Over the past 10 days, I’ve been MIA from the Memphis Grizzlies sphere, but it’s for the best reason.
I married my best friend.
I could go on and on about the wedding day and the honeymoon, but there aren’t a whole lot of words to describe it. Everything about the past 10 days have been indescribably spectacular — easily the best of my entire life. I want to replay it all over and over again. I also wish I could bottle up all the emotions I’ve experienced over the past 10 days and use it as a smelling salt whenever life has me down. I couldn’t be more blessed to have my beautiful wife and my amazing support of family and friends by my side.
It’s back to reality though — back to my 9-5, to my family and friends, and to the day-to-day routine this life has given me. The only difference now is it just got a whole lot sweeter.
Over the past week and a half, I’d check in at a very minuscule rate on what was going on with this part of my life. Understandably.
With that, I’m going to make some several observations I’ve gathered from box scores and the tremendous work over at Grizzly Bear Blues.
Before I do so, I want to thank the hard work from my awesome staff on their game coverage and their feature work over the past week. I want to give a very special thanks to my two associate editors — two of my pals — Brandon Abraham and Shawn Coleman on keeping the ship sailing. They absolutely rock — two great basketball minds, and even better people. They kicked ass leading the team here; the “next man up” mentality resonates with GBB. All of that meant the world to me.
Now as I’m back in reality, I’m going to lay out some of these observations I’ve made from catching up on Memphis Grizzlies basketball. So please, correct me if I’m wrong — or if I’m right, please elaborate for me.
1) The Memphis Grizzlies are #good
The Memphis Grizzlies took care of business for the most part. They capitalized on a stretch of 6 straight games at home to position themselves at the top of the Western Conference.
That’s what good teams do: capitalize on advantageous situations ahead of them.
To close out their home stretch, they had the lowly Detroit Pistons and a resting Atlanta Hawks team off a back-to-back where they played an overtime game the night before. Nonetheless, the Grizzlies made sure it was comfortable, winning both of those games by a combined 36 points.
Now what shined bright was their stomping of the Milwaukee Bucks. The Grizzlies thrashed them by 41 points and led by as much as 50 points. Yes, the Milwaukee Bucks didn’t have Jrue Holiday, but they still had an all-timer in Giannis Antetokounmpo, an All-Star in Khris Middleton, and an early-season Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Brook Lopez. They’re a trendy pick to win the Finals. The Grizzlies — still without Desmond Bane, and with only Jaren Jackson Jr. for 13 minutes due to foul trouble — annihilated them in what was a statement game for their contender status.
Those 3 games in particular gave them an efficiency boost as one of the league’s top teams this month. They rank 1st in Net Rating (14.1), 2nd in Defensive Rating (101.9), and 3rd in Offensive Rating (116.7) in the month of December. They will be tested to close the month with showdowns against the Phoenix Suns (twice), Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, and New Orleans Pelicans — as well as the “Beam Team” Sacramento Kings to kick off 2023.
While there is plenty of season to go, the Grizzlies used this recent stretch of play as a reminder that they will be in the mix among contenders in the Western Conference.
2) The basketball gods struck down for the sake of parity
So we already mentioned that the Grizzlies demolished the Milwaukee Bucks. Because the NBA in 2022 is all about parity, the basketball gods had to intervene for its sake.
Or they had to impose some sort of sanctions for the Memphis Grizzlies busting out the wave from their bench in the middle of a basketball game. I mean, what hilarious savagery there — a true viral moment.
So the balance came in the form of their 7-game winning streak ending against the Oklahoma City Thunder — who were without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, and were fresh off the second half of a back-to-back.
That one will be stamped as one of the worst losses of the season, if not the worst.
They were plagued with poor shooting, as they only connected on 37.8% of their field goal attempts. They only generated 15 assists on 34 made shots — an unacceptable benchmark for the Grizzlies’ standards. Ja Morant was also ejected in bizarre fashion, one that confused everyone.
It just reeked. They seemed like a team that wasn’t focused and came in too overconfident.
There are 82 games, and that one doozy won’t define them. It should serve as a recalibration game for sure.
3) The bench is in a groove
The Grizzlies’ bench — something that’s been a strength since the “Grz Nxt Gen” inception — came out of the gates out of sorts. They were integrating 2 rookies into the mix, and injuries forced players into abnormal roles.
They’ve surged in December. After averaging 33.3 points (16th in the league) through the first month and a half of the season, they’ve scored 43 points per game this month — good for 2nd in the league.
In this 4-game span over the past 10 days, the Grizzlies had 4 players averaging double-digit scoring. They’ve been a key component in this surge to the top of the Western Conference.
Brandon Clarke and Tyus Jones stepped in as starters against Atlanta in this span, and they’ve delivered. Clarke simply didn’t miss, as only two of his 23 field goal attempts didn’t fall over the past 4 games. The shot quality is high, and they may be gimme’s, but there seems to be a reprioritization of getting Clarke involved in the offense. Tyus Jones proved his worth stepping in as a starter for Morant’s absence against the Hawks, and seemed instrumental in the Grizzlies’ near-comeback efforts against Oklahoma City. He averaged 15.3 points on 44% shooting from 3 (6.3 attempts per game) and 1.5 steals, while dishing out 5.5 assists against 1.3 turnovers.
Their contributions are crucial for the team’s strength in numbers.
I won’t get too deep into David Roddy’s contributions, as Shawn Coleman wrote an excellent breakdown for the blog this morning. He’s growing accustomed to the NBA game, and though the 3-point shot isn’t falling (17.6% over the past 4 games), he’s converted on 13/19 (68.4%) of his 2-pointers. His budding offense, along with the defensive responsibilities, have kept him in the rotation.
Santi Aldama continues to put together strong showing, averaging 11.5 points on 46.2% shooting from 3 (3.3 attempts per game). Ziaire Williams seems to be shaking off the rust with his return, as he’s only connected on 8 of 24 shot attempts over the past 4 games — and just 1 of his 12 triples. The availability is the key here, as it indicates a lack of a setback. A progression to the mean offensively will be a swing piece for this team’s depth.
4) Jake LaRavia is out of the rotation… for now… and it’s not a bad thing
Jake LaRavia returned to the floor within the past 10 games, and he didn’t crack the rotation. This doesn't feel like an indictment on his play, rather the circumstances around him.
For starters, his rookie counterpart David Roddy has been playing well. When both players were healthy, neither really generated enough separation to make a clear argument with playing one over the other. And with Roddy playing while during LaRavia’s injury, it’s fair to see why Jenkins continues to roll with these rotations.
In addition, an extra rotation spot was taken up with Ziaire Williams’ return.
So there just isn’t room in the 10-man rotation for LaRavia, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
LaRavia has shown he can shoot the 3-ball, while adding value as a team defender and a connective passer. Now, it’s about ramping up the volume and growing more comfortable. Stints with the Memphis Hustle since then will help things slow down, as will observing what’s going on the floor on the sidelines — similar to Ziaire Williams during his injury around this time last season.
Jake LaRavia might be out of the rotation right now, but I won’t rule out him resembling a role similar to Williams last year whenever his number is called once again.
5) Jaren Jackson Jr. and Dillon Brooks deserve heavy defensive honors
Jaren Jackson Jr. and Dillon Brooks are building a case to be the best perimeter/big defensive duo in the league.
Jackson swatted 8 shots in just 24 minutes against Atlanta. That is absolutely absurd. Jackson was the first player since Mitchell Robinson to block at least 8 shots in a game, while only playing 24 or fewer minutes. He also put together a strong outing against Detroit (4 blocks and 2 steals), but foul trouble minimized his impact against Milwaukee — then there was the Oklahoma City game.
Not many players relish the All-Star assignment like Dillon Brooks. While Detroit and the restful Hawks and Thunder don’t offer the usual level of competition Brooks is tasked with, he rose to the occasion against Khris Middleton. The Bucks All-Star had 3 points on 1-12 shooting, while turning the ball over 4 times, in the Grizzlies’ Thursday night blowout victory, and Brooks was instrumental in those efforts. He visibly got under Middleton’s skin and took him out of the game.
Things got chippy between Khris Middleton and Dillon Brooks pic.twitter.com/KxHFoTpavT— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 16, 2022
Jaren Jackson Jr. and Dillon Brooks are the lifeline of the Memphis Grizzlies’ defense, and hopefully post-season honors highlight it. They’ve emerged as two of the best defenders within their positional archetype and defensive responsibilities.
The Memphis Grizzlies are finding their groove and making some noise. Though I was MIA the past 10 days, this is what I’ve gathered from our tremendous staff at GBB and from the box scores. Please correct me if I’m wrong, and elaborate for me on either side of the fence.