This #NxtGen Memphis Grizzlies team isn’t the same Grit and Grind defensive dynamo that captivated the city and became the 2010’s most elite defense. They only finished 14th in defensive rating (109.7) this past season. However, the amount of defensive potential on this team is tantalizing.
It all starts with Jaren Jackson Jr., who is a shot-blocking machine when locked in and not in foul trouble. He’s paired up with Brandon Clarke, who’s another switchable defensive big that can defend in space and protect the rim. On the perimeter, you have Dillon Brooks and De’Anthony Melton — the former is a physical, but foul-prone, defender that takes on the toughest defensive assignments. The latter is a rangy guard who possesses great defensive instincts and is an analytics darling. While he’s more acclaimed for his brilliant offense, Ja Morant has flashed upside as an above-average defender at the point guard position.
This isn’t the same “drag ya into the mud” defense, but this next iteration of the Grizzlies can became a terrorizing two-way team. As the season is all wrapped up, let’s recap some of the best defensive plays of the season.
HM: Grayson Allen two-hand swats Darius Bazley, JJJ blocks Danilo Gallinari and splashes 3 on other end.
10 - JJJ Climbs Ladder for this Block
There’s not much to this one. Blocking the 7’4” Boban Marjanovic is an impressive feat and deserves recognition on this list.
9 - Meet Brandon Clarke
Not many fans really knew Brandon Clarke when he was drafted by the Grizzlies. You could tell from the calmness of the fans at the draft party at the Bluff. You could also tell there was a reason to be excited, as basically every GBBer there went bezerk.
I mean, this man had more blocks than missed shots in his last season with Gonzaga.
For those not tuned into Summer League play, Brandon Clarke introduced himself to Grizz Nation with a volleyball spike of a block on the home opener this season. Plays like these highlighted Clarke’s booming athleticism and his bright upside as an electrifying shot-blocker.
8 - Jaren Stops Dame
I love it when Jaren Jackson Jr. takes control at the 5. From researching his blocks this season, a lot of them came when he held the 5 position. In this sequence, he flashed more potential as this defensive dynamo that can cover the entire court.
As Damian Lillard is making the drive off De’Anthony Melton and Brandon Clarke, Jackson covers ground to make the brilliant block off the help. Plays like this showcase why people were high on his defensive potential at the 5 coming into the league. He can be a wrecking ball on that end.
7 - Josh Jackson Goes Grindfather
There’s a time where a raw prospect gives everyone a glimpse of why they were so coveted in the pre-draft process, even if the overall returns have been disappointing.
Look no further than Josh Jackson.
After the All-Star break, and prior to the league’s shutdown, Jackson looked like he was putting together. He was finding his rhythm as a scorer and playmaker, but more importantly he showcased the potential to become a defensive menace off the bench. In these sequence, he makes two Grindfather-esque stops to nearly steal the game for Memphis. And in that moment, it looked like he was finding his niche in the NBA.
6 - Jaren Swats Harden
So, I wrote this after the Grizzlies drafted Jaren Jackson Jr.:
First defensive play out of the time out, James Harden has the ball, and Capela is looking to set him another screen. Jaren Jackson Jr. switches onto Harden, as the savvy ball-handler has him right where he wants him. He tries to shake him and drive to the basket for the lay-in (or foul, knowing James Harden). SMACK! The rookie blocks him off the glass, which ignites a transition 3 from Dillon Brooks. Next offensive play down, Conley connects with Jackson a pick-and-pop. BANGO! The rookie drains the triple.
Okay, so the realization almost came true, just with different characters and a non-playoff atmosphere. Jackson blocked Harden’s floater. Then, Ja Morant connected on a transition 3 off a Solomon Hill assist. This play highlighted Jackson’s potential at the center spot. There, he can linger around, almost like a giant free safety, and wreck havoc either off switches or off drives.
Also, anytime James Harden gets blocked, it’s glorious.
5 - WTH did Melton just do?
This is by far one of the wackiest defensive plays I’ve ever seen, and I honestly died laughing in real time.
Like seriously, have we seen many steals like this before?
DE’ANTHONY MELTON JUST DELIVERED A BABY pic.twitter.com/jzzLSxPWUC— Fastbreak Breakfast (@fastbreakbreak) August 7, 2020
4 - Ja Goes LeBron off the Glass
Jaylen Brown tried to show off here, and it failed.
The ferocity Ja Morant showed here gave off so many vibes. LeBron’s chasedown blocks, Russell Westbrook’s tenacious, aggressive assaults on the glass, Dwyane Wade — one of the greatest shot-blockers from the guard position. It was just sensational!
Morant’s not going to be a prolific shot-blocker, as he only averaged 0.3 blocks this season. However, I wouldn’t say this is the last aggressive chase-down block we seen from 12.
3 - Konchar blocks Dwight Howard
It’s always special when former Grizzly Dwight Howard makes his return home to Memphis. John Konchar ruined the homecoming and created his own “I made it” moment in the NBA.
2020 has brought a ton of unpredictability, and just like we all expected two-way player John Konchar smacks Dwight Howard’s shot off the glass. And in that play, Grizzly fans got to meet John Konchar.
2 - What a snatch!
Jaren Jackson Jr. is a unicorn both offensively and defensively. Here he pulls off the Houdini and straight snatches the 3 out of mid-air — like he was Odell Beckham. Like seriously how did he pull this off?
Jaren Jackson Jr. SNATCHED this right out of Gordon Hayward's hands pic.twitter.com/9h8x5eG6A8— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 23, 2020
1 - Ja Saves the Game
Ja Morant’s block on Kyrie Irving was the rookie’s first signature moment. In just the 3rd game of his career, he went toe-to-toe with one of the league’s elite floor generals, and ultimately came out on top. This play in particular proved a lot of things. For one, it was just a glimpse of his defensive potential, and that he wasn’t a liability on that end — contrary to his scouting report coming into the league. It also showed that Ja Morant was built for the moment and wasn’t scared of a single person.
At this moment, Grizz Nation knew they had someone special.
What are some your favorite defensive moments from this year’s Memphis Grizzlies team? Comment your thoughts below.
Clips found on nba.com/stats