Today is finally the day for the Memphis Grizzlies to kick off the regular season. After their breakout season last year, all eyes will be on them to see how they could pull off an encore this season.
How do the Memphis Grizzlies follow up last year’s performance?
We take it to the GBB Roundtable to discuss — as Brandon Abraham (@bcabraham), Shawn Coleman (@StatsSAC), Brendan Smart (@bsmart21), Lauren Harvey (@DragicKingdom), and Ben Hogan (@NotTheGolfer) join me to preview the Grizzlies’ season outlook.
Over/Under win totals (48.5, per DraftKings Sportsbook)
Parker Fleming, GBB Site Manager: Over. If Jaren Jackson Jr. is out until Christmas, this may trend under, but the reports are indicating he could return closer to Thanksgiving. The duo of him and Dillon Brooks have been the backbone of a top-5 defense, and Ja Morant and Desmond Bane raise the offensive floor. Health permitting, they should be a 50-win team once again.
Brandon Abraham, GBB Assistant to the Site Manager: Over. The Grizzlies won 56 games last season and return the core of that team. I don’t think they’ll win 56 again, but 49 certainly feels doable.
Shawn Coleman, GBB Associate Editor: I feel the Grizzlies will end of up with 51 wins. At 51-31, Memphis would be 10 games worse than they were last year, but still likely good enough to finish in the top 6 in the Western Conference. If the Grizzlies get off to a slow start, I feel they can still have an excellent end to the year as they start to gel into 2023.
Brendan Smart, GBB Senior Staff Writer: 48.5 wins seems a little low, right? Of course, if you’re a bettor, this seems like an easy over. Coming off of a 56-26 season last season, I think expectations have turned into consistent results. Take Memphis over 48.5 wins.. Easily.
Lauren Harvey, GBB Staff Writer: I would hammer the over. It appears Vegas and many NBA pundits have forgotten that every season since Ja Morant first put on a Grizzlies jersey the team has exceeded their win total projection. I have no reason to expect this season will be any different.
Ben Hogan, GBB Staff Writer: I’m going to go over 48.5 wins this season. If you asked me a month and a half ago I would have said under. The improved timeline for Jaren Jackson Jr. is the main reason. If he comes back to this team earlier than expected, this is a 50+ win team. I also think it will take 48-49 wins to avoid the play-in game in the West and I don’t see the Grizz as a play-in team.
Where they finish in the West
Fleming: 4th. Teams are set to rise, hyped teams won’t live up to it, and teams in the Grizzlies’ tier last year may not keep up this year. Let’s roll with some continuity here. The Grizzlies kept 8 of their best 9 players by Net Rating. They were a top-5 offense and defense last season, and the foundation is still there to build on it and continue to succeed.
Abraham: I have them 4th behind the Clippers, Warriors and Nuggets. They won’t have quite the sustained success of last season but they’ll still be a really good regular season team and should rack up the wins and earn home court in the first round of the playoffs.
Coleman: 51 Wins would have been good enough for fifth place in the Western Conference last year, and I feel that is about where Memphis reasonably will finish this year. The conference is stacked with talent, with many players on other teams back to full health. The Grizzlies are more than capable of contending with these teams, especially if they can be at full health once the playoffs arrive.
Smart: Coming off of an unexpected second seed last season, the Grizzlies, in my opinion added much needed depth. From a national perspective, they didn’t get better, however, they did. Obviously with Jaren Jackson Jr., sidelined for the first few months, I still think the Grizzlies handle business. Memphis finishes 3rd or better in the West.
Harvey: The Grizzlies will finish 3rd in the West behind the Warriors and Nuggets. I wouldn’t say that’s Grizzlies regression so much as a defending title team stacked with young,still improving talent and a deep Nuggets team that should be healthier standing in their way. The top of the West will be as competitive as ever but the Grizzlies aren’t in danger of a major drop off.
Hogan: Grizzlies will finish fourth in the West. As tough as the West was last year, it’s going to be even tougher this year. I think they take a small step back, but still finish with homecourt in the first round. I think Ja, Bane, JJJ, and Ziaire all continue to take leaps forward. Not only will the playoff experience last year prove to be important, but also the experience this team has playing together will be the difference maker between them and other teams in the West.
Best Case Scenario happens IF
Fleming: Well best case scenario is winning a NBA championship, and that happens if they have a healthy Ja Morant. For all the critics that point to the Grizzlies’ record without their All-Star guard, they fell in the playoffs because they didn’t have their go-to guy to get them tough buckets in the halfcourt. Last season, Morant made a legitimate leap to become a dude who could the centerpiece of a championship team. For the Grizzlies to achieve their goal, they need their superstar guard on the floor. Now health aside, they’ll need a sizable leap from Ziaire Williams and offensive improvement from Jaren Jackson Jr. to accomplish their goal of a championship.
Abraham: They can be healthy in April. The Grizzlies culture has proven they can survive during the regular season as guys deal with various injuries. While perfect health all season would be great, it’s unrealistic. Being healthy in April gives them a few games leading up into the playoffs to get their legs underneath them. The Ja/Des/Dillon/JJJ/Adams projected starting 5 didn’t get a ton of minutes last year and then things unraveled against Golden State with Adams catching COVID, Brooks suspension and Ja’s injury. A healthy Grizzlies team in April, though, is scary for the rest of the league.
Coleman: The Grizzlies’ best-case scenario happens if they can be at full health once the playoffs arrive. Last year, the Grizzlies showed they belonged on the court with the Warriors. However, injuries to Desmond Bane at first of the series and Ja Morant being unavailable after Game 3 were unfortunate. If the Grizzlies can be at full strength, they can make a deep run in the playoffs.
Smart: Ziaire Williams takes the sophomore leap that Desmond Bane took in terms of expanding his game. Williams, in his second season out of Stanford, participated in Summer League, and broadened his game with the ball in his hands on the offensive side of the floor. Williams’ ability to create for himself adds a different layer to this Grizzlies offense.
Harvey: Ja Morant becomes a true MVP candidate and becomes an undeniable top five player in the league. Desmond Bane is in the discussion to make the All Star team. Jaren Jackson Jr. misses less than 20 games this season. If all those things happen, the Grizzlies will solidly be in the legitimate contender conversation.
Hogan: Best-case scenario happens if Jaren returns healthy and Head Coach Taylor Jenkins finds a rotation that works. Another big piece is Santi Aldama. If he is a good fit as a JJJ fill-in, then he becomes an even more valuable piece in the rotation when Jaren returns. We have seen that Jaren can get into early foul trouble, and a reliable backup is needed.
Worst case Scenario happens IF
Fleming: Obviously health, but let’s give an answer unrelated to that. Worst case scenario would be the losses of Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton hurting to the point they’re in the play-in tournament. The Grizzlies are doubling down on their player development through Ziaire Williams, Santi Aldama, and a combination of Jake LaRavia and David Roddy — as well as the trust in what John Konchar showed in 72 games last season. The coaching staff have been superb at player development here, but an off year in that department would minimize the numbers advantage the Grizzlies have generated over the past 3 seasons.
Abraham: The developmental process fails them. The Grizzlies core is strong enough to make them competitive in any playoff series, but the depth needs to be as strong as it was last season in order to get to the playoffs. If the rookies don’t step up, and if Santi Aldama and Ziaire Williams don’t take their projected leaps, the Grizzlies could end up not performing as well in the regular season and cause them to rapidly drop in the standings.
Coleman: The Grizzlies worst case scenario is if they do not experience similar levels of development they did last year and injuries emerge as a concern to their core players. Jaren Jackson Jr. returning to form once he is back from injury should be expected, but is not guaranteed. Memphis has to hope they have better luck with their best talents remaining healthy.
Smart: Worse case scenario, in my opinion, for any good team is injuries throughout a long season. Memphis dodged that bullet last regular season as Ja Morant went down multiple times, while guys stepped up, it ended up rearing its ugly head in the playoffs. It’s not just Morant, any starter that has to miss time his a huge worse case. For standings purposes, anything less that a 4 seed is worse case as well.
Harvey: There is regression in the young players that the team is expecting to take a leap. If Bane and Jaren stagnate or can’t stay on the floor, it is possible the Grizzlies become dangerously close to slipping into the Play In tournament. I don’t expect that outcome but development is not linear and it is possible we don’t see the growth from the young stars we expect.
Hogan: Worst case scenario happens if the Grizzlies lack of moves in the offseason puts other teams ahead of them. Minnesota made a big move bringing in Rudy Gobert, while Denver, New Orleans, and the Clippers all bring back stars into the fold after missing last season. The Grizzlies brought in a handful of rookies and Danny Green. We’ve seen the Grizzlies formula work for them before, let’s hope it continues.
Which team metric will define the team’s success?
Fleming: Halfcourt offense. The Grizzlies were in the bottom-10 in that area last season, using a blitzing defense to fly up and down the floor to boost their offense. I’ve outlined ways to improve in this regard a few weeks ago, but offensive leaps from Jaren Jackson, Desmond Bane, and Ziaire Williams could give their halfcourt offense a sizeable boost. If they could couple their transition excellence with a league-average halfcourt offense, they should solidify themselves as a top-4 team in the Western Conference.
Abraham: For me it comes down to the 3-point percentage and the 3-point attempts per game. The Grizzlies, despite the “let it fly” mentality, were a bottom 10 team in attempts per game last season. They need to bump up the attempts but also need to cash in on those attempts. The preseason percentages weren’t great, but if the Grizzlies can knock down more triples, it’ll open up the half court offense and create more driving lanes for Ja Morant. The Grizzlies dominate the paint. The more than can keep up with teams from the outside, the more overall success they’ll have on offense.
Coleman: The team metric I will be most interested in is the Grizzlies consistency to find the best shot possible on each possession. The Grizzlies finished 23rd and 24th in eFG% and TS% during the regular season last year, respectively. This preseason, they were 22nd and 18th, respectively. Improvement in these areas will help Memphis find the offensive balance they seek to have. Hopefully improvement will be immediate.
Smart: Stocks. Sounds crazy, however the steals and blocks really are the identity of this team. How hard they play. Obviously for shadowing, but having Jaren Jackson Jr. back in December, and having Dillon Brooks for a full season will prove huge for this Grizzlies team success heading into the 2022-23 NBA season.
Harvey: Team offensive rebounding percentage. The Grizzlies were first in the league in that category and feasted on second change opportunities. If they can continue to follow that blueprint they will achieve their team goals this season.
Hogan: The team metric that will define the Grizzlies success is its defensive rating. When most people think of the Grizz, they think Ja Morant. But, as the saying goes, defense wins championships. The two teams who played in the Finals were the top two in the league last season.