The Memphis Grizzlies have surpassed expectations in each season of the “Grz Nxt Gen” era.
In the 2019-20 season, most people expected them to hang around the bottom of the league — with hopes of a top-6 pick conveying, so that their 2021 pick wouldn’t become unprotected. Instead, they competed for the 8th and final spot in the inaugural play-in tournament.
Without Jaren Jackson Jr. for the majority of the 2020-21 season, expectations were murky, and regression was on the table. They wound up outlasting the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors in the play-in tournament to make it to the playoffs, while stealing a game against the top-seeded Utah Jazz.
Last season, the Grizzlies were expected to be a play-in team, with a perceived ceiling of chasing the 5th or 6th seed. Once Ja Morant suffered a knee scare around Thanksgiving, everyone thought the season was practically over. Instead, they broke out and won a resounding 56 games — taking the eventual champions to 6 games before bowing out in the Western Conference semi-finals.
Through the past 3 seasons, they’ve exceeded expectations, all while accumulating experience and postseason scars at the same time.
Now, they’ve set a new standard of expectations for the 2022-23 season. No longer are they a team with comfortable expectations for a play-in bid. This Grizzlies team should be a top-6 team in the Conference and wind up in the playoffs outright.
They’ve deserved these projections.
After all, they’re coming off a year where they possessed the 2nd-best record in the league and pushed the defending champs to 6 games without a full starting 5 for any of the series. They finished in the top 5 in both offensive and defensive rating last year.
And for the most part, the Grizzlies’ main pieces are back for more.
The Grizzlies have a supernova point guard, who’s risen to the “dudes you can build a title-contending roster around” tier. For the first time in years, the Grizzlies have an elite 3-point shooter. They have a First Team All-Defense big man and a menacing defensive stopper. They also return a supporting cast of players that fit for a variety of reasons — the steady backup point guard (Tyus Jones), the bruising center that gobbles up rebounds and opens up the game for the stars with his playmaking and screen (Steven Adams), the twitchy forward/big that’s lob threat out of the pick-and-roll (Brandon Clarke), and a 3-and-D wing that flies in transition (Ziaire Williams). On top of that, the Grizzlies have a great coaching staff that’s architected a strong culture and developmental system.
With saying all that, within the team expectations, there’s also a raised level of expectations for players on this team.
You can always expect the spectacular with Ja Morant, whose game makes him and the Grizzlies appointment television just about every night. With his rise, he’s expected to continue his growth and to lead the Grizzlies to their ultimate goal of winning a championship.
Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. made strides in their own regard. Now, they’re tasked with expanding the horizons of their offensive games, proving they are the right co-stars in the Grizzlies’ title efforts.
Since Dillon Brooks mentioning he wants to become a more efficient shooter, there’s an expectation for him to live up to his word in that area — while also in the biggest year of his career as an impending free agent.
With Jaren Jackson Jr. missing an early chunk of the season, Steven Adams is expected to hold down the fort inside, as his rebounding will be pivotal with the size disadvantage at the moment.
With key pieces from the bench out of the mix, there are a set of expectations from the second unit. Some are the same, and some are elevated. Tyus Jones and Brandon Clarke are expected to continue their yin and yang off the bench — attacking opponents with their pick-and-roll attacks, and with their patented floaters. The Grizzlies didn’t acquire a veteran wing off the bench, as they are investing in John Konchar — who will need to fire more 3’s and ramp up his aggression on offense. Whether it’s Santi Aldama or one of the rookies (Jake LaRavia or David Roddy), the coaching staff has created an expectation that someone will emerge as a legitimate rotation player impacting winning basketball — as they’ve done the past three seasons.
Probably the biggest set of expectations from the bench, Ziaire Williams has a spotlight on him to take a sizable leap. It could be defensively as a wing that could defend the league’s elite offensive weapons. His offense will serve as the biggest point of emphasis in his development, at least in the eyes of media and fans, as he’s bound to see an increase in offensive responsibilities as a creator off the bench.
The Memphis Grizzlies have risen to a new level in 2022, earning the distinction of “contender status” for the first time since 2015. A new set of expectations are upon the young, audacious Memphis Grizzlies. No longer are they the hunters, they are the hunted — one of the few teams with a target on their back.
Their ceiling and floor have risen, and so have their expectations.
Instead of making predictions or firing off hot takes, here are some expectations for the ‘22-23 season.
- Another young dude will emerge into becoming a legitimate rotation player on a good team. Taylor Jenkins and his coaching staff have fostered a great developmental environment that’s transformed rookies into winning role players within their first season. In addition, plenty of players have taken leaps of different magnitudes throughout this era of Grizzlies basketball. Not only is it an expectation for another young player to emerge as a rotation player, it’s also pivotal for the Grizzlies’ success. The Grizzlies have always relied on their depth, and this season they’ve lost two key pieces of the bench. They will rely on leaps from players who were already in last year’s rotation (Ziaire Williams and John Konchar), but they’ll be relying on forwards Santi Aldama, Jake LaRavia, and/or David Roddy to solidify themselves in the mix as well. Otherwise, the depth advantage they’ve possessed the past 3 seasons could be minimized.
- The Grizzlies will struggle a bit without Jaren Jackson Jr. The Grizzlies should make up for the Jackson loss offensively — largely due to his efficiency woes, and the elite skillsets of Morant and Bane could very well just scorch earth until he’s back. His shooting gravity and movement shooting will be missed, and they’ll count on the spacing of their young forwards to make up for it. The defensive loss will be pretty insurmountable. He’s a transcendent talent given the level of his versatility — defending in space to guard forwards, protecting the rim from the weak side or as an anchor, switching onto the perimeter, or playing drop coverage. The defense may have ugly spots at the start of the season, perhaps it could lead to losses in winnable games. There’s not a player that could fill Jackson’s void defensively, but the team collectively will need to find ways to generate stops and ignite transition offense.
- But things will click... The Grizzlies started the season last year with a 9-10 record, then roared to a 56-26 record. They’ve shown they could find their groove and put together a strong string of games. Whenever Jackson returns, the Grizzlies have a formula for success with their offensive stars (Morant and Bane) and their defensive stalwarts (Jackson and Brooks) — and it works (+21.4 net rating, per Cleaning the Glass). Even if there’s a slower start, the Grizzlies should rally back and solidify themselves in the treacherous Western Conference.
- The Memphis Grizzlies will make the playoffs outright, and secure home-court advantage in at least 1 round as a top-4 seed. Ok, this is a blend of an expectation and prediction. The expectation is to make the playoffs outright; a play-in bid will be disappointing. If the Grizzlies finish as a 5th or 6th seed, and they show no signs of regression from a developmental perspective, it’ll be hard to rage over it. However, I project the Grizzlies to finish as a top-4 seed. They are returning 8 of their 9 best players by net rating — and by the way, the one they lost was 7th, and their 9th-best was their superstar point guard. I like the optics there! Obviously barring injury, the Grizzlies should finish as a top-4 seed. Within a strong culture and system, they possess the key ingredients of a NBA contender. From there, it’s about the right matchups and breaks on a road to a NBA championship.
The Grizzlies are not satisfied with last year’s accomplishments. Last season’s exit has made them even hungrier for their ultimate goal for bringing a championship banner in the FedExForum. For the first time in awhile, the expectation is to be one of the best teams in the Western Conference.
Will the “Nxt Gen” Grizzlies continue to meet or shatter expectations?
It’s time to find out.