The last month, the Memphis Grizzlies young core has been gaining more and more national attention - arguably more national attention than any Memphis Grizzlies team to date. You could argue that content has been slow due to the NBA being suspended to COVID-19, but you could also say that they hype has finally arrived in the 901.
Bleacher Report NBA asked its talented staff which ‘Superstar duo’ they’d rather build a team around. When you think about the dynamic duos in the NBA, you’d probably think of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis in Dallas with the Mavericks. Maybe even LeBron James and Anthony Davis in Los Angeles with the Lakers. Throw in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in Philadelphia with the 76ers. You’d think they would have their bets for the number one from a national perspective, but you would be wrong.
Long story short, Bleacher Report ranked a rookie and a second year guy number one. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., of your Memphis Grizzlies, were the duo they would rather build around. A unique spot for the Grizzlies, and their fans - to have something so prized, so young and with so much promise. So, I was thinking...
If (when?) the Memphis Grizzlies reach their full potential and get to the NBA Finals, or even become a dominant force in the Western Conference, who would be discussed around the national media as their opposing conference rival? (Example: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Milwaukee Bucks)
1.) Milwaukee Bucks
In that same article that Bleacher Report released, there where seven superstar duos that were ranked. Ranked seventh on their list - the two superstars in Milwaukee, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.
Several things made me lean towards the Bucks as Memphis’ top rival in the Eastern Conference. The biggest thing would be Jaren Jackson Jr. and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s potential head-to-head matchups over the next five or six years.
Of course, that is if Giannis signs his max contract to stay with the Bucks for five more seasons. If Giannis signs his max deal to stay in Milwaukee, we get to see Jaren continue to develop defensively, while going at Antetokounmpo on the offensive end at least twice a year.
The thing with the Bucks will be, who they surround Antetokounmpo and Middleton with. The two All-Stars will make pretty much anyone around them better, and play both sides of the floor consistently that you could throw pretty much anyone around them throughout the next two or three years, and make it work.
The Bucks are championship contenders right now. Not in a year or two or more like Memphis, but contenders this season. With Giannis continuing his growth as a top three NBA player right now, and having an All-Star sidekick, the Bucks have such a bright present, and future.
For Memphis, it is possible this season is a sneak peak into the future. A team full of guys that a lot of teams passed on, or gave up on. You can look up and down Memphis’ roster, and find each role player who had been passed off from their former teams looking to find a new home in Memphis.
Memphis is in a fantastic position, to not only be better this season or next season, but year after that. The Grizzlies could become contenders before people think.
It doesn’t happen often in year one for rebuilding teams, and it sure didn’t happen fast for the Bucks, but both teams have the potential of being bitter rivals in the coming seasons. Both teams, two superstars, separate conferences, fighting for one trophy.
2.) Miami Heat
This was closer than most think. Both franchises have headlines on both rosters right now that have many waiting for their next matchup. The obvious headline is Andre Iguodala, the hold out in Memphis, and the young Grizzlies voicing their frustration on how Iguodala handled the situation before being dealt to Miami.
But that situation is right now, and Iggy is only apart of the right now situation for the Heat. Looking past two or three years, the Heat have a really talented young core. Kendrick Nunn, who many think should finish second in Rookie of the Year voting behind Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, has appeared in all 62 games for the Heat and is averaging 15.7 points per game along with 3.4 assists per game. Nunn originally started the season out in search of the Rookie of the Year award, has had a solid season in South Beach.
The rivalry that the fans will create, as the two talented guards go at it for years, will build the hype around the two franchises.
Then, you have a budding star in Bam Adebayo, who made his first All-Star appearance this season at the age of 22. Then you look at their young wing talent in Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson, and the Heat have a young core, and the opportunity to build around those select players.
The Heat and Grizzlies are in similar situations in terms of development and depth. You could throw the age of their talent in as well, but it is tough to spot the difference outside of superstar guard Jimmy Butler. Butler, at the age of 30, has been a leader for the Heat this season, and provides stability for a young team on an off night.
A lot can happen in a year or two, but it seems like the Grizzlies and Heat are neck and neck in terms of filling out their rosters, and while I lean (as of today) the Heat beating Memphis with their current rosters in a playoff series. The Grizzlies in a year or two could become the dominant force so many are predicting with their young core.
At the end of the day, a lot can happen. Injuries, transactions, and new surprises can lead a team from going north towards a title, or running out of time as their windows start closing for a championship. The narrative is clear, though. Memphis against a top three NBA player each year in the Finals in the coming seasons, or in front of that crazy crowd in South Beach...it all looks amazing.
Even though the Grizzlies nailed year one of the rebuild, the front office will have more challenges ahead in order to surround the core of this roster with guys that compliment Head Coach Taylor Jenkins’ system, because the Grizzlies have two guys that can play in any system in Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.
Maybe I’m dreaming, or maybe it’s very realistic, especially how year one has gone for the Grizzlies roster, and font office. Either way, nothing is too unrealistic with the current core in place for the Grizzlies. Milwaukee, Miami, or whoever - if Memphis arrives in that setting, the moment will be phenomenal.