The NBA season has concluded for the Memphis Grizzlies. Now, we wait.
As the NBA Playoffs begin today, the offseason for the Grizzlies is officially underway. GBB is kicking off its out of season work with two roundtables - 10 staffers join me to tackle some key questions facing the franchise as the most unique inbetween time of seasons ever starts up.
Ja Morant’s Bubble experience was both a reminder that he was a rookie (8 turnovers in the play-in game) and that he is quite special (35 points, 8 assists in 42 minutes played with a fractured thumb). What is your biggest takeaway from Ja’s play in Orlando?
GBB SITE MANAGER JOE MULLINAX: That he is more than capable of being a cornerstone of this franchise for the next seven or so years, and hopefully beyond. The Grizzlies hit the lottery (outside of winning the Zion sweepstakes) - Morant had one of the greatest rookie seasons a point guard has ever had. He has the chip on his shoulder that the guys that eliminated him on Saturday - Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum - have as mid-major guards. He will only improve. If he can stay healthy, he’s a superstar.
FLEMING: In the bubble, Ja showed that he’s built for the big moment and has even more room for growth. He shined against one of the league’s best point guards in his rookie finale, and he was brilliant statistically in the bubble, averaging nearly a 20-6-10 line. It leaves optimism about this team’s future, as he develops into a 3-point threat, steadier playmaker, and a stronger finisher at the rim.
COLEMAN: My biggest takeaway from Ja in the bubble is how well he knows his game. The elevated quality of competition shed light on his outside shooting, a known work in progress. However, even with his struggles shooting, Morant adapted. Getting to the basket and the line, involving teammates, and playing to his strengths as the bubble progressed. Though he still showed his age and that he is a rookie, he showed he could take over at tines when needed most, and left little doubt that he is a future superstar.
SMART: My biggest takeaway from Ja Morant’s time in Orlando is that the kid is more special than I think you and I realized (if that’s even possible). The Grizzlies lost one of their studs in Jaren Jackson Jr., and Morant could’ve made excuses or saved his body for offseason training, but he laid it all out there. No matter the score, and no matter the situation, the rookie met the moment. Turnovers are a minor issue in Morant’s game, because he will have even better players put around him (which is scary) and the game will slow down, which will lead to the turnover number dropping.
HAYES: The bubble gave Memphis it’s first glimpse of a fully healthy (at least for a while) Ja Morant after using the pandemic to fully recover from the surgery he had prior to the season. It also showed a small maturation in his game from the additional 12 pounds to looking even more comfortable in the flow of an NBA game. The bubble showed that Ja Morant is built for this, broken thumb & all. He (& his dad Tee) are his biggest critics & will continue to work on his craft this offseason to get rid of rookie mistakes in his game & prep for the ascension of the NBA’s newest star.
PETERSON: The biggest takeaway for me was Ja’s resilience. He has the mental toughness of a veteran player. His mistakes (or his thumb injury, frankly) did not break his resolve to battle, win and lead the team. I am extremely heartened that the mental toughness has been present from the jump.
The injuries played a direct role in the issues Memphis faced in Orlando, but clearly the team is still lacking in spots. Whether it’s by trade, the 2nd round pick they have, or a minor free agency move, what do the Grizzlies need to add most this offseason?
MULLINAX: I am going to be a bit greedy here and ask for a third point guard-esque player...like a combo guard that can play both positions while also scoring off the dribble and bringing a presence from three. What, those players are rare and/or expensive? That may be true...which is why that 40th overall pick in the draft may be the place to acquire such a player. Skylar Mays of LSU, Grant Riller of Charleston, Abdoulaye N’Doye of France...these are a few names that could be there in the 2nd round for the Grizzlies and could fill multiple roles as scorer and facilitator in backcourt.
FLEMING: One thing this bubble showed is the need for a 3rd point guard. De’Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson held their own, and they had nice assist numbers from Anderson and Jonas Valanciunas. However, it wasn’t the same without Tyus Jones. Luckily, there are plenty of upperclassmen point guards projected in the 2nd round that would be exceptional in this role, whether it’s Payton Pritchard, Malachi Flynn, or Cassius Winston.
COLEMAN: High IQ knockdown shooters. Yes, players that can create their own shot would be ideal, but they are hard to find. The Grizzlies have shown they can pass effectively, and create good looks for players up and down their roster. They simply need players are reliable with their shot from the outside, and also know when to shoot and when to pass. Both this coaching staff and front office have shown the potential to identify and develop that type of talent eventually.
SMART: I think if you’re Memphis you’re limited this offseason. You have to nail that second round draft pick, and it’s not out of the question that the team makes a move this offseason to bring a better wing potentially. This front office has shown that it won’t make any out of left field moves, but moves that set themselves up for another move, and that Dillon Brooks contract is one that sets themselves up to better the roster via Brooks in a trade. Memphis still has assets to move, and don’t be shocked if that takes place this offseason, but also don’t be shocked if they aren’t comfortable with a deal and stay put with Brooks at the SG spot next year.
HAYES: The Grizzlies have assembled their core of the future with Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., & Brandon Clarke who were off & running in their first year together. This being said, they’re still a player or two away from reaching their full potential as a team. They have the playmaker & stretch big pivotal to survive in the current NBA landscape but they’re still missing a starting caliber wing that can stretch the floor & consistently make threes. Dillon Brooks has fulfilled this role but if they can upgrade this position & allow a player like Dillon to be more selective & not feel the need to force things when they’re on the floor they can take that next step.
PETERSON: It became apparent to me in watching other teams just how damaging having several viable three-point threats can be to an opponent’s defense. I’m proud of our points in the paint, but it’s tough to compete against teams who can pass around the circle and know that any given one of them can hit. I want one more higher-percentage shooter that commands attention from a defense.
Taylor Jenkins took his lumps in the Bubble, but his game plan against Portland almost stole a game from the superior Trail Blazers team. How confident are you in him going in to what’s supposed to be a bright future for Memphis?
MULLINAX: I was actually quite impressed with Jenkins in the Bubble. He went 2-7 against an extremely difficult schedule, and without three key rotation players (including the team’s best two-way player in Jaren Jackson Jr.) pushed a hot and talented Portland team to the brink. What more do you want from the guy? The team was one of the most overachieving teams in the NBA this season. There is room for growth - he needs to hold players more accountable, and work on his challenge taking skills. But he was a rookie this season as well, and he did a top-5 job in the Association. He’s a key piece of what makes the future bright for Memphis as well.
FLEMING: I’m confident in him and his ability to lead the Grizzlies into the next era of Grizzlies basketball. Obviously, he designed a system tailored for Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., but he also maximized role player’s skill sets — whether it’s Jonas Valanciunas, Brandon Clarke, De’Anthony Melton, or (for a stretch) Josh Jackson. Statistically, his system generated big numbers, and you can’t help but think what happens whenever they add that starting 2-guard of the future or more potent outside weapons.
COLEMAN: Extremely confident. Taylor Jenkins showed an unexpected ability to develop talent up and down the entire roster. The majority of our players exceeded expectations this year, and got better. For Jenkins himself, he also made subtle adjustments in the bubble, with lineups and offensive schemes, that clearly made the roster he had to work with better over time. I am very confident Jenkins can not only lead us to contention, but keep us there for the long haul.
SMART: Jenkins had a really good first season as a Head Coach. Coming in, he is a guy that you could tell they brought in for developmental purposes, and he won the team over fast. and moved on from Grit and Grind to “pace and space” which fits the modern NBA and their cornerstone guys in Point Guard Ja Morant and Forward Jaren Jackson Jr. Jenkins time in the bubble was solid given the circumstances.
HAYES: I’m still pretty confident in Coach Jenkins. Prior to the bubble, there was a push for him to be a Coach of the Year finalist as he was lauded by his peers for the job he’s done so far in Memphis & I still believe he’s that level of coach. We also have to remember this is FIRST year as a NBA head coach on a team in Year 2 of a rebuild. The bubble was filled with some of the best coaches in the league & it helped those teams win games the young Grizzlies did not. He’s still the coach of the future to me and he will grow from the bubble experience along with the rest of the team.
PETERSON: Talent-wise, I have no concerns. Even the things we griped about regarding challenges are things he will overcome. As a Memphian who believes firmly in the #biggerthanbasketball and social justice movement, I am more impressed with his ability to speak out boldly about the pressing racial injustices of our time. That represents our city well, and I am proud to see that leadership. It builds credibility with the players as well as a sense of unity as they play basketball against the backdrop of a challenging political landscape.
A fantastic point by Jordan rounds out part one. Coach Jenkins certainly gets the magnitude of this moment. Check out part II here!