The Memphis Grizzlies are set with their cornerstones. Jaren Jackson Jr. is a 6’11” flamethrower capable of punishing defenses from deep and of serving as a switch-heavy rim protector on the other end. Ja Morant has the superstar appeal with his offensive flair, tenacious intensity, and elite playmaking.
Grizzlies GM Zach Kleiman and company have also down a great job of surrounding them with great talent that catapulted them into the playoff picture now, while potentially filling a role down the road for the next contending Grizzly team.
Jonas Valanciunas has proven himself to be the most underrated big man in basketball, as he’s had notable strong outings against the elites of that position. Dillon Brooks is the irrationally confident scorer from the wing the Grizzlies have needed for years. The trio of Brandon Clarke, De’Anthony Melton, and Tyus Jones collectively are awesome in multiple facets of the game, serving as the focal point behind its stellar bench. In addition, there’s been solid outings from Grayson Allen, Kyle Anderson, Josh Jackson, and John Konchar throughout the season. Oh, and we still haven’t seen how Justise Winslow looks with this core.
Everything looks right for the Grizzlies both now and down the road. However, given inevitable financial constraints, draft selections, or extra dealing, hard decisions will be made eventually. It may come as soon as this offseason, or it could be a few years down the road. Nonetheless, moves will be made.
What will the prioritization look like? How will they choose to build around the star-studded duo of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant?
Brandon Clarke (23 years old, under rookie contract through 2022-23)
Justise Winslow (23 years old, 2 years, $26M with a team option for 2021-22)
When you imagine a 5-man group taking the floor in a high-stakes playoff game in the early-to-mid 2020’s, odds are, you have Brandon Clarke or Justise Winslow — if not both — in there.
Though he’s taken on the role as an energy bench big, Brandon Clarke was selected to eventually be the yin to Jaren’s yang in the frontcourt. From the returns this season, it looked like the Grizzlies hit here. At the very least, he’s a switchable, positionless big that can efficiently get buckets and grab rebounds. With his budding playmaking and shooting potential, he could be Siakam-esque, and the reason the Grizzlies are great.
If you told me the Grizzlies would get Justise Winslow for Andre Iguodala, I’d be shook and wouldn’t believe you. He’s a Parker Fleming All-Star! I’m enamored with his positional and defensive versatility, as he played huge minutes on the wing, at point, and as the team’s 5 in Miami. Positionless basketball!
He shot 38% from 3 in the last 2 years, excluding the 11-game 2019-20 season. After years of searching for their starting 3, the Grizzlies could have that and more with Winslow.
These two players are the swing players for the Grizzlies. If either one of these players hit their ceilings, the Grizzlies could be a contender throughout the 2020’s. Imagining Clarke as this Siakam-Draymond type role player, or Winslow as a Warriors Andre Iguodala piece, is captivating next to Jaren and Ja.
I don’t see them moving on from either player, barring injury issues or any deal that could net the Grizzlies a 3rd star. But hey, that 3rd star could be one of these guys.
Should be Around for a Few Years, But I Don’t Know After That
Dillon Brooks (24 years old, 3 years, $35M through 2022-23)
De’Anthony Melton (21 years old, RFA this offseason)
Tyus Jones (23 years old, 2 years, $15M through 2021-22)
These three players have been instrumental in the Grizzlies’ surprising success, and they should be mainstays over the next couple years — barring any big-time moves.
After a lost sophomore year Dillon Brooks broke out to become the team’s permanent starting shooting guard, while netting an 8-digit contract extension in the process. His 3-level scoring has improved, as he’s become a solid volume scorer capable of easing the burden from Morant. He also handles the responsibility of guarding the team’s best defender. With his contract, he’s a bargain as a starter or 6th man for the next few years, but he could also help money match in a deal to land the Grizzlies’ 3rd star.
De’Anthony Melton is awesome. He’s an advanced stats darling that impacts the game in multiple areas — as a secondary playmaker, combo guard defender, and offensive efficiency. It’s not a mistake that the Grizzlies literally kick ass when he’s on the court. Though he’s a free agent this summer, the shrinking salary cap should help the Grizzlies retain him on a team-friendly deal. Reminder, Melton was the coveted piece in that Grizzlies-Suns trade last summer.
Every playoff team has a good-to-great backup point guard, and the Grizzlies have their guy with Tyus Jones. He’s an uber-efficient backup point guard with an incredibly high assist-to-turnover ratio, and he’s also trending upwards as a 3-point marksman. Jones has quarterbacked this stellar bench, and it’s easy for him to continue doing so through the duration of his contract. His future, like Melton’s, will be hinged on another team vying his services and overpaying him.
In addition, with Ja and Jaren’s max extensions looming around 2022 and 2023, they must decide how much they want to spend on backup guards.
These players have played integral roles in their successful regular season, but different events could lead to make their situations interesting. What if they strike gold on a draft prospect in the 15-23 range? Or, if they want to chase a wing in the 2021 or 2022 free agency? Or if Zach LaVine, Buddy Hield, Bradley Beal, or Devin Booker are trade targets for Memphis in the unlikely event they become available?
Though these what if’s are easy to think about, it’s not a problem at the moment. Brooks, Melton, and Jones have proven their worth as long-term pieces for the next great Grizzlies team.
Regardless of what lies ahead, the Memphis Grizzlies are in a great spot here. They found their two guys to build around, and within the first season of their rebuild, they found a collection of young talent that can grow with them and play alongside them in playoff minutes.
It’s crazy to think that, 2 years ago, the young talent here was all replaceable, and most were off the roster for sub-rotation-level veterans. Now, the front office would have to think long and hard before doing such thing.
Over the next several years, the Grizzlies will make moves to bolster their chances of bringing a parade to Memphis. With Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., and any sort of combination of anyone in these tiers, that dream could become a reality.