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Memphis Grizzlies may not be underdogs much longer

The Memphis Grizzlies will always have underdog elements to its brand, but soon they’ll no longer be the underdogs. They’ll be the favorites.

Houston Rockets v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

“It’s a blue-collar town, and I’m a blue-collar player, a hard-worker. Nothing’s been given easily to me, and nothing’s been given easily to this town.”

These words from Zach Randolph after the 2011 series victory over the San Antonio Spurs will forever be true. The blue-collar, grit-and-grind mentality embodies this city and has become a staple in this team’s foundation. It’s all thanks to the underdogs that put the Memphis Grizzlies on the map.

Zach Randolph was salary-dumped to Memphis, and he came into this city with a reputation of being an empty-stat bucket-getter on the court, and a trouble-maker off it. Later, he erased those labels to become the leader of a playoff mainstay and a champion in the community. Marc Gasol, the chunky Gasol brother, shed the “other Gasol” moniker — and some body fat — to arguably become the best center of the 2010’s. Tony Allen came in as a bench defensive specialist who was falling out of the rotation, and then he broke out as a cult hero.

Though the Core 4 days are gone, the Grizzlies have their share of underdogs still. Ja Morant’s emergence from under-recruited prospect to rising NBA star is well-documented and spectacular. Brandon Clarke made massive improvements in his game between San Jose State and Gonzaga to become one of the most efficient college basketball players and NBA rookies in basketball history. John Konchar played college ball at a 4-year school in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and is now becoming a fan favorite in Memphis.

The blue-collar, underdog elements will forever stick with this team, and that’s how it should be. However, the days of being the underdog could be over soon.

One of the big reasons the GNG Grizzlies were always overlooked as a Western Conference contender was their style of play. They played a brand of basketball that was a beautiful mess. They wouldn’t want to beat you with spectacular ball movement, an abundance of 3’s, or with flashy plays above the rim. They wanted to drag opponents into the mud and beat the crap out of them.

They’d rely on the brutality Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol inflicted on their opponents, while Mike Conley dictated the pace of the game like a quarterback handing it off to his powerhouse running back. It wasn’t flashy, but it got the job done. However, the lack of pizazz often made the Grizzlies fly under the radar.

Now, Taylor Jenkins and company have ramped up the pace, and Ja Morant has become a walking highlight reel. Behind the brilliance of its young coach and floor generals (Morant and Tyus Jones), this young Grizzlies have become League-Pass darlings.

They zip the ball at an elite level, play at a quick pace, and score with incredible efficiency. This style of play translates to a beautiful brand of basketball that’s pleasing to the eye, possessing a perfect balance of pace-and-space modern analysts enjoy and highlight-reel plays that captivate the casual fan.

For the first time in quite awhile — maybe ever — the Grizzlies have an exciting offense that can get out and run, while making plays above the rim.

As this team gains more experience, their watchability factor should increase, and Jenkins’ system would become a well-oiled machine that creates a Western Conference powerhouse.

Golden State Warriors v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

It wasn’t as prominent during the GNG days, but NBA Twitter has become a powerful entity that could sway the public opinion. Over the past season, the Memphis Grizzlies have become the hipster team of the NBA Twitter.

They possess a boatload of players that were favorites among the ones in NBA Twitter that specialize in draft coverage. Jaren Jackson Jr. was a sleeper pick for number one in 2018, and he was among the top 3-5 in almost every big board. Some big boards even had Brandon Clarke as high as 2nd — yes, even higher than Ja Morant. On a lighter note, De’Anthony Melton, John Konchar, and Jontay Porter were trendy sleeper picks among draft Twitter.

The Ringer has also become a bridge between NBA Twitter and national media, when it comes to opinions and coverage. Ja has gotten a lot of love from them, including his own friggin’ song. Writers and podcasters for there have also alluded to Jaren as the perfect modern big plenty of times. They’ve also given a lot of love to Brandon Clarke and De’Anthony Melton; Clarke was as high as 3 on big boards.

It’s not necessarily ESPN coverage or anything, but with the amount of visibility we have into NBA Twitter, it’s great to be on the right side of its content.

2020 NBA All-Star - Rising Stars Game Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

While the Core 4 consisted of likable, respected players, none possess the potential star power of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

Jackson has the makings of a marketable star. He’s charismatic, outgoing guy with a vibrant personality. He’s already landed some nice local spots — like his own Wing Guru flavor — and he started making more rounds in the national spotlight last offseason, like “NBA The Jump” and other NBA events. As his game continues to grow, he’ll become a star both on and off the court.

Ja Morant has emerged as a star this season. Every single night, he does something to break the internet, and fans — both at home and on the road — can’t help but marvel at Ja. Even his missed dunks receive more attention than most made dunks! His dazzling style of play makes him an easy highlight binge-watch, as his mixtapes resurface almost weekly on social media.

He was also garnering recognition beyond the highlights. Though Zion “gained steam” in the Rookie of the Year race, most national analysts didn’t buy into it and still saw Morant as the unanimous favorite. Aside from the race, he was getting All-Star consideration as a rookie. Tracy McGrady even went as far to say that Ja is a future MVP. When has Memphis gotten any sort of recognition like that?

Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. have what it takes to make it big in this league. And when they reach that full potential, the league will take notice, and they’ll get the rightful recognition.

Golden State Warriors v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Memphis Grizzlies will always have this blue-collar mentality and the “Grit ‘n’ Grind” foundation. This team — and this city — thrives whenever it’s “Memphis vs. Errrbody.” It doesn’t matter whether the “Errbody” is the national media looking over them, the ones saying they should go to Seattle or Las Vegas, the Lob City Clippers, or Andre Iguodala.

It’s what makes this city so special.

However, at some point, some people on the “Errbody” side will want to ride this Grizzlies wave. They’ll be captivated by Ja Morant’s flashiness, Jaren Jackson Jr.’s unicorn skillset, Taylor Jenkins’ wizardry, Zach Kleiman’s chess moves towards building a contender, and the underlying brilliance of its role players.

As the team builds towards what Zach Kleiman and Jason Wexler are envisioning, they won’t be an underdog. In the ideal world, they could become a Western Conference contender capable of bringing a championship parade to Beale Street.

The blue-collar mentality and “Grit ‘n’ Grind” mindset will pave the road towards a new era of underdogs to become the favorites and reach the pinnacle of greatness.

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