Far-Fetched Friday: The Memphis Grizzlies Will Finish Top 3 Seed
As of the morning of December 20th, 2021, the Memphis Grizzlies, with a record of 19-12, sat 4th in the western conference only behind the Jazz, Warriors, and the Suns. In the last 12 games, Memphis has gone 10-2 without their star point guard Ja Morant. They beat Miami by 15, Lakers by 13, and set the record for largest margin of victory against the Thunder in a 73 point victory, 152-79. The team is a collection of spry, young talented players maturing as a collective right in front of our eyes. With many of their best players being their youngest, this Memphis Grizzlies team is not a fluke and is on the verge of becoming the next powerhouse in the NBA.
Welcome back to Far-Fetched Friday, where every Friday we give you a bold prediction that we believe will come to fruition. This time, we go down to Tennessee.
After coming up short against the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs, the young grizzlies came back this year with essentially the same roster and something to prove. During the playoff series, it was clear the Grizzlies lacked experience against a seasoned Jazz team, but it was clear there was something there. Dillion Brooks was a real player in this league, Jaren Jackson Jr signed flashes of why he was a 4th overall pick, and it was clear that Ja Morant was the X-factor that has the potential to take this franchise to new heights.
Credit to the front office and coaching staff for staying patient and letting this young team grow instead of using the playoff berth as an excuse to go all in. The Grizzlies doubled down on their youth, and so far it's paying off. Trading Jonas Valanciunas for a chance to draft Ziare Williams, a talented wing, and trading Grayson Allen at a position they had surplus depth at, allowing Desmond Bane to break out in his second year. The front office knows patience is key right now.
Memphis's defense, which ranked 7th last year in defensive rating with 110.5, is solid yet again. So far this year, the rating is 109.7, which is ranked 16th in the league but is steadily improving with the return of their best perimeter defender Dillion Brooks who missed the first ten games with injury. Since his return, the defensive rating ranks 6th with 107.3. As a team, Head Coach Taylor Jenkins has them playing solid defense, but look for individual efforts to improve, as it is always difficult for young teams to play consistent defense.
Offensively, even without Morant, the Grizzlies have multiple ways to hurt you. They use their youth and athleticism to their advantage and are among the league leaders in turnovers and fastbreak points. An array of complimentary guards in Tyus Jones, De'Anthony Melton, Desmond Bane, and Dillion Brooks help the Grizzlies be in the top 6 in scoring off assisted 3pts. The players are committed to playing together as a team. Encouraging ball movement and getting out in transition is serving the young Grizzlies well.
Although come playoff time, their half-court offense is still an area of concern. That's where Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. come in. Morant is at his best in free-flowing play, where he can use artistic athleticism to find creative ways to get energizing buckets for himself and his teammates. The next level will come in the half-court making reads against set defensives. His 3pt percentage is steadily improving, which allows him to be more of a threat in the pick and roll. Morant with a PNR partner like JJJ has the chance to be unstoppable, but both players still have ways to go in finding consistency and chemistry.
Nonetheless, the Memphis Grizzlies have one of the sharpest GMs and brightest young coaches in the league. They have built a culture that revolves around the grit-n-grind blue-collar mentality. The players on the team seem to enjoy playing for each other and are hungry to prove they belong in the playoffs. This team will go as far as Morant and Jackson Jr. take them. I think it's only up from here. Don't be surprised if, come playoff time, the Grizzlies establish themselves as the team that got next.
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