The young Memphis Grizzlies went 2-2 on their early season West Coast road trip. That’s quite an accomplishment for any team considering the opponents - four teams in the Clippers, Lakers, Blazers, and Warriors (last night’s opponent) who all see themselves as playoff contenders. But context remains key when judging these young Grizzlies. They’re the third youngest team in the entire NBA. Their two best players are only 22-years-old. Their oldest players are 28-years-old. Ziaire Williams gets consistent minutes in the rotation for this team - when he played the Los Angeles Lakers last week, he took on “Uncle LeBron” - LeBron James is the father of one of Ziaire’s friends and former teammates.
3-2 after five games, four of which were on the road consecutively against postseason hopefuls. It wasn’t always pretty. But you’ll happily take it - especially when considering just how the Grizzlies finished the job against Golden State, coming back from a 19-point deficit to knock off Steph Curry and his Warriors.
Effort, toughness, a refusal to lie down. When the time comes for these Grizzlies to contend, these attributes will make all the difference.
On to grades.
Ja Morant: 41 minutes played, 30 points, 11-22 shooting (2-8 from three), 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 turnovers, 4 steals, -4 +/-
Morant remains the straw that stirs the Memphis drink offensively. He’s easily the most important player the Grizzlies have ever had in that specific way - without Morant, so much of what Memphis wants to do either doesn’t work nearly as well or doesn’t work at all. The Grizzlies try to negate that at times with looks for Jaren Jackson Jr. and Kyle Anderson as well as Desmond Bane or De’Anthony Melton while Morant rests, but it’s simply just not the same. Ja is far from perfect - his defensive deficiencies on-ball and off of picks and screens remains a major area of growth. But his prioritizing of attacking passing lanes and being opportunistic in terms of pick-pocketing ball handlers for steals negates that some.
His turnover number was too high - he will likely tell you that. But if an above average night for Ja - one where he gets a B - is 30/7/5, we’re dealing with a top-15 player in the entire NBA. I’ll happily take that.
GRADE - B
Jaren Jackson Jr. - 31 minutes played, 15 points, 5-16 shooting (3-10 from three), 8 rebounds, 1 block, 1 assist, +14 +/-
How does a unicorn have the best +/- on a team where he is the second-worst volume scorer (10 or more attempts in the game) in a contest?
By being given a chance to have success at a position many Grizzlies fans hope he can play for years to come.
The tide turned for Memphis when Taylor Jenkins decided to counter Golden State’s small-ball play of Draymond Green at the “5” with Jaren in that role. Jackson Jr. is still working out his offensive fit alongside Steven Adams in the front court, and that transition has made for hit-or-miss contributions on that end. That’s not something you want to see from a big you just committed $105 million to over the next almost half-decade, regardless of age.
However, patience remains a virtue. And Jaren reminded us all of why in that second half. As a two-way player, few impacted the run for Memphis as well as Jackson Jr. did. It certainly was not a perfect performance by any stretch. But his ability to stretch the floor and create a size/athleticism mismatch for the Grizzlies in this matchup made a major difference.
It won’t always work. Game to game the needs of the rotation will vary. But it did in this contest. And it hopefully will work 2-3 years from now full-time.
- Ziaire Williams minutes are a ride. In this game he was on the floor at the right time, posting the team’s second-best +/- of +12 while also shooting poorly (2-9 from the field overall, 0-7 from three). His positional versatility on the wing given his foot quickness and size is refreshing, though. It is nice to have a young/energetic bigger wing that’s more of a 2 than a 4 at this stage of his career. He at least provides length and difficult passing/driving angles for opponents - and if we’re going to see him continue to be prioritized for development’s sake, that is the best way for him to help Memphis win. GRADE - C
- Desmond Bane is a flamethrower. 5-11 from three equates to him doing exactly what he’s supposed to do - be a walking floor spacer. Bane’s consistency from three for his entire career is why, in this writer’s opinion, he should remain the starter once Dillon Brooks returns - hopefully in the next week or two. De’Anthony Melton does a lot right, but his offense is sporadic (3-10, 1-6 from three) and can be forced at times. Bane can always come back to his sharpshooting skill if he’s struggling at and around the rim. His scoring from beyond the arc is, and can continue to be, a constant. The team needs that. GRADE - B+
- Taylor Jenkins is growing, too. In-game adjustments to the rotation have been inconsistent for Coach Jenkins during his time in Memphis. That’s understandable with all the youth and roster overturn - you want there to be some stability where possible. But last night’s decision to go to the smaller lineup in-game really did help turn the tide. He should get credit for that move - it’s not an easy one to make, especially when the engine that makes it go (Jaren) has foul trouble to deal with. Well done, coach. GRADE - B+
The Grizzlies return to action Saturday night as they return home to Memphis and FedExForum to take on the Miami Heat.