The wave of momentum the Memphis Grizzlies are currently riding is intoxicatingly fun. Lob passes and alley-oop finishes mixed in with engaging sound bites and genuine positive energy make for a much more enjoyable group to follow than what was the last two seasons that came before this resurgence. It’s a lot easier to not fall short of expectations when there aren’t any to begin with. The bar to clear is lower, and the end of Grit and Grind with Chris Wallace, through Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, scrapping to hold on to a bygone era left such a bad taste in the collective mouths of fans that at times there seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel.
But that light, like any, can be impacted by the medium it passes through. As the expectations ramp up for a squad that has quite suddenly gone from lottery bound to 8 seed favorite, the shine these young Grizzlies provide to their fans and the NBA at large varies from prism to prism, lens to lens. In Memphis? It is time to believe once again - there is a set core, a young one that should be maintained at all costs. Beyond the Grizzlies footprint? A lot more questions potentially dampen the luminosity of the immediate future for this group.
It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The same can be stated for the prospects of a squad that simply is far better than just about everyone expected them to be. The scrimmage slate for Memphis gave evidence to support all differing viewpoints, showing areas where the Grizzlies have tried to grow (Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson Jr. as passers, Ja Morant as a scorer off the ball, three point shooting from Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton) and where they still have room for improvement (foul trouble, Dillon Brooks’ streaky shooting, rotation questions). If you believed in what the Grizzlies could be this season before the Orlando bubble began, you feel justified. If you had your doubts? The same can be true.
The Grizzlies are both deceptively deep and fatally flawed. They are an offense who is a fragile force of nature in motion, a defense that is opportunistic yet overly dependent on players such as Brooks who are punching above their weight class. The group’s success and mentality are admirable - they’ve proven everyone wrong, even their own fans and media, time and again this season. In spite of the slights against them they stayed true to the vision of rookie Head Coach Taylor Jenkins and to one another. Like the beloved Grizzlies teams before them, they’ve taken up the toughness and tenacity of their city - but they’ve done it their own unique way.
And Memphis loves them for it. But how much has this deep and rapid descent in to this group’s future exploits impacted the views of them currently?
Part of the refraction of light is velocity. The speed at which it moves from medium to medium changes with each pass, depending on density and other factors. The accelerated performance of these Memphis Grizzlies could easily cause those previously mentioned expectations to be expedited themselves, even as more more dense barriers appear for these inexperienced Grizzlies to pass through. Would a 32-33 team going 3-5 or 2-6 in this difficult restart schedule be surprising? Not at all. Would it be disappointing to some? Absolutely - perhaps more so than such a run would have been if the season had never been suspended.
At the same time, a 5-3 or better success story would again change the perception of the Memphis Grizzlies as they move through the various stages of a rebuild redefined. A winning record in the upcoming seeding games certainly would mean at least a play-in opportunity as the 8 seed, and a 9 seed having to beat Memphis twice in a row to unseat them from the postseason. That advantage means so much - the main thing this group is missing is playoff experience. At such a young stage of the franchise’s reset, with 2021 looming large in terms of the Grizzlies perhaps somehow being better as a team and yet still missing the playoffs because of the assumed return of Golden State to prominence and growth of their opposition, this moment looms large not in the micro sense of this year but in the larger scheme of the pursuit of title contention.
How this moment matters to Memphis has bent as these Grizzlies have gone through the various mediums that are the challenges of this NBA season. It holds more meaning than it did before - yet at the same time, the larger macro reality has not changed despite the curving illumination of this team’s potential.
So which view is the correct one? Is it right to consider these Grizzlies “real” far faster than anyone anticipated? Is the shallow angle of their limitations compared to previous beliefs of what they were capable of the one that carries the most weight? Are the Grizzlies actually in a place to take a leap beyond the bubble, or is Memphis the best positioned franchise to take advantage of a strange season that after this campaign concludes will not reflect reality? The incidence of this phenomenon - the line of sight and light adjusting so drastically in such a speedy fashion - only adds to the uniqueness of the situation the Grizzlies find themselves in.
It’s fitting that a team that plays as fast at times as Memphis is moving at the speed of NBA light. The Grizzlies are a bright beam shooting across the basketball sky, moving from obstacle to obstacle at breakneck pace without much regard for the bends and change of course their radiant rays undergo as they pass through. The refraction of their ripple will vary how they are perceived depending on which lens they are being viewed through. But as for the impression on Memphis, the future - while it must not be mortgaged in the present - can wait. In the here and now, there is a glimmer of opportunity that no one saw coming for the Grizzlies this soon.
Let that light shine, regardless of the teams, trials, and tribulations it must pass through along the way. Enjoy the sight, and hold on tight - the journey is just beginning.