The regular season is back today, and it’s the start of another exciting season for the “next gen” era of Memphis Grizzlies basketball. Expectations are high for certain players on this squad, and some are facing pivotal seasons in their young careers as well. Let’s cover these storylines in today’s roundtable.
1) For Ja Morant to get his first All-Star berth, what must go down?
GBB Site Manager Joe Mullinax: He has to be more aggressive as a scorer. Ja naturally is an unselfish player, which of course is a trait of most winning basketball stars. But he must continue to display that he knows more often than not that the best shot for his teammates is going to be his shot. With Jonas Valanciunas gone his usage as a scorer should go up naturally, but he must prioritize himself more within the scope of the offense.
GBB Associate Editor Parker Fleming: You can’t take too much from preseason, but Ja Morant set an unbelievable tone to kick off the year with his mentality. The steps he’s made offensively as a shooter and as a guard that can change gears are really encouraging for a year 3 leap. If he could leap up to the “20-point average” echelon, while maintaining his assist numbers and achieving team success, Big 12 should make his first All-Star game. Praying for no All-Star politics.
GBB Associate Editor Brandon Abraham: If 19.1 points per game and 7.4 assists per game had Ja in the conversation last season, then I think he’ll need to continue his offensive growth to become an All-Star. With an improved jumper, I think Ja can average 3-4 more points per game and with a higher emphasis on getting guys like Jaren, Desmond and De’Anthony more involved offensively, Ja’s assist numbers should also jump. All-Star can be very political, but if Ja can average roughly 22 points per game and nearly 10 assists per game, he’ll likely be carrying the Grizzlies high enough in the standings to lock up an All-Star bid.
Host of “The Starting 5” Tev Shakir: History shows that some of the best point guards of this generation show the most growth from their 2nd to 3rd years. For reference, the stats and feel for the game of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose (who became the youngest MVP ever in his third year). I’m not saying Ja will win MVP this year, but who am I to say he won’t? If (and when) Ja Morant averages 25 ppg and 8+ assists for the leading Southwest division team.. it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to get ALL-STAR Ja! Or maybe it would?
GBB Senior Staff Writer Ben Hogan: The West is once again loaded at the guard position, but if Ja continues his ascension into superstardom, then he will make his first All-Star Game. He is already the most marketable Grizz ever, so the league and fans know who he is. If Ja can just be more consistent on a night in and night out basis and knock down the midrange and outside shots like he did in the preseason, then he’s a shoe-in.
2) Jaren Jackson Jr. has been a trendy pick for Most Improved Player. What do his numbers and impact need to look like to make him a finalist?
GBB Site Manager Joe Mullinax: Somewhere north of 20 points and 6 or so rebounds. The Grizzlies prioritized making sure he was healthy, bringing him back slowly from his knee injury sustained in the Bubble. It was for this reason - now is the time for a fully healthy Jaren to be unleashed. 32 or so minutes per game (assuming he stays out of foul trouble) should be the norm for Jaren, and if that occurs he will have plenty of opportunities to produce.
GBB Associate Editor Parker Fleming: Jackson can reach the production threshold if he can stay on the floor — both for health and foul trouble. If he plays about 30-33 minutes a game, it’s not inconceivable for him to average 20 points and 7 rebounds, while elevating his defense and stretching the horizons of his perimeter game. In doing that, he could become more of a 1A/1B with Ja Morant, and he could sneak into the Most Improved Player conversation.
GBB Associate Editor Brandon Abraham: Most Improved Player is probably the most flawed award, but I won’t get on my soap box here. I don’t necessarily think he needs to have a season much better than his career average of 15.4 points per game but he needs to be more involved in every facet of the game. If JJJ can stay healthy, crash the boards a little better, and shoot with the efficiency we’ve seen his first two seasons he will be in the discussion. If he does indeed take on a higher offensive role then getting close to the 20 point per game threshold would certainly make him a finalist.
Host of “The Starting 5” Tev Shakir: As the season starts, I’ve encouraged my Starting 5 brothers to buy up as much Triple J stock as they could. Though a couple did, I made sure that I got a good bags worth because I can’t wait to see how Jaren performs this year. *Speaking of bag, CONGRATS JAREN!*
For Jaren to win the Most Improved Player award, Jaren would have to take his scoring average from 14 to 18+ and his rebounding from 5.6 to 8+.. while averaging 2 blocks. While those would all be career highs for Jaren, availability would be the biggest key. Hitting these numbers while playing AT LEAST 65 games should get Jaren MIP looks for sure.
GBB Senior Staff Writer Ben Hogan: For Jaren to be a finalist in the Most Improved Player race, I think he will have to average 20 and 8, while shooting 40% from 3. Those are all big improvements from his career averages. He also will need to be the no doubt number 2 on the team, as well as be able to take over in games that Ja is either out or in foul trouble.
3) The opening night rotation will have Ja, Bane, Melton, Jackson, Adams, Anderson, and Tyus. Who are the other 3 players that fill out the 10-man rotation - while Dillon Brooks is out?
GBB Site Manager Joe Mullinax: I would imagine you see Brandon Clarke and Xavier Tillman in that mix, but depending on the matchup that may vary. Ziaire Williams will almost certainly be the 10th man. No offense to John Konchar, who has been very productive when given opportunity, but he was not traded up for at the #10 pick. Williams will be given a chance to show what he can do, and if he doesn’t work perhaps they turn to Konchar. But it will not happen quickly.
GBB Associate Editor Parker Fleming: Brandon Clarke and Xavier Tillman are locks for me here. Their versatilty in the frontcourt is valuable for the team’s mission of generating turnovers and transition offense. The rest comes down to what the Grizzlies do with Kyle Anderson. If he starts, look for Ziaire Williams to be the 10th man. If not, it’ll likely be John Konchar — a cleaner fit at the 2-guard spot off the bench.
GBB Associate Editor Brandon Abraham: With last week’s preseason finale being a “dress rehearsal” and Jenkins rolling with a Ja-Bane-Kyle-JJJ-Adams starting 5, I think Brandon Clarke, Xavier Tillman and Ziaire Williams join Tyus and Melton off the bench like they did against Chicago. I think lineups will be fluid but with Kyle starting at the 3, then I think it opens up minutes in the front court for both BC and X. However, I think one of those two find themselves out of the every game rotation once Dillon returns.
Host of “The Starting 5” Tev Shakir: The three players that will fill out the 10 man rotation will be: Xavier Tillman, John Konchar and Brandon Clarke.
Xavier Tillman is one of my favorite Grizz players to watch. His energy is infectious on the defensive end and he’s only going to get better at finding his offensive strengths. John Konchar only averaged 4 points last year but he shot 37% from 3. The opportunity for a shooter coming off the bench will be there and this could be a chance Konchar takes full advantage of. In his third season, I believe that a healthy Brandon Clarke will bounce back from last season. He will do so while averaging career highs in points, blocks, steals and three point percentage. He has the potential to be a threat on both ends of the floor and this is the year he puts it all together.
GBB Senior Staff Writer Ben Hogan: Clarke, Tillman, Williams. The Grizzlies already have plenty of guys that can play the wing/guard in the first 7, so I feel like they beef it up with Clarke and Tillman. Now I lean towards Williams, because this is an opportunity to see what he can do early on in the season, and not get lost in the shuffle and maybe earn more minutes once Dillon does return.
4) What are your expectations for 10th pick Ziaire Williams?
GBB Site Manager Joe Mullinax: To get better. He was an upside selection. Patience has been requested with regard to what he is capable of. You see the flashes, you understand the potential. He was a pick for a year or two from now. Anything good he gives this season is a bonus - learning and growing should be the expectation.
GBB Associate Editor Parker Fleming: It’s tough to gauge season expectations given his limited role. Though based on what we’ve seen from preseason, he has a bit more seasoning than expected (still raw though). My expectations are just incrementally steps of growth throughout the season.
GBB Associate Editor Brandon Abraham: I don’t have extremely high expectations for Ziaire. I think we’ll see flashes of good mixed with some bad moments as well (hot take, I know). Ultimately I expect Ziaire to show growth throughout his rookie season and expect the flashes throughout the year to be enough to silence the concerns some had when Williams was selected over the summer.
Host of “The Starting 5” Tev Shakir: My expectations for Zaire Williams are high. I believe the Grizz coaches and staff feel the same way. Otherwise, why take him as the 10th pick last draft. I believe the Grizzlies have found a potential core-wing player for the future... but the keyword is “future”. I am someone who believes that the Grizz will compete for the best record in their division. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how Williams could help us achieve that goal this year.
I would love to see how Williams fits within the team right now, but it’s a log jam at the forward position for the Grizz. It’s stacked with players hungry for opportunity and I’m not sure how the 20 year old finds his way into the rotation... unless he outplays them.
GBB Senior Staff Writer Ben Hogan: I’m not expecting too much from Ziaire this season. But, I’ll admit, I was surprised at how well he performed in the preseason. As I mentioned in the last answer, I think the Grizzlies see what they have with Williams early on in the season. If he earns more minutes, cool; if not, I think they play him in spots where they feel he can succeed. No need to break his confidence early in his career.
5) What is the boldest prediction on a Grizzly player that you actually believe?
GBB Site Manager Joe Mullinax: Desmond Bane will lead the NBA in three point shooting percentage. Move over Joe Harris. Step aside Steph Curry. It is Bane’s time to shine - and with Jaren Jackson Jr. also being a threat from range, there will be more space for Bane to work with on the perimeter.
GBB Associate Editor Parker Fleming: If given the opportunity, De’Anthony Melton takes a big step towards becoming a starting-level contributor in a higher dosage. If Melton starts or gets 25 minutes a night, he could flirt with a 15-5-4 statline with 1.8 steals a game. Think of the Mikal Bridges leap last season.
GBB Associate Editor Brandon Abraham: Getting semi-back on my MIP soap box, my boldest take is that Jaren Jackson Jr. isn’t the best (or only) candidate for MIP. MIP typically rewards those who have a spike in their season split averages. Both De’Anthony Melton and Desmond Bane figure to be featured a lot more this upcoming season than last year and may see their numbers jump high enough to be considered for MIP. I think a breakout season from Jaren Jackson Jr. would have the largest impact for the Grizzlies, but since the MIP is based a lot on improved numbers, there is more room for stat improvements for both Bane and Melton.
Host of “The Starting 5” Tev Shakir: Calling upon All-Star Ja is something that I am very confident in doing. As an advocate for our leader to be an All-Star, YES in the Western conference, understand that I am also of belief that the Grizzlies are in prime position to shock the world. The mistakes that cost us in the 4th quarters of several games last season prevented us from being a top 6 team last season. I believe that we don’t make those same mistakes, which would result in the best record in our division.
Expect the leader of the NXT GEN GRIZZ to show us why he’s a “Top 5” point guard in the NBA. He said it, I’m just a believer in him.
GBB Senior Staff Writer Ben Hogan: Jaren Jackson Jr. plays more than 70 games this season. I know that may seem tame, but he is a player that many consider injury prone, and he has not played more than 58 games in a season so far in his career. Triple J comes off as a guy that will actually be motivated by getting that new contract and prove he is worth every penny. Bonus: Ja finishes in the Top 20 in scoring this season.