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Ja and Jaren, the North Star, and more Media Day takeaways

The Memphis Grizzlies held Media Day yesterday, and the vibes were good.

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NBA: Memphis Grizzlies-Media Day Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s good to be back.

After 18 months of virtual interviews, NBA Media Day returned to an in-person hybrid format. Ja Morant and De’Anthony Melton both expressed how happy they were to see the media, with an obvious pep in their energy in the press conference room.

Though extension talks with Jaren Jackson Jr. and the NBA’s league-wide effort for full vaccinations loomed large, everyone seemed jovial about the work that they all put in this summer and how it’ll all manifest this season.

The vibes were immaculate within this young Memphis Grizzlies squad.

What were some of the big takeaways from yesterday’s Media Day?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies-Media Day Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Desmond Bane is an awesome person

Before we get into more of the media day takeaways that reflect the on-court product, can we just take a moment to recognize how awesome of person Desmond Bane is?

The players that have opposing thoughts about the COVID-19 vaccine dominated yesterday’s media day discourse around the league. Though the league is at 90% vaccinated at the moment, some of the remarks yesterday showed the reality that we still have a long way to go — not just in the league, but countrywide.

While some people will tend to focus and stress on the negative remarks — and rightfully so— don’t overlook the pro-vaccine comments that Desmond Bane, among others, made in yesterday’s media festivities.

Given the divisiveness of this topic, and Sunday’s quote-worthy Rolling Stones article on the NBA’s “anti-vaxxers,” it was refreshing to see comments like these from one of the NBA’s young players. Bane demonstrated great thoughtfulness and maturity when addressing his thoughts on the COVID-19 vaccine, a pressing topic and question across the league in yesterday’s annual media day.

Aside from that, Bane also mentioned that he got to use this lengthier offseason to not only explore the city, but to get involved in the community by hosting camps and events. He’s done that to get “intertwined” with the city, while introducing himself to the community. With a lot of this team being new-ish to the story, and with the limited outside events they’ve had due to health and safety protocols, it’s nice to see a young player like Bane be proactive in the community.

The Grizzlies got a good one with Desmond Bane.

2021 Play-In Tournament - San Antonio Spurs v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

All eyes on the Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. partnership

Unprompted, Zach Kleiman let the media know that Ja Morant is going to be an All-Star. He also referred to Jaren Jackson Jr. as a “franchise cornerstone.”

They also had a bunch of individual praise. Ziaire Williams referred to Ja as a “generational point guard.” Dillon Brooks told everyone that we’re going to see a lot more of the Jaren Jackson that we saw from year 2 with his shooting, fearlessness, and agility. Taylor Jenkins also has high expectations for both players, while indicating the importance of that duo in relation to the team’s success.

What really stuck out, at least to me, is how Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. worked out together and stayed in sync a lot this summer.

We got the idea that Ja and Jaren did some workouts together this season, as there were some highlights that circulated of them two playing at the same open run. However, as Ja Morant was “in the dark” and low-key about his work this offseason, this bit of information came as a pleasant surprise — given the limited social media activity.

The magnitude of their leaps this season will go a long way into determining the team’s success this year. The West is tough, per usual, and the Grizzlies will be looking to build on last year’s playoff run to achieve sustainable success towards the front office’s vision.

That vision is centered around Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. It’s a good sign to see they’re on the same page as they enter a big 3rd year together.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies-Media Day Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Kleiman is very aware of his team’s standing towards the “North Star”

Zach Kleiman has mentioned the objective of winning a championship many times during his Memphis tenure, and yesterday’s Media Day was no different.

He was excited about last season’s playoff push, and their performance in the postseason as well. For this season, he emphasized the importance of internal development — particularly with players like Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson, Desmond Bane, and Dillon Brooks.

At the same time, he wanted to stress that there is an urgency towards reaching his goal of bringing a championship here, as he didn’t want to place a cap on the team’s ceiling. There was one thing in particular that stood out in Kleiman's availability yesterday:

As many fans and analysts love trade speculation, especially when there’s an All-Star like Ben Simmons on the market at the moment, there’s always that question of the right time to strike. Kleiman was very transparent on that front — highlighting this level of urgency as well as the 3 potential picks in next year’s draft, the Warriors’ 2024 pick, all its own picks, and the clean books at the moment. He knows they’re in a good spot to strike whenever.

Now it’s out there. As these incoming picks turn into actual players, and their loaded depths turn into expiring contracts and exit rookie deals, the chatter of the big trade will only grow.

Knowing that Zach Kleiman and his front office have built towards this and are aware of the balance between discipline and aggressiveness, it’s a promising sign that a blockbuster sign is more of a when than if. That’s a great sign towards Kleiman’s “North Star” of building a title contender around Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies-Media Day Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Good vibes around Ziaire Williams

We’ve heard the positive buzz from Zach Kleiman and Taylor Jenkins on Grizzlies’ top-10 pick Ziaire Williams in the introductory and post-draft press conference. In yesterday’s Media Day, we heard what his teammates thought of the rookie.

There’s optimism about him and his fit with this team.

Morant, Bane, Brandon Clarke, and De’Anthony Melton had great things to say about his two-way impact at his size, his shooting and scoring, and his ability to play in transition. They were also praising his willingness to learn and soak in as much information as possible.

It’s going to be a process with Williams, especially with his age and raw skillset. However, it was good to hear his teammates give him good reviews on his work ethic and his hunger to learn and get better.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies-Media Day Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Other Takeaways

  • The Steven Adams experience is going to be fun. Steven Adams stole the show at media day. He was charming and hilarious — from talking about Shelby Farms trips with his dog, giving a thumbs-up of approval for the league being 90% vaccinated, to jokingly calling a beat writer a “bastard” for referring to him as the old guy. He also demonstrated a great level of thoughtfulness with his answers, especially when it comes to this season and being the veteran in the locker room. Lots of players spoke highly of “Steve-O” — as his teammates refer him to — and it leads me to think he’s going to become a fan favorite quite soon.
  • Brandon Clarke is the best player he’s ever been. Brandon Clarke did not have a good close to the season last year. He was aware of that, and it ate at his confidence as well. After an offseason of working on his perimeter skills, and getting a lot of that work with Jaren Jackson Jr. as well, Clarke feels like he’s playing the best he ever has. That’s a very positive development towards a potential bounce-back season for him.
  • Dillon Brooks looking to extend his creation. Many people aren’t thrilled with Dillon Brooks’ shot selection, primarily the amount of 2-pointers in his shot portfolio. However, he mentioned that he’s watched film on guys like Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker, and Paul George on how to create from the 3-point line — as those 3 in particular experienced success in that regard in last postseason. It’s going to be interesting to see that unfold, but it could pay dividends for his evolution as 3-and-D wing with All-Defense potential.

These storylines will be cool to monitor, as they progress towards tangible evidence over the coming months. As Jaren Jackson Jr. said yesterday — “Next Gen is back!”

Stick with Grizzly Bear Blues for more Media Day and Training Camp coverage.

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