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Growing up and Leading the Charge with Grizz Next Gen

As the Grizzlies enter year 3 in this new era, there’s a big leap on the horizon for these young players — a leadership one.

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Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors - Play-In Tournament Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The Memphis Grizzlies are in an interesting spot for a young team, unlike most teams in their positions.

For many youthful organizations, they look to rebuild with young players and then replace some of them when veterans when the time comes to win. The Memphis Grizzlies are already a step ahead, as they were one of the youngest teams to reach the postseason in the past decade.

For other teams in the Grizzlies situation, front offices want to capitalize on the momentum and load up on veteran talent to expedite the process. This offseason, the Grizzlies front office decided to sell off on some starters for assets, and then take some swings on upside talent. In the process, they’re going to allow developmental opportunities to occur, as Zach Kleiman and Taylor Jenkins mentioned in last Monday’s Media Day festivities.

Those developmental opportunities won’t just happen on the court. It’s a chance for some of these young players to take on leadership responsibilities as well.

“I know we got a really young team — guys that are in year 2, 3, 4,” Brandon Clarke said in a recent Grind City Media interview. “I feel like those guys are taking that veteran role in a way. Because we don’t have many old guys on the team, so it’s kind of up to the younger guys [like me, Ja, Des, Dillon] to be veterans on this team now to really help us grow.”

This is a good thing for them, as it allows them to assume these roles to develop their leadership skills, and to also reinforce the Grizzlies standard. Because of their continuity since 2019, they’re sharp on their habits, which leads to a noticeably impressive level of discipline.

“A lot of the stuff that I’ve seen so far, the habits and attention to detail are very, very good — like at a very high level,” newest veteran Steven Adams said. “It’s very encouraging seeing that. Everyone wants to work, everyone wants to get better.”

That’s going to be vital for this season, as the Grizzlies navigate through the Western Conference and have rotated through veteran players over the past few years. Steven Adams has entered the fold to serve as a guide as needed, but it’s also a chance for some of these young veterans to assume those responsibilities.

And a lot of them are taking advantage of it too.

2021-22 Memphis Grizzlies Media Day Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Dillon Brooks is a notable example. Dating back to last season, Taylor Jenkins has referred to him as the “spiritual leader of the team,” leading by example as the “ultimate competitor” with his buzzer-to-buzzer tenacity and his relentless affinity for film. He also took Desmond Bane under his wing last year, getting him up to speed with the NBA game and the Grizzlies’ system after an Uber-condensed offseason for the rookie. So it won’t be entirely new to him.

As a 5th-year player — 5th as a Grizzly and 3rd in this organizational structure — Brooks’ mentality has been to find ways to lead and “push those core values” to the young guys on the team. When asked about his mentality shift as a leader, Brooks told the media he poses these questions to the rookies Ziaire Williams, Santi Aldama, and Yves Pons.

“How are you going to prepare every single day?” Brooks said on Monday’s Media Day. “How are you going to compete every single day? And even if you got shit going on off the court, or whatever’s going on in your mind because you know how our minds can race sometimes, how are you going to distinguish all that out and be so unselfish for your teammates each and every day? Or however our rotation goes — how can I be ready at all times? How can I be ready so that it’s when their time on the floor, how can they produce at a high level?”

Ja Morant is another player who is going to take on this role. His leadership stylings radiate through his style of play, his communication to his teammates, and his ability to take over games. And as he enters year 3, he’s going to reinforce the Grizzlies standard and show the way to the young players.

When talking about how to lead young players like Ziaire Williams, Ja said that his job is to continue coaching him and telling him stuff that he’s learned in his 2 years — as another player that came into the NBA at a young age.

And that’s another component to this leadership responsibility.

Rookies like Ziaire Williams and Santi Aldama need that guidance as they’re getting their feet wet in the league. So far, they’re off to a good start, as Ja Morant said the young fellas would be working out when he’s coming in for his offseason workout.

As they’re looking to find their way into this Grizzlies system, they’re going to be relying on their veterans and coaching staff to grow into the league.

“From the vets, the coaches, anyone — I’m willing to learn and get better from for sure,” Williams said. He also added a fascinating note with this process too: “it takes a village.”

And that may not apply to just rookies either. It could be for a newcomer like Jarrett Culver, who was in a shaky organizational structure to start his career.

“I’m a learner, I love to learn the game of basketball, and there’s always room to grow,” Culver said. “Anybody that’s a position of mine, or anyone that’s a teammate or a great talent, I love to learn from them.”

Luckily for those players, they’ll have these veterans like Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Steven Adams, and also Kyle Anderson to fall back on when they need it. “I know from experience as a rookie, there’s going to come a time where you’re going to have to come to your teammates and ask how to go about certain things,” Anderson said. “I’ll let that time come.”

That time will come, and this team has fostered a great culture where players can rely on each other to help them push through whatever they’re going through.

2021-22 Memphis Grizzlies Media Day Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The past 2 seasons have been full of growth opportunities for the Grizzlies. They got a massive one with the last playoff series against the Utah Jazz — getting a taste of what it takes to succeed in the postseason, and the playoff scars to remember how they need to grow.

Now comes the next step: leading the charge to keep enforcing the Grizzlies standard en route to more postseason success. This evolution could be why they may not skip a beat this season despite the roster turnover.

From what we’ve seen the past 2 seasons, the Grizzlies follow as their leaders do. Audaciously. Full of swagger. Energetically. And together.

“We can only get better each and every day as a group if each one of us is pushing each other,” Dillon Brooks said.

Iron sharpens iron, as the saying goes. Together, these young Memphis Grizzlies will continue to enforce their habits and push each other to be the best version of themselves, as they lead the charge into another season with Grizz Next Gen.

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