The Grizzlies season continues tomorrow night with a road game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Before we move on to the second half of the season, I’m joined by some of GBB’s finest to look back on the first 60 games of the season.
Joining me today are Site Manager Joe Mullinax, Associate Editor Parker Fleming, Writers Justin Lewis and Ed Memphis, as well as one of the hosts from The Starting 5 Podcast Tev Shakir.
1) Looking back, what was the turning point in the first half of the season for the Grizzlies?
GBB SITE MANAGER JOE MULLINAX (@JoeMullinax) - For whatever reason, the Ja Morant injury knocked some sense in to the Grizzlies. They did not play up to their potential early in the season, and Memphis took advantage of the Morant absence to step up and start playing team basketball the way they were capable of. Leaning on Ja couldn’t be the way to higher levels of success. Morant being out was a needed reminder of that.
GBB ASSOCIATE EDITOR PARKER FLEMING (@PAKA_FLOCKA) - It’d have to be when Ja Morant injured his knee. From that moment, it seemed like the Grizzlies awakened and developed a sense of urgency and identity on both sides of the ball. A big part of that stemmed from the mindset that they needed to step in the absence of the team’s All-Star guard.
GBB WRITER JUSTIN LEWIS (@J_Timberfake_) - It would have to be when Jaren Jackson Jr finally started clicking defensively. His struggles on offense didn’t carry over to his defensive intensity or effort and he carried the team in spurts.
GBB WRITER EDMEMPHIS (@EdMemphisPimpin) - My first thought said the first 10 game streak. However, I gotta say it’s when The Great Nate Chester had the Twitter exchange with Ja. Hear me out now, we all know “12” is the ultra competitor. He may not admit it publicly right now, but he took what Nate said to heart just as he’s done with his dad’s critique & used it as motivation to improve.
GBB PODCAST HOST TEV SHAKIR (@TevShakir) - Of course it’s easy to say that the turning point of this season was Ja getting injured, but that’s exactly when it was. The Grizz took the “take it one game at a time” approach and played winning basketball without their leader. Now, they have a chance to be a top 2 team by the end of the month. If there was a specific moment within that run I’d have to point at, it would be the OKC game where the Grizz scored 152 points. That was a great night to be a Grizz fan, especially being able to go right into the 3-6 Mafia “Verzuz”. That was a great night for the city of Memphis period.
2) Outside of Ja, who has been the MVP for Memphis this season?
MULLINAX - The answer is Desmond Bane, you cowards! Honorable mention to Jaren Jackson Jr., whose defensive leap has been dramatic in the best way possible. Bane, however, has been so good he has some asking if the “third man” many such as myself have been searching for is already on the roster. He has taken the space left behind in the offense by Grayson Allen and to a lesser extent Jonas Valanciunas and has run with it. Without him, this run does not happen.
FLEMING -I feel like everyone’s going to go with Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr., whose leaps have undoubtedly raised the ceilings of this team. How about we throw Tyus Jones in there? The bench is back to being an elite offensive unit, boasting a top-10 scoring rate and ranks 1st in assist — among other statistical categories as well. In addition, they wouldn’t have gone 12-2 without Ja Morant, if it wasn’t for their steady — but brilliant — backup point guard. He may have won a starting job from someone.
LEWIS - Zach Kleiman. The man is a genius. The roster he has put together is the deepest in the league. Based on age alone they have no business being the third best team in the association, but he’s put the right pieces together for this to be possible.
EDMEMPHIS - Desmond Bane no doubt. Jaren makes a strong case, especially over the past 20 games or so. That said, Bane has been the constant through it all. He was one of the main offensive catalyst when the season started & Memphis started out 9-10. Dillon Brooks was out & Jaren was mightily struggling offensively. He was the main option when Ja was out injured during the streak. He was also a main option when Ja got back healthy & has remained a top 2 scoring option for Memphis virtually the entire season. Bane has become known for starting games off with double digit scoring in the first quarter to get Memphis going. Do Yo Thang Bane Train.
SHAKIR - Outside of Ja, the MVP for Memphis is Jaren Jackson, Jr. We, the brothers of the Starting 5 podcast, were very critical of JJJ at the beginning of the season. We currently stand corrected. What Jaren has done this season has been nothing short of amazing. We say that the best ability is availability.. he’s started 59 /60 games. We wanted him to get better defensively and he’s averaging a career high in blocks and rebounds. He should’ve been an All Star this year but I’m sure as he progresses, he will turn your maybe into an absolutely.
3) What has been your favorite moment from the first 60-games?
MULLINAX - I really enjoyed the historic 73-point victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Any time you witness history, it is a special thing. The capacity for greatness that this team was capable of was on full display. In a way, this kickstarted the season in and of itself - Memphis is 29-9 including that win since it occurred. Turns out beating the breaks off folks can build confidence!
FLEMING - It has to be the Memphis Grizzlies’ home win against Golden State in January. There was a buzz around the game going into it, and they somehow exceeded the hype. It felt like more like a playoff game than any regular season game I’ve been to, and it was an emphatic statement that the Memphis Grizzlies are ready to make some noise.
LEWIS - Easily when the Grizzlies made old man LeBron and his geriatric pals upset bc they punked them. Raising the ire of one of the best in the game because his team got hit with an avalanche was beyond enjoyable.
EDMEMPHIS - There has been so many they all seem to run in together. I’d say the MLK game because Memphis represented well on the main stage & thus bringing more exposure to the day itself & it’s festivities. The Grizzlies helped make MLK day more of a trending topic in todays era of trends & they did it with highlights.
SHAKIR - My favorite moment so far was Steven Adams picking up Tony Bradley away from Ja. For the basketball fans still wondering why we got him, it was for moments like this. Adams may be the strongest player in the league and is a very underrated passer. The Grizz know just how to use his talents. Plus, Steven Adams effortlessly picking up another big man is just a great moment in itself.
4) What stat has been the key to the Grizzlies success this season?
MULLINAX - Being 1st in the league in offensive rebounding at 13.9 per game. Steven Adams has led the charge in this area, but others like Brandon Clarke, Jaren Jackson Jr., and even Ja Morant has made meaningful contributions in this area. In the absence of elite - or even average - half-court offense, the more shot opportunities you can get the better. These looks mean the Grizzlies can make up for their shortcomings when the game slows down - and can compete with better half-court offenses, which will matter when the playoffs come.
FLEMING - How about the fact that they lead the league in rebounds per game at 48.9? Remember when people said they were going to have trouble rebounding without Jonas Valanciunas? Yeah, I remember. The Grizzlies have an elite rebounder in Steven Adams, but they also have 5 players averaging 5+ rebounds, compared to just 3 from last season. It’s been a mob mentality on the glass.
LEWIS - 15. That’s how deep this team is, the number of guys making a contribution when called up. It’s never consistently 15 guys, but 15 guys have answered the call at various points and had crucial moments, like Culver against the Lakers.
EDMEMPHIS - I’d say reaching 40 wins before suffering 20 losses this season & thus hitting the standards of the Lord Of The Rings Himself Phil Jackson. By the Goat’s criteria, Memphis ain’t nothin’ to play with.
SHAKIR - The stat that has been the key to our success is the fact that we are #1 in blocks and defense. I know the days of “Grit & Grind” are over, but I think they’d be proud of the tradition they left behind.
5) What lessons learned in the first 60 games will benefit the Grizzlies in the final 22 games?
MULLINAX - The business-like approach to winning games you are supposed to win. In covering this team for the better part of the decade, the idea of the “trap game” is engrained in my being. And with a young roster like Memphis, there’s a decent chance that the team falls short in games they shouldn’t. But they showed in the prior 60 games that more often than not, they will handle themselves the way they’re supposed to against inferior competition. Considering how their schedule is relatively light moving forward, that will help them at worst hold on to their current standing in the Western Conference.
FLEMING - Maintaining urgency has to be the key. They’ve really only had 2 “bad” losses since they flipped the switch, and by “bad,” I mean to inferior competition — Oklahoma City in December, and Portland last week. These games were sore spots for last year’s Grizzlies teams. As they benefit from one of the easiest remaining schedules, they must maintain that edge to generate momentum for the playoffs.
LEWIS - Playing together carries you. Defensive connection and sharing the ball on offense is what got you here, continue that and the final 22 will be just as successful.
EDMEMPHIS - When all else fails, Memphis has enough fire power to stand with any team as long as they move the ball & play defense.
Also Jaren has learned to find his offense in other ways without going cold outside first. He’s realizing he is unstoppable when he’s aggressive & confident, which the latter part can also be said for Tyus as well.
SHAKIR - The biggest lesson the Grizz learned was to continue to build on the foundation of trust. As young as the Grizz are, the core of the team has been together for a few years. Chemistry matters which is why it honestly shouldn’t be a surprise to understand how and why this team is so good. The organization on and off the court have valued trust in one another and it shows! Coach Jenkins will be in the discussion for Coach of the Year, JJJ will be in talks for DPOY, Desmond SHOULD WIN Most Improved and Ja Morant was just celebrated as an All-Star. Let’s keep the ball rolling!
Thank you to Joe, Parker, Justin, Ed and Tev for joining me! What are your answers to the questions in this edition of the Roundtable? Reply in the comments below!