The 2022-2023 NBA schedule has finally arrived.
It is an exciting time for both NBA franchises and fanbases to learn how each team’s journey to a potential playoff push will look over the next several months. For the Memphis Grizzlies, the early part of that journey will include how to win without Jaren Jackson Jr. Without a doubt, Memphis will certainly miss the anchor to its defense and one of the best two-way bigs in the league.
When Jackson Jr. was on the court last season, there was no doubt he made an impact for the Grizzlies that significantly contributed to wins, especially defensively. Memphis won nearly 70% of its games in which Jackson Jr. played 25 or more minutes past season (39-17 record.) There is no doubt the Grizzlies are at their best with Jaren Jackson Jr. on the court. However, the Grizzlies roster has plenty of experience over the past few years in finding ways to win even when they are without their best talents.
During the 2020-2021 season, Memphis made the playoffs despite Jackson Jr. missing nearly 85% of the regular season due to injury. Last year, the Grizzlies were 20-5 without All-NBA guard Ja Morant. Depth, versatility, and a roster full of talents that are prepared to step up and stand out when they need to be featured are all reasons why the Grizzlies can still flourish even when impacted by injuries. As the the start of the 2022-2023 season approaches, the Grizzlies will once again need to rely on these roster strengths to find success.
Though the Grizzlies roster did see a bit of significant roster turnover in the offseason, many of the key contributors from the past few seasons remain. As a result, continuity and chemistry should help the Grizzlies find ways to win without Jackson Jr. even with new players on the roster and other players playing more featured roles. Furthermore, assuming Jackson Jr. may not be back until sometime in December, the early part of the Grizzlies schedule seems manageable in terms of their ability to have a winning record until Jackson Jr. returns.
In general, the Grizzlies should be able to maintain a good position in the Western Conference playoff standings even without Jackson Jr. due to their depth and roster talent. However, there are a few specific ways the Grizzlies can really sustain success based off their schedule to start the season. If the Grizzlies can be consistent in these certain aspects of their strategy, they could be ready to take off once again this December just like they did last year.
Thriving at the Rim
It is no secret that the Grizzlies love to produce in the paint and at the rim. This is a sensible source of offensive success for a roster that features historically productive players in the paint due to frequency from their position (Morant) and efficiency overall (Brandon Clarke.) Memphis has consistently played to the strengths of its roster being able to find high percentage shots near the rim under Taylor Jenkins. Without Jackson Jr., this will continue to be a sensible way to win for Memphis.
Last season, the Grizzlies were fourth in the NBA in terms of shots attempted in the restricted area per game. This a byproduct of Memphis being near the top of the league in terms of production through fast break opportunities and offensive rebounds.
This specific strength of the Grizzlies offense should remain a primary focus as they start the season. Among the Grizzlies first 25 games, only eight will be against opponents who finished in the top ten of lowest FG% allowed in the restricted area last season. Meanwhile, 12 will be against teams who finished in the bottom ten in that same category last year. Whether it be through fast break opportunities, getting offensive boards, or good offensive balance, the Grizzlies should heavily rely on their elite ability to get to the rim to start next season.
Defending the Three
One frustrating development at the start of last season for the Grizzlies was that it seemed many of their opponents had better than expected shooting nights from three. Many of the Grizzlies first 20 games of last season resulted in their opponent having a season best shooting night from beyond the arc. Fortunately, natural regression settled in, the Grizzlies continued to get better defensively, and they improved their own ability to shoot from three so that this trend quieted down.
Heading into the 2022-2023 season, the Grizzlies three point defense needs to be at its best immediately. Of the Grizzlies 25 games, 13 will take place against opponents that finished in the top ten in the NBA for most three pointers attempted per game last season. While some of these opponents have experienced roster turnover this summer, a key to the Grizzlies success will depend heavily on their ability to defend the arc. Without Jackson Jr., the Grizzlies may choose to feature smaller lineups a bit more often to better defend the perimeter. A healthy Dillon Brooks and a more experienced Desmond Bane, Ziaire Williams, and others should allow Memphis to defend the perimeter effectively.
Along with playing plenty of opponents who enjoyed shooting threes last year, the Grizzlies will also be playing against many opponents who were among the NBA’s best at getting to the line last season. Within Memphis’s first 25 games to start the 2022-2023 season, 11 will come against opponents that finished in the top eight of the NBA in most free throw attempts per game last season.
In general, the Grizzlies have a fairly favorable schedule to start their season. Memphis logically should be the favorite in more than half their games through early December. As a result, the Grizzlies certainly want to avoid extra opportunities for their opponents to get in a groove at the charity stripe. Memphis was 17th in the league in fouls committed per game. And yes, while Jackson Jr. certainly improved last year, his foul tendencies contributed to the Grizzlies being slightly below league average. However, his ability as a rim deterrent would definitely offer value in limiting good looks at the rim for Grizzlies’ opponents.
Of course, another big need for Memphis next season is to improve their own foul shooting. Last year, the Grizzlies finished 28th in FT%. For a team that has aspirations to continue their climb to becoming an annual contender, a big key to surviving and advancing in the postseason is hitting free throws. For similar reasons, if the Grizzlies will be facing many opponents who frequently get to the free throw line, it becomes even more important for Memphis to be more consistent at hitting their own free throws to start the season.
Overall, Memphis does not need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to finding success without Jaren Jackson Jr. Yes, he will certainly be missed. But the Grizzlies have plenty of experience finding success through their style of play. They should be able to continue winning plenty of games through playing well on the run, getting boards, and producing in the paint. Hopefully, more consistency from beyond the arc and at the free throw line will happen this season. Furthermore, if the Grizzlies can attack the rim, defend the three, and play disciplined basketball, they could be in very good position once Jaren Jackson Jr. returns to once again be among the top teams in the Western Conference.