As the calendar year flips, what are some things we are going to watch and wish for?
1) One thing you’re watching for in 2023
Parker Fleming, GBB Site Manager: This isn’t flashy, but I want to see how the Grizzlies navigate their second unit in 2023. Ziaire Williams’ injury has put them in a precarious spot where there isn’t a bonafide 8th guy — a baseline for playoff rotations. And now there are a lot of interesting questions. Will Danny Green make an impact, or be traded? Are Santi Aldama and John Konchar ready for big playoff minutes? Beyond this season, I’m watching carefully how the Grizzlies use Tyus Jones’ expiring $15M contract going into next year, especially with the promise Kennedy Chandler has shown thus far. In addition, with a plethora of players on rookie deals contributing to the rotation — and those on the outside Kleiman values — how will it change their approach with their 2023 draft pick? It’s not the end all be all, but it’ll be a fascinating secondary storyline to follow.
Brandon Abraham, Associate Editor: I’m watching Dillon Brooks intently this year, or at least through the first 6+ months. He could be involved if the Grizzlies break tradition and make a swing trade during the regular season, or he could sign a contract extension after the deadline. Brooks figures to be an interesting and sought after unrestricted free agent this offseason and how the Grizzlies handle that could be critical towards future success.
Parish Sharkey, Host of “The Starting 5” Podcast, GBB Senior Staff Writer: I’m watching for Zach Kleiman to make a move. As we all know, Dillon Brooks has a free agency pending this off-season and the trade deadline will hopefully answer the question of whether the Grizzlies are parting ways or plan to pay him this off-season. The worst-case scenario is losing him for nothing.
Andrew Katz, GBB Senior Staff Writer: I am patiently watching and waiting for Desmond Bane to return to form. Bane started the season on fire but since returning from injury, the sharpshooter has not been the same. In his five games back, Bane is averaging 14.8 points on 32.9 FG% and 18.8 3PT%, along with 4 rebounds and 1.2 assists. I do not doubt that Bane will find his shot but for Memphis to contend for the one-seed, that needs to happen sooner rather than later. Grizzlies fans were calling for Bane to be an All-Star after his hot start to the year. It is time for him to reclaim that status.
2) Which Grizzly is most likely to win an award this season?
Fleming: Jaren Jackson Jr. has a strong shot at winning Defensive Player of the Year. The Grizzlies have transformed from a middling defensive team to the league’s best since his return, and he’s also putting up historic defensive numbers. If the Grizzlies are near the top of the Western Conference, and they remain a top-3 defense, he could win these honors. Another person to watch if the Grizzlies are near the top of the West by the end of the season: Taylor Jenkins. He’s done a tremendous job of navigating this team through the injuries of Jackson, Desmond Bane, and Ziaire Williams.
Abraham: Jaren Jackson Jr. for Defensive Player of the Year is the easy choice but I’m going to go with a different direction. The NBA in recent years feels like it’s given the Coach of the Year award a year late to the deserving coach. Monty Williams probably should have won two years ago instead of last year, and I think Jenkins was the most deserving last season. That said, I think Jenkins wins the award this season if the Grizzlies maintain a top 3 seed in the West. The team has once again navigated injuries and maintained their contender status. While there are other candidates worthy of the award, Jenkins has the track record to prove his status is legit. (Willie Green may be the favorite, but I don’t see how he’s different from Jenkins last season if the Grizzlies finish above NOLA in the standings).
Sharkey: Jaren Jackson Jr. is most likely to win Defensive Player of the Year. His 1st All-Defensive team finish last season set the stage for him to garner the respect to help give him the edge to at least finish in the top 3 finalists for the award. Although Marcus Smart won the award last season, this is normally a big man-dominated award which makes it less likely that Dillon Brooks would win DPOY. Also, the otherworldly performances from players like Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, and Jayson Tatum make the MVP a tough award for Ja Morant to win this season. Taylor Jenkins winning coach of the year would be a close 2nd.
Katz: I wish I could go in another direction but Jaren Jackson Jr. winning Defensive Player of the Year is the obvious answer. Since making his season debut on November 15, the Grizzlies' defense has been drastically better. Without Jackson, Memphis has a 112.8 defensive rating. With JJJ on the court, Memphis has a 108.5 defensive rating. Memphis is now tied for the best defensive rating in the NBA at 109.6. Before Jackson’s return, they were 19th in defensive rating. Jackson’s defensive impact is unmatched. He is averaging 3.2 blocks per game which would be the most in the league if he had played enough games. After being first-team NBA All-Defense last year, JJJ will reach the next step as he cements himself as the league’s best defender.
3) Who do you want to see the Grizzlies play in a playoff series?
Fleming: I’m going to go with the New Orleans Pelicans. It could be the starting chapter of the best Western Conference battles for the next decade. With Ja Morant and Zion Williamson — two young superstars with a history with each other — at the forefront of the series, it could be the most electric playoff matchup of 2023.
Abraham: I’m going to roll with the Los Angeles Clippers to choose a not-so-obvious team. I think they’d be a really intriguing matchup for the Grizzlies. It would be a tough, fought out series that I think Memphis could win in based on the matchups. Adams/Zubac would be a ton of fun and watching Morant and co. duel against Kawhi and PG just feels like an underrated fun matchup if the teams are healthy.
Sharkey: The Golden State Warriors. That is the Grizzlies’ biggest rival right now and they are the defending champions. They know the Grizzlies are coming and welcome the competition. Beating them after all the trash talk that has taken place over the past year would make winning that series that much sweeter.
Katz: The Golden State Warriors and the New Orleans Pelicans are definitely my top two answers but I will go in another direction. I would love for the Grizzlies to face the Denver Nuggets simply because that matchup would likely come in the Western Conference Finals and I would love for the Grizzlies to reach the third round for the first time since 2011. I think the Nuggets will finish as the one-seed so if the Grizzlies grab the two or three-seed then the two teams could meet in an electric playoff matchup for a spot in the NBA Finals on the line.
4) How far do the Grizzlies ultimately go in 2023?
Fleming: The Grizzlies have all the ingredients to go far in the Western Conference, perhaps make the NBA Finals. I have the Grizzlies going to the Western Conference Finals, with their first NBA Finals appearance being matchup-dependent. If it’s Denver or New Orleans, I ultimately think the Grizzlies could be fine. The only team that could pose problems for the Grizzlies is the Clippers, primarily with having answers for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. They’ll make the Western Conference Finals, with a strong shot of reaching the Finals. 2023 may not be their year to win it all, but it’ll give Zach Kleiman a better idea of what’s needed to bring Memphis their first championship in franchise history.
Abraham: So much depends on playoff matchups. At the floor, I think Memphis makes it to the second round again, but I think this is the year they make the Conference Finals. The West feels pretty wide open and if I had to make a prediction now, I think we see a Nuggets/Grizzlies Conference Finals out West.
Sharkey: Ja Morant made the statement that they are fine in the West and that Boston is the biggest threat. Although I don’t totally agree that they are fine in the West, I do believe that the Boston Celtics is the only team that I don’t see the Grizzlies beating in a 7 games series. With that being said, I predict an NBA Finals appearance and an NBA Championship if the Boston Celtics don’t make it out of the East.
Katz: Memphis has progressed in the postseason each year of the GrzNxtGen era, and I do not expect this year to be any different. Assuming the Grizzlies set themselves up well with a strong regular season, I think Memphis will return to the Western Conference Finals. The Grizzlies are built for the playoffs. They have the superstar. They have a complementary wing that can take over a game. They have the league’s best rim protector. If healthy, the Grizzlies are the best team in the West but a series against Boston could prove to be a difficult matchup. If the Grizzlies faced Brooklyn, Milwaukee, or another Eastern Conference contender, I believe they could win the franchise’s first-ever NBA Championship.
5) Do they make their first deadline deal since 2020 this year?
Fleming: Can I look into the future to see how severe Ziaire Williams’ recent knee flare up is? Injuries have set him off the launchpad the Grizzlies laid for him prior to the season. So if any significant time will be missed, the Grizzlies will be counted on an injured (and aging) Danny Green — and then a combination of Santi Aldama, John Konchar, and David Roddy. If Williams’ knee is a persistent issue, Zach Kleiman may feel compelled to make a move to build a stronger chance of winning a wide-open Western Conference.
Abraham: Zach Kleiman will certainly be active on the phones, but I ultimately don’t think they make any move of substance this deadline. I don’t see any player becoming available that would be worth the price for the Grizzlies to make a major move. While a Kuzm- sized move is great, does he want to sign an extension in Memphis and continue to come off the bench? Is his addition worth impacting Santi Aldama’s development when Aldama can be a solid contributor at a much cheaper cost? Ultimately I could see the Grizzlies making a small move involving Xavier Tillman to get some extra draft capital or a player on an expiring, but I think we end up with a “A healthy Danny Green is our midseason acquisition” vibe from the Grizzlies.
Sharkey: I lean towards a no. Zach Kleiman has notoriously pushed development over win-now moves and I don’t see him jeopardizing the unique position of being able to do both to go all in when the current iteration of the team has the potential to win it all. Also, I don’t think there are any players that will become available that can push the needle enough to warrant trading someone like Dillon Brooks. I see the Grizzlies as a team that will be looking at the buyout market to add an extra veteran presence.
Katz: Everyone in the building knows what is at stake this season. For maybe the first time in the franchise’s history, the team expects to compete for a championship. Sure, last year Memphis finished second in the Western Conference, and the Grit ‘n Grind Grizzlies had some postseason success, but 2023 marks the first time Memphis has serious expectations. With this in mind, I believe Zach Kleiman and the Memphis front office strike while the iron is hot. Many NBA teams will be sellers at this year’s deadline as the bottom-feeders eye Victor Wembanyama. The Grizzlies will have plenty of options and whether it is Jordan Clarkson, Malik Beasley, Kyle Kuzma, or someone who is yet to be mentioned in trade talks, I think it is time the Grizzlies compile some assets and make a move.