COVID-19 robbed sports fans of one the greatest sports spectacles known to man: March Madness. Every year around January, bracket projections begin to roll out and there are teams that fall into a category known as “Bubble Teams.”
These bubble teams are considered to be on the outside looking in, or just barely on the inside and still have work left to do to achieve their goal of postseason play. Bubble teams can not afford to coast through the remainder of the season; the pressure is officially on.
While in Orlando, the Memphis Grizzlies will need to approach the return to play as an NCAA bubble team. As it stands, Memphis would make the playoffs, but according to the new return to play rules, they will need a 4 games lead over the 9 seed by the end of 8 games or they will need to win a play in. As an 8 seed in the play in, they would only need to win once, but if they slip to 9, they would have to win twice.
“Why does making the playoffs this season matter? They weren't supposed to make it anyways. What’s the point being just the 8 seed to get knocked out in the first round?”
Playoff experience matters. No NBA champion has been crowned with a roster whose core had little to no playoff experience. The NBA Playoffs is a different NBA and experience completely matters.
Site Manager Joe Mullinax pointed out that the likely first round match up in the playoffs has 3 individual players that have played in more playoff games than the entire Grizzlies roster combined (102). The young core of Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, De’Anthony Melton and Dillon Brooks have not sniffed even a minute of playoff basketball.
The goal in any rebuild should be to gain playoff experience early for your core players, so that when the contention window opens, they are not fresh to the moment.
But here is where the Orlando Bubble, or campus as the NBA is terming it, is uniquely valuable. Whether the Memphis Grizzlies clinch the final playoff spot to face the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1st round or not, there is important playoff experience to be had.
The eight games of return to play before the playoffs begin are officially labeled as the conclusion of the regular season, but in reality for the Memphis Grizzlies, and the five teams chasing them, these eight games are playoff games. The Portland Trail Blazers are coming off an appearance in the Western Conference Finals last season and will be hot on the Grizzlies’ tails. There is no doubt Ja Morant will get his first taste of playoff Damian Lillard during their pending “regular season” matchups, which will be very valuable for him to learn from.
Ja and Jaren leading this team to the playoffs in their first and second seasons respectively would put them way ahead of anyone’s schedule for this team. It took Mike Conley and Marc Gasol their fourth and third seasons to get Memphis into the postseason. It then took their third trip to break through to the Western Conference Finals. So, it was Conley’s seventh year in the league before Memphis ever emerged as a true contender in the NBA.
The Golden State Warriors are similar in that it took Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson their third trip to the postseason before they contended for and eventually won the NBA title in their fifth and third years in the league. No matter the level of talent, it takes time and growing pains before experiencing the glory that is holding the Larry O’ Brien trophy.
For Memphis and its young core, there is immense value awaiting them in Orlando, postseason or no postseason. They are a bubble team within the bubble and it will cause this team to dig deeper and elevate their games, only elevating the trajectory of this team going forward.
The earlier the exposure to the postseason, the better for the longevity of success for the Grizzlies. If Marc and Mike could lead a seven year run later in their careers, what is the ceiling for Ja and Jaren starting early?