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It’s the summer of the Grizzlies!

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Everything is coming up roses for Memphis’ NBA team nowadays

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The world is surrounded by uncertainty and seemingly is engulfed in turmoil. With that in mind, it makes total sense that when it comes to mostly superfluous things involving professional basketball that the Memphis Grizzlies seem to be set up for quite the summer ahead.

When you think “Memphis Grizzlies”, you don’t usually think of a franchise that has the stars aligning for them from a league organizational standpoint. The Grit and Grind Era was partially so special because it was orchestrated by a cast made up of mostly misfits and afterthoughts. While Memphis has had draft lottery success in terms of high picks, it is rare that those selections have actually worked out (Ja Morant is helping you forget Hasheem Thabeet though, right?) Nationally televised games and Christmas Day opportunities often are not used on the Grizzlies, and Memphis is not known as a free agency destination.

So the reality of the Memphis Grizzlies, led by two of the youngest stars in the NBA in Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. and the youngest head coach heading to Orlando in Taylor Jenkins, having the proverbial table set so nicely for them heading in to this proposed restart is out of character, but very welcome.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of details came out Tuesday night about the arrangements being proposed in Orlando for the supposed “NBA Bubble”. Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium was perhaps most on top of the information that came from the NBA memo to teams, showing set-ups for hotels, potential gameday schedules, and more. Go to Shams’ page to see every Tweet, but here are some of the highlights.

Individual hotel breakdowns (the Grizzlies will be staying in the Grand Floridian) will be left out of this article, as I am far from a Disney World expert (never been). Yet there are a lot of things that play in to Memphis being set up to thrive in the Disney bubble - even beyond the Justise Winslow effect and the chance for the squad to get healthy.

How?

A more “level” playing field

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Outside of some benefits - apparently the hotel the Lakers, Bucks, and other higher seeds will be staying in is the nicest, but again - not a Disney expert - the disadvantages of the season resuming in a central location really fall hard on those top-seeded squads. Home court advantage is lost, something that can hold value in terms of comfort and fan support. Lower seeds are still the inferior team theoretically, depending on the match-up, but in a possible seven game series that goes all the way to a game seven there won’t be a trip to Staples Center to take on L.A. like there would’ve been pre-COVID. That naturally helps Memphis.

It isn’t just the playoff format. The rumored eight-game schedule will simply be some semblance of the next eight games on all the team’s schedules before the suspended season (with some tweaks, because games played do not fully align). That still means the Grizzlies will play a pain of a slate - their remaining schedule was projected to be pretty tough if the season had played out through the full 82 games anyway. But now, whatever schedule advantage a team like the New Orleans Pelicans may have had has been negated to an extent. Gone for the Pelicans are multiple games with Atlanta and individual showdowns with New York and Charlotte. While NOLA still seems to have a lighter workload than the Grizzlies (and two head to head showdowns that will be both key to the play-in and must-see TV), they’ve lost both the quality of opponent to make up games as well as the quantity of chances to make up the roughly 3.5 games Memphis has on the field behind them.

The play-in being triggered if the lead for the Grizzlies is less than 4 games at the end of the eight game schedule helps a bit with making this more fair. But as long as Memphis doesn’t implode, they’ll likely make that play-in in some form or fashion. You could pretty easily argue that they would not have survived a 17-ish game race if the full season had played out.

So...it “leveled” in favor of Memphis. Which, again, is rare...but nice.

Youth will be served

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies-Media Day Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Limited fans (and most of those fans will be players from other teams). Extended stays at hotels. Various forms of random entertainment.

Sounds like an AAU tournament...and considering the youth of the Grizzlies players, chances are a good amount of them still have a pretty active understanding of what playing in those is like.

Add on the fact that there is not one single Grizzlies player on the roster currently that was on the last Memphis playoff team in 2017? Add on the limited postseason experience in general, as well - here are the leaders on the Grizzlies in playoff games played-

  • Jonas Valanciunas 43 games played
  • Kyle Anderson 30
  • Justise Winslow 18
  • Gorgui Dieng 5
  • Tyus Jones 4
  • Grayson Allen 2 (7 minutes per game, so...not really)

That’s a total of 102 (barely, Grayson probably shouldn’t count) games played between six players. Meanwhile, the likely first round opponent of Memphis - the Lakers - feature the following roster members that have played in more playoff games than all the postseason Grizzlies COMBINED-

  • LeBron James (239 games played)
  • Danny Green (124)
  • Rajon Rondo (105)

Thankfully for Memphis, this may be the only postseason in NBA history where postseason experience may somehow be a bit of a disadvantage.

LeBron James will almost surely be LeBron James regardless of the venue. But players like Green and Rondo were brought in partly because of their experience in the big moments in the playoffs - pressure-packed title run mintues usually hold massive value. They still do in this scenario, but given that this type of postseason has never happened all the miles logged in key situations carry a bit less weight.

The Grizzlies don’t know any better. In fact, they have more recent experience in this type of environment than perhaps any team heading to Orlando. Being the youngest team in the NBA has its benefits - in addition to the more recent experience in something close to what this may look like, it is likely fewer players will have families of their own to worry about. Instead of spouses and kids for some Grizzlies being shipped in for the playoffs, it would be parents and siblings. It allows for less distraction, and more focus on adapting to the “bubble” and the tasks at hand. That won’t be the case for them all, of course - their best player, Ja Morant, has a small child he will be away from that will surely be on his mind.

But even in his case, his youthful energy and resilience will come in handy. In a way, their ignorance and inexperience will be blissful.

2020 really is weird.


The Memphis Grizzlies will likely see their 2019-2020 season end in the first round of the NBA Playoffs at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers. But that is more probable now, heading in to the most uncertain circumstances in NBA history, than it would have been if the season simply would’ve played out the way it was supposed to. Their spot as the 8 seed when the season was suspended has provided them a real opportunity.

There’s still a lot to be decided. Some players may choose to sit out for a myriad of reasons. The final details between the NBA and NBPA still need to be hashed our when it comes to safety, “bubble” freedoms, and using the NBA platform to advance and strengthen the push for much-needed social justice and reform. But basketball-wise, from the schedules of those behind them becoming tougher, to the advantage gained through an “easier” schedule being played, to the shocking reality that their lack of knowing any better may actually help them find their footing before more veteran teams...from a strictly basketball perspective, things are really coming up Memphis right now.

It was already a season to remember before COVID-19 slowed the spinning of our world - the stars are aligning for it to be a resumption and playoff push for the ages as well.

It’s shaping up to be the summer of the Grizzlies.

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