As the offseason has been rather quiet for them, the Memphis Grizzlies have sent a loud message for their plans to compete for a championship: they’re betting on themselves.
It’s hard to dispute those intentions. The Grizzlies won 56 games last season — despite being the NBA’s 2nd-young team, and having Ja Morant miss 25 games and Dillon Brooks 50 games. They also went to 6 games against the eventual champions, while not having a single game of their full-time starting lineup for the entire series.
Going down this path is completely sensible, especially with the unknown surrounding Kevin Durant and Donovan Mitchell throughout the entire league right now. With continued development of this exciting young core, and with right breaks at the right time, this route could lead to a championship. They have the go-to guy, the pieces around him, and the system in place where it isn’t a far-fetched possibility.
Given the success of this rebuild, why not bet on themselves as they set their sights on an elusive championship?
They’re betting on the methods that got them here in the first place. Zach Kleiman’s formula has been simple. They set their sights on players that fit philosophies both on and off the floor. They want high-IQ players with the ability to dribble, pass, defend, and shoot — while also fitting this “ultimate competitor” mentality fostered throughout the team. That trend continued in this year’s draft.
In addition, similar to last offseason, they moved on from role players to pave the way for younger ones with more perceived upside. Last year, it was Jonas Valanciunas out the door to open up more shot attempts, and Grayson Allen dealt to free up a starting 2-guard spot for Desmond Bane or De’Anthony Melton. It paid off in massive offensive leaps for Bane and Ja Morant.
This year, they’re doing this with De’Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson. Granted, there’s a gamble for the league’s best team at creating turnovers to lose two of their best defensive playmakers in an offseason — while also losing their best defender to injury for roughly the first month of the regular season. However, they’re hoping the increased responsibilities for Ziaire Williams could make up for the loss through the sophomore’s untapped potential as an offensive player, as well as additional shooting from the 4 spot between Santi Aldama, Jake LaRavia, and David Roddy.
They’re betting on another rookie to step in and contribute towards winning basketball. The past 3 seasons, the Grizzlies have received immediate impact from their rookies. Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke were on the All-Rookie First Team in 2020. Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman played big roles off the bench in the Grizzlies’ return to the postseason in 2021. Ziaire Williams started 31 games and closed a handful of playoff games last season. It’s unknown who will find their way into the rotation, but there’s belief the trend could continue with LaRavia or Roddy.
They’re betting on more leaps to be made. Last season, the All-NBA ascension from Ja Morant propelled his game and the Grizzlies into a new stratosphere. Desmond Bane’s growth as a legitimate offensive weapon at the starting 2-guard spot unlocked a new dynamic for the offense, while giving the Grizzlies another potential cornerstone to build around. Their continued progression will be important, refining their game in order to keep the Grizzlies trucking towards their goal.
With one of the youngest rosters in the league, growth is still a priority for this team. Ziaire Williams is at the forefront of this discussion, a player many following the team will monitor closely. Another second-year player, Santi Aldama, will be someone to watch here as well — as he’s looking to break through and earn a permanent spot in the rotation. Regardless of who makes the leap, stagnation isn’t an option.
They’re betting on the growth and health of Jaren Jackson Jr., who’s arguably the biggest x-factor for the team’s trajectory. After an injury-riddled season, we’ve seen the devastating defensive impact Jackson has on the game. Receiving recognition for Defensive Player of the Year, and a spot on the All-Defense First Team, Jackson’s defense shined throughout the season — making his claim as one of the most versatile defending bigs in the league.
The next step comes with his offense efficiency levels returning to his pre-injury status. He shot a career-low percentage from the field (41.5%), while only connecting on 31.9% of his 3’s. Those marks will have to rise to become a more potent, legitimate offensive weapon. He showed signs of how dominant he can be offensively in the Warriors series. Putting together the offense with his elite defense unlocks a new dimension for his game and this team — one that could catapult him into an All-NBA discussion, and the Grizzlies further into the postseason. Obviously, his health lingers over all of that, and his latest foot injury doesn’t help these prospects.
They’re betting on the system and culture that’s gotten them where they’re at. The Grizzlies have cultivated a culture and system that’s surpassed the expectations of a normal rebuild. Ranking in the top-15 in defense rating in the previous two season, the offense caught up last year and rose to the top-5 in efficiency, as the defense sustained as one of the league’s best. The system revolves around ball movement, pace, transition basketball, and creating defensive events. With an offensive supernova like Ja Morant, and the right role players around him, Taylor Jenkins’s vision has been executed quite well over the past three years, fueling a two-way machine into a contender.
The culture has been discussed ad nauseam. The postgame photo ops and the joy they play with symbolize the togetherness of this team. They also demonstrate great accountability and poise for a young team. In addition, they maintain a strong dose of preparedness for the big moments, and it trickles down the roster for whenever anybody’s number is called. As we’ve seen over the past few seasons with teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat, the right combination of talent, system, and culture gives you a shot at winning it all. The Grizzlies are looking to emulate that formula.
The Grizzlies have put together the ingredients of a contender, and at the moment, it calls for riding out with what’s been working for them to this point.
The Memphis Grizzlies have shown they are not quite far off from their North Star of an NBA championship. Nonetheless, there’s room for rightful skepticism and for improvement.
The Grizzlies’ offseason has been a divisive topic for most people, as they haven’t sought out any sort of splashes similar to their conference rivals. Again though, the Kevin Durant sweepstakes seems to put a pause on the league. However, I lean in the direction it’s been fine — not great, but not bad. The rookies fit best in plug-and-play roles, which isn’t sexy for upside. They retained a key part of their team in Tyus Jones. Moving on Kyle Anderson and/or De’Anthony Melton felt inevitable, and losing both of them at the same time will sting the defense. Sure, they could’ve brought in some veterans to fill in for 9th or 10th-man roles, but it’s not something to harp on too much.
After the moves, the team’s floor is lower than last season, as their ability to sustain production through injuries is more unpredictable with the influx of unproven talent at the back third of the roster. There’s already unknown of who will fill a backup frontcourt spot and the starting 4 role for the injured Jackson.
However, their ceiling remains the same, because they kept their top-8 guys (Morant, Bane, Brooks, Jackson, Adams, Jones, Williams, Clarke). If expected leaps are made, you could argue their ceiling could actually be a bit higher around those 8.
Jaren Jackson Jr.’s news dampers the discussion more than anything. His injury might generate a slow start for the Grizzlies, one that’ll cause Grizz faithful to worry about playoff positioning. Any other injury in this time could also make the waters even more choppy for them in the early going. Weathering the storm will be key for them, and the Grizzlies showed the ability to rally and have a strong season after a slow start — going 47-16 after a 9-10 start this past year.
With 10th-best odds to win it all (+1600, per DraftKings), the Grizzlies have room for improvement transactionally as well. A lot will depend on what transpires with the Kevin Durant and Donovan Mitchell situations. Adding another bonafide championship-caliber role player into the fold could help them here, but there aren’t many of those guys on the market at this time. Increased odds will likely come in conjunction with a MVP performance from Ja Morant, or another player entering the fold for some award honors. Nonetheless, we likely won't see any odds shift in the Grizzlies’ favor until the start of the season.
Regardless of any sort of skepticism, the Memphis Grizzlies have the ingredients for a championship contender.
They achieved the hardest part of building one by having a superstar in Ja Morant. Their leadership of Taylor Jenkins and Zach Kleiman has proven to be an elite coach/executive duo. They have two other cornerstone players in Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane, who both have room for more improvement towards possible All-Star trajectories. Their role players impact winning and fit next to their star.
They have this combination by sticking to what’s worked for them, and by betting on themselves. As a result, they’ve surpassed expectations in each of the past 3 seasons, organically building their way towards a newly-minted standard of contention.
Going into their first season as a known contender, the Grizzlies will continue to bet on themselves. With how they’ve gotten to this point through “Grz Nxt Gen” era, and how they’re sticking to these principles, it’s hard to bet against them.
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