When Ja Morant went down with his knee injury, the hope for the Memphis Grizzlies was to tread water until he returned. Find ways to win a game or two every five, don’t fall too far out of the race.
How silly that seems now.
In five games without Ja Morant, Memphis is 5-0. The unlikely streak continued Monday night in Miami as the Grizzlies led by double-digits throughout the night on their way to victory. It was another game where Memphis faced off with a squad not at full strength - Bam Adebayo was out to start, and Jimmy Butler did not finish the game due to injury. But Ja was of course missing once again, and Kyle Anderson and Brandon Clarke also did not play in this game for the Grizzlies. So while Miami was without star power, Memphis also was missing key contributors along with their supernova third year guard Morant.
The Grizzlies once again did it as a collective, with numerous players contributing in a multitude of ways.
Some takeaways from another big victory without their best player.
Steven Adams continues to do enough
This is not a space to rehash the trade with the New Orleans Pelicans that brought Adams (and other pieces/players) to the Memphis Grizzlies. The debate can be exhausting, as regardless of good or bad nights somewhere you’ll see someone arguing with someone else about why the trade was awful or great for either team.
Some undeniable truths, however -
Jonas Valanciunas is a better basketball player than Steven Adams
That fact is not what the trade was about.
Adams provides glimpses (not enough, but flashes) of what he once was defensively while remaining an above average-to-elite rebounder. He was extremely efficient around the rim while taking the fewest shot attempts of any player on the Grizzlies roster (not accounting for the multiple times he was fouled). Adams’ arrival meant more opportunity for the Jaren Jackson Jr./Desmond Bane types on players on the Grizzlies. He can impact winning for Memphis when at his best without needing to be a scoring threat.
That, for this version of the Grizzlies, is plenty.
Dillon Brooks remains a nightmare
Dillon Brooks has embraced becoming “that dude” for the Memphis Grizzlies with regard to being the guy that opponents hate to play against. His defense is physical and relentless. His attitude is much the same - no one believes in Dillon Brooks more than Dillon Brooks. He is a “villain” in the best way possible if you’re a Grizzlies fan...and you are very glad he is on your team.
It isn’t an accident that the Memphis defense has improved since Brooks’ return to the rotation. Brooks is the motor that makes that vehicle run. He is capable of limiting, or completely taking away, the opposition’s best offensive weapon while also making offense off the dribble for himself and at times others. He is gifted in terms of basketball skill, but his greatest strength is his mentality. There are few tougher dudes in the NBA than Dillon Brooks.
He doesn’t need to be a physical fighter. He engages in psychological combat. And he is damn good at it.
- Tyus Jones - still very good. As the trade deadline approaches, rumors/thoughts of Tyus potentially being moved are going to come across as disrespect. It’s the opposite - he’s too good. He could go to an Eastern Conference contender and make them immediately better because of how good he is within scheme to get guys the ball in their spots. If he’s part of the future for Memphis, or if the team is worried about potentially losing Ja again, then perhaps he hangs around. But his value may never be higher in terms of trade...and $10 million or so per year is a chunk of change the Grizzlies may not be willing to pay.
- Desmond Bane - also still very good. He looks more explosive...whether it is confidence based or he has physically developed, his movement and ability to rise/work to the rim off the bounce is noticeably better. Credit to Bane - he has taken this opportunity and made the very most of it.
- The Memphis Grizzlies haven’t trailed at any point in the last five games. Ja Morant hasn’t played. Did we tell you that - that their best and most important offensive player has been injured? The culture of the Grizzlies franchise is at an all-time high in this “NxtGen” era.
The Grizzlies are back at home in FedExForum Wednesday night against the Dallas Mavericks.