The NBA season remains in limbo. With that uncertainty, longing for anything basketball remains strong. They’re doing a H-O-R-S-E tournament. And Players 2K events. And all sorts of simulations and ideas about what the season could, or should, look like when the season does indeed resume - if it resumes at all.
Surprise, surprise, no one really has any ideas that are advantageous for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Whether it is tournaments for the 8 seed (Portland Trail Blazer star Damian Lillard unsurprisingly likes this idea in particular) or fantasy basketball simulations of the regular season where the New Orleans Pelicans gain the #8 seed away from Memphis (what is a Strat-O-Matic anyway?) it seems that the campaign the Grizzlies put together have earned little to no respect from most. Hell, The Ringer just randomly decided to not have the Grizzlies be the 8 seed for no good reason.
First, a moment of clarity. Of course fans of teams in the hunt for the playoffs want to see their teams in. Of course Lillard wants a tournament. That’s not the issue. The issue is with the spread and proliferation of these ideas from folks without horses in the race, so to speak - national media outlets, casual NBA fans, etc.
Now there are reasons for this overall blatant disrespect, they say. “Strength of schedule”, is often the battle cry of the Zion Williamson lovers longing for a LeBron James showdown with the star rookie. There’s no denying the path to the playoffs - which would have been much easier for the Pelicans, or Trail Blazers, or Sacramento Kings , or San Antonio Spurs - wasn’t kind to Memphis. The race likely would have gone down to the wire, and that final stretch of six games in particular for the Grizzlies is (was? The season was supposed to end Wednesday) brutal.
- vs. Dallas Mavericks
- @ Portland
- @ Denver Nuggets
- vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
- vs. Philadelphia 76ers
- @ Houston Rockets
But all that assumes that teams like the Nuggets, Thunder, 76ers, and Rockets aren’t resting some (or all) of their starters as teams firmly in the playoffs and potentially locked in to a particular seed. Projecting what those games would have looked like based on what the NBA world was like March 11th isn’t an exact science. It also would be OK to state at this point that while Memphis would have to play all those squads those teams should also be thinking “wow, we have to play the Grizzlies.” Memphis overachieved all season long and was a week or two away from being back to full strength with the returning Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke and the debuting Justise Winslow. That depth would have fortified the Grizzlies - made them stronger. The offense would have improved, the defense would likely have grown.
It’s unlikely they would’ve have closed with a whimper, even with the schedule.
So why are so many in a rush to find ways to not reward a team that “ended” the regular season up 3.5 games on their closest competition? Why weren’t 65 games of a regular season enough to say that the Grizzlies are, in fact, one of the best sixteen teams in the NBA and worthy of postseason consideration if the NBA has to drastically alter their plans when (if?) things resume? Why isn’t the story of underdog Ja Morant rising up to likely Rookie of the Year status enough to celebrate? Or the Grizzlies themselves as an overachiever, with an extremely young roster, a more than full draft cupboard, and the potential to bring in another talented player via trade to build Memphis in to a title contender for years to come?
Why aren’t the Memphis Grizzlies enough for people?
It feels petty to write such a statement. Of course Memphis isn’t viewed as highly as they should be - Grizzlies fans are used to such oversights by now. Small market living at its finest. But the New Orleans Pelicans aren’t the Lakers. Zion Williamson has a strong presence, and through 19 games has looked the part of the NBA’s next Thanos figure...but Ja Morant has been a walking highlight reel for many more contests. He has a story worthy of telling - an under-recruited product of South Carolina and Murray State who has gone from a side gym afterthought to NBA star in four years. For whatever reason - media bias, shoe sales, longing for what Zion “might be” despite fewer games, a combination of these and other factors - despite Ja’s remarkable season, there is still a larger desire for Zion to be on the national stage.
And NBA superstar Damian Lillard. And apparently for just about all options that aren’t in the interest of the current eight seed in the Western Conference.
In a way? Anger has given way to pity. It’s a shame that more folks haven’t gotten to know this team. The swagger of Dillon Brooks, for better or worse, makes for must-see TV. The emergence of analytics darlings such as DeAnthony Melton and Tyus Jones as key reserves on a young playoff team. The utter dominance of Jonas Valanciunas, and the fun coaching style of Taylor Jenkins. The truly unique stylings of Jaren Jackson Jr., and the rookie campaign of Brandon Clarke that rivals that of both Zion and Ja. There is so much to enjoy about the 2019-2020 Memphis Grizzlies, regardless of whether or not folks outside of Memphis choose to see it.
National outlets will continue to overlook Memphis. The Grizzlies grind forward will continue to be seen as a team destined for a fall rather than a continual rise. The Pelicans and the Trail Blazers and others will be placed in front of them for all sorts of reasons. But this group has been proving people wrong for a long time now. From a “convey or don’t covey” debate to a legitimate postseason contender. From an organization struggling to find its way to one of the brightest futures in the Association. From an ending era’s painful remnants to a charismatic, confident, defiant start of something new.
Memphis knows at this point just how special these Grizzlies are, and likely will continue to be. Despite so many attempts to push them out, they’re likely not going anywhere any time soon.
At this point? If you’re looking for ways to get someone else in to the playoffs, you’re missing out on what makes these Memphis Grizzlies great. You’re not enjoying the NBA as much as you could be. Yet the Grizzlies seem to not be enough for national fans, unfortunately.