirely if Jaren Jackson Jr. has an unexpected setback or Ja Morant has a major injury that takes him out for a long stretch. The Western Conference is still loaded, and so is the Southwest division, so regardless the path to the play in or higher won’t be easy. That being said, barring major injury or a COVID outbreak, I don’t foresee the Grizzlies missing the playoffs, and they’ll make the play-in at the minimum.
GBB Writer Jordan Peterson (@JordanP_901)- They don’t treat the season like a marathon instead of a sprint aimed at highlight reels.
GBB Writer EdMemphis (@SquareBidness)- Obvious choice is If Jaren isn’t healthy. I’d venture to say along with a lack of rapid development from one of more of the prospects from recent years. Also if none of the guys under secure contracts (Brooks, Kyle, Melton, JV, Morant) make a game-changing leap this season
What is more likely- Ja Morant makes the All-Star Team, or Justise Winslow plays over 40 games for Memphis this year?
MULLINAX- This is difficult. Morant appears primed to take a sophomore season leap the size of Trae Young, or perhaps Luka Doncic-lite. Throughout most of his preseason minutes he was the best player on the floor, and he controlled almost every aspect of the game with his play. That being said...the West is loaded with guards. Doncic, James Harden (for now), Stephen Curry is back, Donovan Mitchell, Damian Lillard, Jamal Murray...while Ja should definitely be in the mix, it is by no means a lock he makes it. Justise has become known as injury prone, but he’s played in over 50% of games in a season in three of his five NBA seasons. It’s close, but I am going to bet on the Grizzlies performance staff having Winslow ready to go in the next 2-3 weeks over the NBA community giving Ja the fan votes needed to get to the All-Star Team. I hope I am wrong and both things happen, though.
LEWIS- Ja making the All-Star team. I say this because I believe he will be at that level this season and the league may be the ones making the selections since there is no ASG this year. For Justise, you don’t know how many on the front end he will miss, there will be load management for sure and he’s likely to break in half.
HAYES- This one is hard because of how easy it is to get snubbed as a guard in the Western Conference. With Ja Morant being as popular as he is, becoming a top 15 NBA jersey seller, it makes it hard for me to see him have the same fate as Grizzlies players before him and be on the outside looking in (at least not for long). If Ja Morant plays well and generates a few posters, he will be an All-Star and high vote-getter, but he could also have to wait another year as more experienced players find themselves on the team — while Morant is dependent on coaches to select him as a reserve. I’ll begrudgingly say Winslow will play 40 games is more likely but hopefully both will happen.
PETERSON- Justise Winslow. And that’s no slight to Ja inasmuch as it is a slight to the popularity of big market PGs. Here’s to hoping I am wrong.
EDMEMPHIS- Both are evenly split in terms of chances. I hope that I’m correct in assuming Winslow will come back an play 40 games. If not, Winslow is basically a lost transaction and the first official bad move of the Kleiman era. Ja Morant also has an equally healthy chance at his first All-Star team. If Ja’s preseason play translates into regular season wins, he should be an All-Star, especially with Russell Westbrook leaving the conference opening up a guard spot. My money is on Ja.
What is the absolute most you’d like to see Memphis be willing to part with in any “realistic” trade, and who would you be willing to give that package up for?
MULLINAX- Something built around Gorgui Dieng and a future 1st. No one is untouchable beyond Ja and Jaren (and maybe Brandon Clarke, depending on who you ask), but especially this season there is no need to rush anything. If the right kind of player comes available, you kick the tires - as Memphis has shown a willingness to do in the past. Zach LaVine for Gorgui, Grayson Allen, and a 1st. If the Magic season goes sideways Evan Fournier for the same package but two 2nds instead of a 1st or minus Grayson (since Fournier is an expiring deal as well). You could also do the opposite and use Gorgui as a means of bringing in additional draft resources - if Houston trades Harden, perhaps they’d pay Memphis in some draft capital to take on the Eric Gordon contract.
There really isn’t much reason to rock the boat. But having Dieng’s deal and multiple future 1sts allows for Kleiman and company to take advantage of whatever opportunities may come their way, however the season plays out.
LEWIS- Gorgui Dieng. I like this roster, Grizz aren’t breaking the bank for a superstar this year, because it’s not their window. Trade Gorgui’s expiring deal for another asset and call it a day.
HAYES- I am no Trade Machine expert, and in Kleiman I trust. The only untouchable players should be Ja, Jaren, and Brandon Clarke, so if there’s a combination of players to be given up, and it ACTUALLY makes the team better without suddenly adopting a “win now” mentality with a team of 23 year olds you do it. I trust the current plan of building through the draft, but if they can acquire a Buddy Hield or Bradley Beal for a relative bargain, I’m all for it.
PETERSON- Admittedly, I don’t follow trade news very closely or where everyone sits with their current contracts, so I probably don’t even know what potential is out there. I remember being particularly intrigued with what would have to happen to get a Bradley Beal once upon a time, so apparently it takes that caliber of player for me to entertain the rumor mill.
EDMEMPHIS- D’Anthony Melton/Dillon Brooks (Offer Brooks only if they refuse Melton), Tyus Jones, and a future 1st rd pick for Zach LaVine. Zach is the perfect compliment to Ja, and even Jaren in several ways. His scoring prowess, shooting, secondary ball-handling prowess, etc. Simply put, Zach can be whatever you need for him to be in terms of scoring options and playing style.