We are halfway through the All-Star Break, the weekend’s festivities have concluded, and now we await for the action to pick back up on Thursday. And that’s when the real fun begins, especially for this upstart Memphis Grizzlies team.
In the mean time, let’s introduce some of GBB’s newest staff members. They got brief introductions on Twitter a couple weeks ago, but will now be kicking off their writing after this All-Star Break.
Welcome to the team: Bryson Wright (@BrysonWright3), GBB Senior Staff Writer; Andrew Katz (@AndrewEKatz), GBB Senior Staff Writer; Owen Hewitt (@Oyounothing), GBB Staff Writer; and Matthew Gill (@matthgill), GBB Staff Writer.
Be sure to follow them on Twitter for great Grizzlies coverage coming ahead.
1) How did you discover you liked to write?
Bryson Wright, GBB Senior Staff Writer: I always liked writing growing up, but I really got into it when I wrote with the Daily Beacon my freshman year of college. I covered a lot of sports there, and I loved it, so I’m excited to write about the Grizz now as well!
Andrew Katz, GBB Senior Staff Writer: I think I always enjoyed writing and having a space to put my thoughts, but it wasn’t until I was a junior in high school that I considered it more than a hobby. I joined my school newspaper staff and was immediately 90% of the sports section. I went to a journalism program between my junior and senior year and confirmed it was my passion and that I was going to pursue journalism professionally.
Owen Hewitt, GBB Staff Writer: I first discovered that I liked to write sophomore year of high school, when I joined the school paper. I wanted to do something to stay close to sports after I stopped playing, so I started covering our school’s sports teams. I was hooked on it immediately, and now it’s what I’m trying to pursue professionally.
Matthew Gill, GBB Staff Writer: I never really fell in love with writing until college and even then it was a struggle until I took an actual sports writing class as a sophomore. In that class I realized I did love writing, I just needed the opportunity to write about things I actually cared about.
2) What drew you to the Memphis Grizzlies?
BW: I grew up in Nashville, so I picked up the Grizzlies because they were the in-state team. The reason I became such a big fan is because of the Grit and Grind Era and seeing the way the city embraced them through those deep playoff runs. I love the city of Memphis and like to think of myself as an honorary Memphian at this point (only after the Moneybagg Yo RT though)
AK: I grew up in Kentucky, but I frequently made trips to see family I had in Memphis. I always looked forward to getting some Rendezvous BBQ Nachos and heading to the FedExForum. While I was initially drawn to the Grizz by proximity and my family, what really resonated with me was the underdog, blue-collar mentality of the team and the entire fanbase. I took pride being a fan of a team that was always overlooked by the national media. While the rest of the NBA zigged, Memphis zagged with the Grit and Grind Era, and it was beautiful.
OH: The Grizzlies have been my team for as long as I can remember. I grew up in Memphis and still call it home, and I was so happy to be able to have a pro sports team that had the city’s name across the front. I fell in love with the Grit and Grind Era, which I’m sure many Memphians can relate to, and I’ve loved them through thick and thin ever since.
MG: I really started following the Grizzlies after the 2013 Western Conference Finals run. I started following the NBA after the Heat had won their first finals with Dwyane Wade in 2006 and immediately jumped on that bandwagon. Then in 2010 when LeBron joined the Heat, I just as quickly jumped off that bandwagon and spent 2010-2012 as a basketball atheist until the Grit and Grind Grizzlies won me over.
3) Biggest takeaway from the 1st half of the season.
BW: Ja Morant and Desmond Bane is an extremely scary backcourt. The development of Desmond Bane into a shot creator instead of just being a stand still shooter. Having a dynamic scorer next to Ja has changed the entire outlook of the team.
AK: Brandon Clarke’s bounce-back year. I missed this Brandon Clarke. The one with the consistent floater game and the electric jams. His sophomore year was marred by injuries and his field goal percentage dropped by 10%. Clarke has been terrific this season, and his reemergence has been a big reason the Grizzlies’ second unit is so successful.
OH: My takeaway from the first half of the season is that the Grizzlies are way ahead of schedule, and that’s the ideal place to be. I don’t think many people expected the window where the team is a legitimate title contender to be open this early, and as long as Ja and Jaren stay healthy and in Memphis, that window isn’t closing anytime soon.
MG: My biggest takeaway from the first half of the season is this team is much more equipped to win-now versus continuing to build toward the future. I thought coming into the season they would be around .500, but they have certainly exceeded those expectations. That being said, I’m still dubious that this team is built for more than one playoff series win this year. The Western Conference is still going to be a gauntlet and with the second youngest roster in the league a second round exit would still be a huge accomplishment and helpful long-term to develop those playoff scars.
4) Biggest key to a successful post All-Star Break
BW: The reimplementation of Dillon Brooks into the starting lineup and the rest of the team falling into different roles than they have had throughout the season. Especially Ziaire Williams, since he will have to fall into a bench role where he had struggled earlier in the season. If he can play as well off the bench as he has in the starting lineup, then the sky is the limit.
AK: Don’t overplay Ja and figure out the playoff rotation. While there is a chance the Grizzlies could overtake the Warriors for the two seed, they will likely finish third in the Western Conference. It is crazy to think about, but the Grizzlies should be focused on playoff success post-All-Star break. By that I mean that Taylor Jenkins should not overwork Ja Morant and make sure he has fresh legs come playoffs time. We saw against the Pelicans that the Grizzlies have the best back-up point guard in the league. The Grizz need to find the right playoff rotation in the next couple of months, because while they have 11 or 12 guys that could play in a postseason game, the rotation will have to be cut down to at least 9 or 10 for April, and hopefully May.
OH: The biggest key for success post All-Star break is consistent bench play. We’ve seen flashes from the bench during the stretches where the team strings together a few wins in a row, but there have been moments where the bench has gone cold and it’s really hurt the team’s success. De’Anthony Melton in particular sticks out as a player I’d love to see a little more consistency from.
MG: The Grizzlies biggest key to being successful post All-Star Break into the postseason will be health. Ja sat out the second to last game before the break with an ankle so hopefully he has gotten some much needed rest this week between bottles of tequila. Dillon Brooks returning from injury will also be a huge addition to this team as they prepare for the playoffs. Get healthy, stay healthy and the Grizzlies will go into the playoffs with a top 3 seed.
5) Bold prediction for post All-Star break
BW: The Grizzlies will win their first conference finals game in franchise history!
AK: Jaren Jackson Jr. wins DPOY. Trip jumped to third on NBA.com’s DPOY ladder last week and I think that by the end of the season he will grab the top spot. As of now, Jackson leads the league in total blocks with 129 and is tied for third in blocks per game with 2.2. He is second in blocks per 36 minutes and has a block percentage of 7.2%, the second-best in the league. Trip has made himself a defensive force, averaging a steal per game and only fouling 3.4 times a game – his lowest count since entering the league. Jackson’s defensive presence has been a big reason for the Grizzlies success this season and if the team is to continue their dominance post-All-star break it will be because JJJ is one of the NBA’s premier defenders.
OH: The Grizzlies enter the postseason as a four seed and advance to the conference finals. John Konchar also records a 20-point double-double at some point.
MG: My prediction for the Grizzlies post All-Star Break is that Ja Morant will lead the league in free throw attempts the rest of the season. Not that exciting right? But, we’ve seen as the year has gone on that Morant has started to get those star player calls that Lebron and Chris Paul have come accustomed to. This shows the league is on notice that Morant has entered that top tier of player and come playoff time those attempts go a long way in close games and in putting opponents in foul trouble.