Online fandom can be a funny thing. Jokes become legitimate takes at times about players or teams, whether they involve the Memphis Grizzlies and their young core or a supposed contender whose NBA Playoffs run came to a close prematurely. In the case of Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers, it has become both a monstrous nightmare and an overblown proposition. Yes, Simmons’ offensive limitations have clearly shown his currently fatal flaws for the NBA world to see. But Ben is still a defensive force, and he is a player who in transition can do some pretty special things when coming downhill at the rim.
Know any young teams that could use such a player?
No, maybe Memphis isn’t the best fit. Ja Morant and Ben Simmons are too similar in terms of ideal roles, strengths, and weaknesses. But for a team that already has unique talent like Jaren Jackson Jr. who can perhaps offset some of those weaknesses, the proposition - while unlikely - is not as outrageous as some may make it out to be.
Would Simmons move the Memphis needle closer to contending? We answer that and more on this edition of the Roundtable. Today I am joined by GBB Associate Editor Parker Fleming, GBB Senior Writers Bryce Hayes and Justin Lewis, and GBB Writer EdMemphis.
Now that we’re a few weeks removed from the first round departure, what do you feel is the main reason Memphis lost to the Jazz in 5 games?
GBB SITE MANAGER JOE MULLINAX (@JoeMullinax) - In a word? Experience. The Utah Jazz have already been where the Memphis Grizzlies currently are. Donovan Mitchell is three years older than the Grizzlies young star guard Ja Morant, and Mitchell is flanked by the Defensive Player of the Year and multiple elite role players within the schemes of Utah. Memphis simply does not have the tools in place at this point to compete with the best the NBA has to offer. Will that change in the next year or so? Probably - the window for major transactions is closing slowly but surely. But valuable scar tissue was earned for the Grizzlies this season. Losses sting...but valuable postseason reps were earned. A step forward was taken.
GBB ASSOCIATE EDITOR PARKER FLEMING (@PAKA_FLOCKA) - Utah’s firepower from 3 was the determining factor. It surely helps that they had the best player on the floor (Donovan Mitchell), but the amount of weapons from 3 were just too much for the Grizzlies to contend with — especially with the volume at which they were firing. It did lay out a nice framework for the future though.
GBB SENIOR WRITER BRYCE HAYES (@nxtprodigy) - The Jazz were just the better, more experienced team. You can get into schemes, coverages, play calling, scapegoating, or whatever but they were just better. The Grizzlies are a good team but this current iteration of the Grizzlies didn’t have the perimeter fire power offensively & simply put they didn’t have a Paul George or Kawhi Leonard & that’s fine at this stage. They competed in most of the games with Morant & Brooks elevating their games. Retool, reload & get healthy this offseason & get right back after it next season with a chance to rise higher in the standings on the table.
GBB SENIOR WRITER JUSTIN LEWIS (@J_Timberfake_) - The Jazz were a historically good team. Their numbers were insane and Mitchell was other worldly at times. Jaren not being himself was a huge detriment as well as Melton’s disappearing act. But playing Jonas Valanciunas too many minutes was the biggest detriment, his drop coverage got crushed.
GBB WRITER EDMEMPHIS (@EdMemphisPimpin) - The lack of discipline on perimeter defense allowed Utah to play to their advantage as mostly spot up shooters.
After watching these playoffs, how close are the Grizzlies to being a Western Conference contender?
MULLINAX - Not particularly close...and that is OK. Devin Booker and Trae Young spent several years on bad teams putting up major numbers and their squads invested either via trade (Chris Paul to PHX) or free agency (multiple signings for ATL) more than the Grizzlies have at this stage. Milwaukee (Giannis Antetokounmpo) and Los Angeles (Paul George) have established stars and have plenty of playoffs scars to show. In a variety of ways, this postseason has displayed the value of taking your shot at the right time. Especially in the case of Phoenix and Atlanta with their two young stars that shines through. Memphis still feels at least a year away from such events unfolding.
FLEMING: This year’s playoffs makes that question interesting, because teams like Phoenix, Atlanta, and even Milwaukee are showing that it takes a great run of basketball and a bit of injury luck to get there. They went 38-34 and won two play-in games without an up-to-speed Jaren Jackson Jr. He can be a legit difference maker for them to take another step. I do think too they need wing creation in some form — whether it’s the off-dribble scoring maestro we all wish for, or adding a shooter with size.
HAYES: The NBA is as deep as it’s ever been with a lot of talent residing in the Western Conference. Dallas & Portland being in disarray certainly helps matters but this years top 4 certainly aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Looking at the formula of other Western Conference front runners it will take Ja Morant & Jaren Jackson Jr. becoming All-Star caliber players alongside an improved supporting cast for them to reach the ultimate goal of a NBA Finals appearance after much needs playoff experience this summer.
LEWIS: Not close. They need to consolidate the “depth” for a star on the wing and until Jaren can play more 5 without getting beat, JV will hurt he team defensively in the playoffs.
EDMEMPHIS: One more star level player who can consistently generate offense & a sprinkle of vet experience to preach the importance of discipline & decision making in crunch moments. Grizzlies get that & they can take out anybody in the Western Conference.
Would acquiring Ben Simmons (for, say, Kyle Anderson, Brandon Clarke, De’Anthony Melton, and one to two 1st round picks) make the Memphis Grizzlies a top-4 team in the Western Conference?
MULLINAX: I find this question more interesting than most. Simmons is a tremendous transition player, as is Ja Morant. Simmons could play alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. and help negate some of the rebounding concerns still connected with Jaren. Replacing Anderson in the starting lineup with Simmons, while a pricey upgrade, would still be an upgrade in almost every area. And with Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman in the fold the loss of Melton and Clarke stings a bit less. But would Memphis leap frog all of Phoenix, the L.A. teams, Utah, Denver, Dallas, a healthy Golden State, Portland...it seems like a bit of a reach to say they’d be a top-4 team in the west. Maybe a solid 5 or 6 is more fair, and that’s where the desire to trade for Simmons should fade. Ben is a star level player. But his fit makes more sense in, say, Portland than Memphis. The Grizzlies aren’t ready to take the leap that such a deal would call for.
FLEMING: If you could snag Ben Simmons without giving up Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Jonas Valanciunas, or Desmond Bane — you win. I’d probably try to reroute Valanciunas to go get more spacing on the wing. Simmons gives them an elite secondary playmaker that takes Ja off ball, becomes the de facto point when Morant’s out of the game, and he’s a monster in the open floor. You can also say good-bye to getting killed in drop coverage, because of the switchability of him and Jackson. Are shooting and aggression concerns? Sure. But if you can snag a 3-time All-Star that’s only 24 without giving up one of your cornerstone players, do it yesterday.
HAYES: Would the Grizzlies be a better team with Ben Simmons - a Defensive Player of the Year finalist - alongside Dillon Brooks, Desmond Bane, etc. & Ja Morant staying as the primary ball handler? Sure. At the moment, Kyle Anderson does most of what Simmons does defensively - albeit not at the level of Simmons - but also gives some “want to” to score offensively from the point forward spot they both inhabit. So the “Top 4” answer is a tough one because it’s also dependent on the development of Jaren & other young guys as a team. The West is deep & Ben Simmons is VERY GOOD - that is understood so they’d be closer than they are now but with the litany of talent out West it’s no guarantee of being Top 4 - but they’d be in the conversation.
LEWIS: Phoenix, if Utah stays together, Nuggets, if the Clippers stay together. There’s four right there that I believe would be better and that leaves out the Lakers and what the Blazers, Mavs, and a fully healthy Warriors team looks like next season. They could maybe challenge for it but to say they are top 4 would be a dream.
EDMEMPHIS: Absolutely. You’re essentially adding the DPOY SNUB to your lineup. You’re also doing so without losing a core starter or even a true starter depending on who you ask. Even at his lowest, Ben Simmons average slash line was 10/9/6/2 which would be a dream scenario slash line for Justice Winslow. Ben Simmons is a wealthy man’s Justice Winslow & I’m here for THAT & only that version of said concept. Contrary to trending belief Ben Simmons is still a career 17/8/8 with All NBA defense. As long as you keep him mostly in a point/playmaker role he would do wonders.
What say you? How close are the Memphis Grizzlies to contention? How much better would Ben Simmons make Ja Morant and company? Let us know in the comments - thanks to Parker, Bryce, Justin, and Ed for joining me! We will have another Roundtable next week as our NBA Draft coverage gets under way!