The Memphis Grizzlies will head into the 2021/22 NBA season eager to build on the foundations they laid during the previous campaign.
The Grizzlies qualified for the play-offs for the first time since the 2016–17 season courtesy of a victory over the Golden State Warriors in the play-in tournament.
However, they subsequently lost to the Utah Jazz in five games, although it is fair to say that they were far from disgraced during the series.
The pressure is now on, with several pre-season basketball team reports tipping the Grizzlies to comfortably qualify for the post-season this time around.
Read on as we take a closer look at the current state-of-play in Memphis and assess whether the Grizzlies are worthy of the growing hype surrounding them.
Adams to bring out the best in Jackson
The decision to trade Jonas Valanciunas for Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe and some draft compensation could prove to be a shrewd move by the Grizzlies.
Things went a little stale for Adams with New Orleans Pelicans last season, but he should enjoy a resurgence alongside the Grizzlies’ youngsters.
The Kiwi star has the ability to be a top-10 centre in the NBA, and his defensive skills could perfectly compliment Xavier Tillman Sr.
However, it is Adam’s ability in the paint that could be the biggest boost for the Grizzlies, providing Jaren Jackson Jr with the opportunity to work his magic.
Jarrett Culver and Ziaire Williams are other notable additions to the roster, but Adams could be the key to unlocking the Grizzlies’ potential this season.
Staying healthy the key to success
Although the Grizzlies have been widely tipped to climb the standings, it is imperative that they keep their key players fit this season.
Having Jackson in the line-up from the outset will be a major boost, with the 22-year-old now fully recovered from the issues that hampered him last term.
Jackson has missed parts of his first three seasons due to various leg injuries, which is why the Grizzlies are hanging fire on a new deal.
A new contract should be forthcoming if he stays healthy, which should give Jackson the motivation he needs to shine.
Having Jackson alongside Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks will significantly boost the Grizzlies’ hopes of qualifying for the play-offs.
Tillman one to watch in his second year
As we alluded to earlier, Tillman could be in for a breakthrough season if he is able to improve by working alongside Adams.
The 22-year-old was chosen in the second round of the 2020 NBA Draft after making his mark with Michigan State Spartans at college level.
He averaged 0.7 steals and 0.6 blocks in just 18 minutes per game on court last season and should improve those numbers this time around.
Desmond Bane is also worth monitoring in his second year with the Grizzlies after impressing in Las Vegas at Summer League.
De'Anthony Melton and Brandon Clarke are other players expected to show considerable improvement during the upcoming campaign.
Morant has a point to prove
While Morant performed well towards the end of last season, many fans were disappointed with his contribution during the early months.
He averaged 17.8 points per game in his year and increased that figure to 19.1 last season, but there is plenty more to come from the talented 22-year-old.
His average of 30.2 points per game in the 2021 play-offs perfectly highlight what he is capable of producing when everything clicks into place.
Morant has worked hard during the close season, focusing heavily on preparing for the new campaign rather than wasting time on social media.
If Morant delivers what is expected of him, he could well be in line to be picked as an All-Star and lead the Grizzlies into the play-offs.
Top six in the Western Conference not beyond the Grizzlies
A starting five of Morant, Brooks, Anderson, Jackson Jr and Adams gives the Grizzlies the opportunity to win on any given night.
While no one realistically expects them to win the Western Conference, a top six finish should not be beyond them.
Los Angeles Lakers, Golden States Warriors and Utah Jaz are amongst the main contenders, while Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers should also be in the mix.
Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers are also likely to be troublesome in a stacked Conference.
Despite this, the Grizzlies have the ability to improve on last season’s eighth place finish, with Jackson’s return perhaps the biggest factor.
The Grizzlies finished four wins adrift of the top six last season, but having Jackson fully fit should help to turn some losses into wins.
Anything less than qualifying directly for the play-offs will probably be viewed as failure given the potential on the Grizzlies’ roster.