Even though the Memphis Grizzlies have the third best record in the entire NBA (just as everyone predicted before the season began, right?), it is important to keep perspective. This team remains one of the youngest in the NBA - no player is older than 30, and only three are older than 25. The meteoric rise of Ja Morant and the impressive improvement of so many key cogs to the Grizzlies machine all are responsible for this new world Memphis finds themselves in a lot sooner than they (or we) thought they’d be inhabiting. But they’re still going to stumble. Fail. Make mistakes.
That happened to the young rookie Ziaire Williams on Monday night against the 76ers. He was given a ton of playing time and missed a key three point shot to help Memphis win the game. Why he was in was questioned by media and fan alike...but not by the Grizzlies. Ja Morant and others stood by his side and supported him, making sure he knew that he’d be better for the opportunity. And that it would come again.
In a way, it did just two nights later. And after a career night that helped the Grizzlies win a game where Ja Morant and Desmond Bane shot a combined 13-45 from the field, the game and confidence of Ziaire Williams grew just a little bit more. As did the legend of this remarkable season for these Memphis Grizzlies.
On to grades.
Ziaire Williams - 21 points (9-11 shooting, 3-5 from three), 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, +11 +/- in 33 minutes
It was quite the performance for the young Williams. His game is developing nightly, right before our eyes. He is growing as a shooter from beyond the arc, especially as a corner three threat. When he is able to get there he is actually elite at finishing at the rim (81%, 97th percentile per Cleaning the Glass) but he does not get there nearly enough (only 21% of his attempts are at the basket, 38th percentile). He posted more rebound and assist numbers in this game but remains one of the worst rebounding wings in the NBA (6th percentile in defensive rebounding of missed shots per Cleaning the Glass) with one of the worst assist percentages (5.7%, 11th percentile).
That was all to be expected and in no way is meant to be an indictment of the choice Memphis made in the 2021 NBA Draft. He was a stated project from the beginning and patience has been preached from the outset. But the point of outlining the numbers showing struggle is the end result of that journey, which Ziaire is nowhere near. A rookie like Williams will only improve with playing time. And falling short Monday, only to have a career game Wednesday, is a pretty impressive short-term example of that in action. Williams is going to lack production at times. It’s not about right now for him, or even the Grizzlies (if it were, Williams would not have played as much as he has). It’s about the long view.
It looked pretty good last night.
GRADE - A
Jaren Jackson Jr. - 26 points (8-14, 4-7 from three), 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 steal, 1 assist, +8 +/- in 34 minutes
Jaren Jackson Jr. is a likely longshot for All-Star Reserve when the team gets announced this evening.
That’s OK. He showed against the Knicks why his time is coming.
The full scope of what Jaren Jackson Jr. can be for the Memphis Grizzlies was on display against the Knicks. His ability as a volume scorer from three was on full display. His length and athleticism as a disrupter of passing lanes and lines of sight on shot attempts was as well. He got to the rim off the dribble, he got to the free throw line...he even continued his clear attempt to kick out and pass to open shooters off of his dribble penetration!
ZIaire Williams isn’t the only one growing before our eyes.
Jaren very much looks the part of a young man getting used to his body. He was reportedly still growing as of last year, and with his added size sometimes there is an adjustment period when it comes to controlling your movements. Jackson Jr.’s biggest area of improvement this season has been here - he on both ends displays much better body control. It’s taken him from the 6th percentile per Cleaning the Glass in foul percentage to 48th - and from a potential All-Defensive Team player to one that should be considered a lock for that team at this point.
GRADE - A
- Ja Morant and Desmond Bane get a C+. Why does a starting backcourt that shot 13-45 get a C+? Because they did not allow their poor offensive performances in terms of scoring efficiency impact their play defensively. That is how Memphis was able to endure them not making shots - because the very next possession at times they were creating steals and deflections to get extra possessions for their teammates. That is impressive buy-in to the team concept.
- De’Anthony Melton gets an A. 4-6 from beyond the arc. 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 18 minutes played. 23 years old. Consolidation is coming, probably this summer. But for such a young player to be able to make this kind of impact, even if it is coming inconsistently right now, is valuable. The Grizzlies likely do not move any rotation player next week at the trade deadline. But if they do, it shouldn’t be De’Anthony Melton.
- Steven Adams gets a B. He struggled containing the younger/more spry Mitchell Robinson throughout the night defensively. But 13 rebounds, 4 assists, and a +5 performance all while only scoring 2 points reinforces just how helpful Adams is to this team. He doesn’t need to score to impact winning. Let the younger, long-term prospects of the Grizzlies put the ball in the bucket. Adams is happy to screen, pass, rebounds, and win.
The Memphis Grizzlies will be back in action Saturday afternoon for an early tip with the Orlando Magic.