I’m not going to put a limit on what we can do this season. This was a phrase that Zach Kleiman said repeatedly in his post-deadline media availability this past Thursday afternoon.
Honestly, can you blame him?
The Memphis Grizzlies have taken a big leap and are evolving into a contender. It’s been quite a dynamic to follow. This season, at this moment, the Memphis Grizzlies are the 3rd-best team in the league. They lead the NBA in offense rebounds, total rebounds, steals, blocks, points in the paint, fast break points, and second chance points — all on a per-game basis. They’ve beaten the league’s elite on the road: the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, Utah Jazz, Brooklyn Nets (before they fell apart), Cleveland Cavaliers, and Miami Heat.
They’re doing this while having the 2nd-lowest average age (24) in the entire league.
This is special. This is elite.
And all this is why Kleiman and his front office had a quiet trade deadline. For starters, they have a lot of belief in this team and in the growth of their young players. That’s a valid reason not to make a move. From a GBB piece awhile back from Staff Writer Greg Ratliff, the only teams this young and as successful from the past 10 years are the 2017-18 Boston Celtics and 2009-10 Oklahoma City Thunder — both winning 50 games, and the latter reached the Eastern Conference Finals with 3 players on rookie contracts playing prominent roles. Neither of these teams made moves at the deadline either, relying on the continuity and development of their young players before shaking things up.
Another reason beyond making these moves is the synergy of the team right now. Beyond the immaculate vibes, because they’ve had great chemistry throughout this new era of Grizzlies basketball, this team has organically formed into one of the NBA’s elite teams this regular season and found a formula and identity that’s led to a rampage on the rest of the league. Like the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Taking into account all of this, why not leave a limit off the table for this team? By the way, hasn’t this team smashed the limit many analysts have set on them each year over the past 3 years?
Starting with the postseason aspect of things, it’s so easy to evaluate “limits” or “ceilings” of how far a team could potentially go. After all, the goal is not regular season success; it’s playoff success. Kleiman has said that himself. And for the most part, we don’t know this iteration of the Grizzlies are capable of in the postseason, even though they were in it 8 months ago.
Ja Morant played like this version of himself last postseason, and we have years of postseason data on Steven Adams. However, Jaren Jackson Jr. wasn’t really fully in the mix last season. He was thrust into high-stakes basketball after sitting out for 9 months to rehab his knee. Desmond Bane has taken one of the NBA’s biggest individual leaps this season. How will his increased role translate into postseason? Brandon Clarke wasn’t in the rotation last postseason. How will his defensive versatility and vertical pop impact a postseason series?
This also doesn’t take into account the re-integration of Dillon Brooks, who has missed all but 21 games this season. Though he’s been in this system throughout this new era, he’s a key component to what they do, and he’s starter-level wing capable of affecting the game with his multi-dimensional scoring and his point-of-attack defense.
Given what we’ve seen from this season, and these unknowns, why place a limit on them?
If we’re going to be honest, the limit placed should come once the result is determined.
There may come a time where an Achilles’ heel strikes. It could be outside shooting, half-court offense, or free throw shooting. Those are all valid points of criticism that can decide the team’s season. That’s when we can gauge the limit — and that’s probably the time this front office and coaching staff make the adjustments necessary to win a championship.
In the here and now though, this Grizzlies team is showing that we shouldn’t place a limit on them. Instead, enjoy the moment of what’s going on right now, because this is some unprecedented stuff we’re seeing. There are rarely really young teams that are this good. They’re on track to have the best regular season winning percentage in franchise history. They also play a style of basketball that we’re not used to seeing from Grizzlies teams, one that encompasses good ball movement, quick transition action, and showtime highlight reels that might end up on Sportscenter. And of course, they have a national superstar that’s been a tone-setter for the team’s culture.
We should enjoy the moment of this season and avoid the limits that often cloud the greatness of what’s happening right now.
For the first time in quite some time, the Memphis Grizzlies feel limitless — in the present day, through the avenues to improve, and for sustainable success for the team’s future. Whether it’s this season, or down the road, the Grizzlies’ time to bask in glory is on the horizon.