The Memphis Grizzlies kick off playoff basketball 3 days from now, kicking off a run that could realistically pay off into a NBA championship.
First up ahead of them: the Minnesota Timberwolves.
While their opponent has been decided, we’ll get into more of the specifics of the first-round series in another roundtable later this week.
For now, let’s focus on the Grizzlies playoff outlook as a whole. As they embark on this journey, what are the biggest deciding elements and x-factors? I’m joined by staff members Brendan Smart (@bsmart21), Nathan Chester (@NathanChester24), Tev Shakir (@TevShakir), and Lauren Harvey (@DragicKingdom) to talk about the playoffs.
1) What are your overall thoughts on the regular season, going into the playoffs?
GBB Associate Editor Parker Fleming: The Grizzlies just had the best regular season in franchise history. They smashed franchise records — what looked like — left and right. They also just flat dominated their opponents quite a bit.
How they did so was impressive — a 3-point barrage, brute force in the paint, stifling defense, flying up and down the floor, “grind it out” efforts, with their MVP-caliber All-Star at the helm, or a “strength in numbers” effort. In addition, the amount of swagger and excitement they played with made this season was a thrill.
GBB Senior Staff Writer Brendan Smart: Pretty obvious answer is the fact that the Memphis Grizzlies exceeded expectations in back-to-back seasons — from a player performance level, to a coaching level, and even a culture perspective. The Grizzlies organization exceeded expectations in all areas this season, and I think that’s what made this season so much fun. Transitioning to the playoffs tipping off, I enjoyed how head coach Taylor Jenkins made sure his team prepared each night post All-Star break. They handled their business, and gave guys rest when needed. Going into the Playoffs playing well is huge, but being healthy gives this team a huge leg up.
GBB Senior Staff Writer Nathan Chester: If anyone tries to claim that the regular season success of the Grizzlies is anything other than exceeding the wildest of expectations, they are certifiably nuts. Sure, there are some things you can nitpick (Jaren Jackson’s offensive inconsistency, De’Anthony Melton’s lack of consistent progression, etc.). But to say that the positives vastly outweigh the negatives would be a massive understatement at this point.
“The Starting 5” Podcast Host Tev Shakir: My overall thoughts of the regular season can be summed into one word - special. I, as well as my Starting 5 brothers, had high expectations for the Grizz coming into this season. We knew that the experience gained in last year’s playoffs would benefit them greatly this season. It did! Ja Morant’s injury at the beginning of the season demanded each player to step up in their own unique way. They did! You add these two qualities to a team that has the city’s FULL support and something special will happen.
GBB Staff Writer Lauren Harvey: The Grizzlies blew away even the most optimistic projections for this group going into the regular season. The emergence of Ja Morant as a superstar, along with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane as franchise cornerstones, has made this one of the most fun Grizzlies seasons in recent memory and solidified that the Grizzlies have one of the brightest futures in the league.
2) Which reserve’s contributions will be most pivotal to their playoff hopes?
Fleming: To be contrarian, I’m going to roll with Brandon Clarke. I acknowledge that Melton’s performance has the highest ceiling and biggest swing, and he’s the only one that can boost the game with outside shooting. However, let’s bring up how other reserves will be pivotal too. Clarke has experienced a good bounce-back season, and with that, he’s been a common fixture in closing lineups. In lineups with Morant, Clarke, and Jackson, the Grizzlies outscore their opponents by a blistering 18.9 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass. The two-way versatility combination of him and Jackson make their closing lineups dangerous down the stretch. Now that he’s back in the fold for the postseason, can his efficiency translate to the postseason? He’s important if the opponent tries to phase Steven Adams out of the game.
Smart: It’s really hard to look at the Grizzlies reserves and pinpoint one or two guys will be huge for that rotation come playoff time — they’ve shared the load well all season. However, if I had to point towards one guy that will be huge for the Grizzlies bench, it will be De’Anthony Melton. Melton finished the regular season so well on the offensive end. Melton takes the bench unit to a different level when he is playing on both ends with confidence. Melton’s consistent production will be huge, as he and rookie Ziaire Williams man the wings for the Grizzlies.
Chester: The easy answer here is De’Anthony Melton, who has been, to put it politely, ineffective during the postseason over the last two years for the Grizzlies. When Melton is struggling offensively, the Grizzlies are still a great team. When he is clicking offensively, like he has been over the last month, they are virtually unstoppable. I think the Grizzlies can win a round in the playoffs even if he displays similar struggles to the last two years. But to advance further than that, they will likely need him to consistently make perimeter shots.
Shakir: Respectfully, Tyus Jones is the best backup point guard in the NBA. His record breaking season should back that up. I feel that his unselfish contributions will continue to play a role in helping the Grizz. When Ja is off the court, and even with him on, Tyus will continue to keep the ball moving and inspire confidence within the team.
Harvey: De’Anthony Melton. Melton has shot over 48% from 3 the last 10 games of the season and If his hot shooting streak can continue, he will no doubt win at least one playoff game for the Grizzlies this season and likely more. The Grizzlies had one of the bench units in the league and it will be crucial for the reserves to step up this postseason to make a deep run.
3) Aside from injury, Grizzlies will have an earlier-than-expected playoff exit if…
Fleming: The half-court offense is stifled. The Grizzlies haven’t fared well in the halfcourt, ranking 22nd in points per 100 half-court plays — per Cleaning the Glass. There’s hope that it’ll all settle out. From Candace Haggans of the SportsEthos Grizzlies podcast, the Grizzlies are 15th in that category since Dillon Brooks’ return. In addition, they’re 5th in 3-point percentage (38.0%) since February 1st — 23rd in that regard (33.7%) prior to that date. While there’s hope, that area is something that could still be an Achilles heel for them in the postseason.
Smart: Half-court offense woes roll into the playoffs. Or as I call them, the “stand and look at Ja (Morant) try and create.” The Grizzlies struggled all season in their half-court offense, and the NBA playoffs are so much slower than the regular season. Having Dillon Brooks back and healthy will be huge for Memphis in those one-on-one situations. Having another guy that can create off the dribble, and space the floor for Ja Morant changes all of those statistics. If the Grizzlies get ousted from the playoffs earlier than expected, their half-court offense made it’s way to the postseason.
Chester: If traditional thoughts about how basketball is played in the playoffs turn out to be undeniably true. Maybe the Grizzlies won’t make enough perimeter shots to beat the Warriors or, God-forbid, the Wolves. Maybe they won’t execute well enough in the half-court or be able to play in transition as much as they’d like. I, of course, push back against these notions. Transition basketball doesn’t just randomly happen; the Grizzlies are the only team in NBA history to lead the league in steals, blocks, and rebounds; I wish other teams luck in keeping them out of transition. Their historic success on the glass should also translate just fine. To be sure, there are reasons to believe to think that Memphis can’t live up to the hype. But I, as GBB’s foremost prognosticator, believe that they will.
Shakir: They lose our defensive identity. The Grizz finished #1 in the league blocks and rebounding. While we have seen the NXT GEN GRIZZ shine, it is the “Grit and Grind” motto that continues to define this team. We cannot lose our identity.
Harvey: The Grizzlies show their youth and let the moment get to them. This is a team that has tremendous expectations from fans going into the post season, and while they do not carry themselves like the second youngest team in the league, I am curious how they will respond at the first sign of major adversity.
4) Aside from injury luck, Grizzlies will make it to — or even win! — the NBA Finals if…
Fleming: Dillon Brooks is a complete villain on defense once again. He won’t be called upon to average 26 points a game in the postseason. If he does, give him a max right now! While he’ll still be called upon for scoring, he’ll be the team’s primary defensive stopper. The Grizzlies will have their fair share of dynamic perimeter players to get through in their path to a championship — Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Devin Booker. Brooks is their ticket to slow or stop those guys. If he’s doing so, it fuels his energy and tenacity, which in turn does the same to the team. They’re going to need that mojo and swagger if they want to achieve that elusive goal of winning a championship.
Smart: If they continue to play their game. I think the only reason Memphis is doubted to make the playoffs is their age, and for good reason. We’ve all seen young teams play well in the regular season, and then get outplayed by the veteran team in a series. Adjustments are a part of any playoff series. If the Grizzlies continue to play wiser than their average age of 24 years old, they can push their ceiling. This team is so versatile that they can counter the opponents’ adjustments on either end. Stay together, trust what got you here, and you stand a chance at going all the way.
Chester: If Chris Paul tweaks a hamstring. I am extremely confident that Memphis can and will get to the Western Conference Finals. They are flat-out better than the Wolves, and they appear to be a bad matchup for a Warriors team whose best player’s health is already a question mark. Beyond that, however, the Suns are just a machine with hardly any discernible weaknesses for Memphis to exploit. The Grizzlies areas of strength are also advantages for the Suns, but the Suns have advantages in other areas (i.e. halfcourt offense, shooting, etc,) that the Grizz don’t. To put it simply, they’re a more complete team, and I don’t think I’d pick Memphis to win. If they can get out of the West, however, I think they can beat anyone out in the East.
Shakir: Superstars win championships. Period. Ja Morant has to continue to show that he’s the superstar he knows he is. Being a superstar doesn’t mean that he has to take every shot. It means that he has to continue to be the leader this team needs on and off the court. If we need a bucket, Get it. If the extra pass needs to be passed, Pass it. Put the city on your back and get it done one game at a time.
Harvey: Jaren is more consistent offensively, specifically a more reliable threat from deep. Jaren has been phenomenal defensively this season but the Grizzlies will need him to hit shots at a regular clip to make a deep run.
5) Give me your prediction for the Grizzlies playoff outcome, and 1 bold prediction on a player’s playoff performance
Fleming: I’m switching my original opinion of a second-round loss in 7 games to the Golden State Warriors. I’m going to have them losing in 7 games in the Western Conference Finals to the Phoenix Suns.
My bold prediction, Jaren Jackson Jr. will have his big breakout as one of the league’s premier young big men. He may not catapult into the all-time worthy tier of Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid. However, he can vault himself into the same stratosphere as someone like Bam Adebayo, Karl-Anthony Towns or Rudy Gobert. It may not be “Bubble Jaren” level of production, but his presence on both sides of the ball will be felt quite emphatically.
Smart: I honestly don’t see any other team outside of the Phoenix Suns giving the Grizzlies issues. However, when they meet up in the Western Conference Finals, I think the Suns take down Memphis in seven games. It won’t be easy, but I think that seventh game, on the road handles Memphis, respectfully.
This will be Desmond Bane’s breakout playoff run. His arsenal on the offensive end will create issues for opponents. Obviously, everyone league-wide knows Bane. However, his consistency each night will put the icing on the cake for what has been quite the sophomore season from the sharpshooter. Bane’s performance also raises the Grizzlies postseason ceiling.
Chester: The Grizzlies will lose in 7 to the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference, giving this core the heartbreak and scars they might need to weather future storms and get to the Finals.
Ja Morant will establish himself as the league’s undisputed best point guard going into next season, and Dillon Brooks will finally establish himself as an untradeable cornerstone going forward.
Shakir: This team is special, NBA Finals special. I expect Ja Morant to shine while averaging AT LEAST 33 points a game throughout the playoffs.
Harvey: The Grizzlies lose a hard fought Western Conference Finals in 6. For my bold prediction I predict Jaren Jackson Jr., not Ja Morant, will be the Grizzlies best player this postseason.