Memphis Grizzlies: Are the Grizz the next perennial contender?

NBA Memphis Grizzlies Ja Morant (Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports)
NBA Memphis Grizzlies Ja Morant (Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports) /

After an exciting win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Memphis Grizzlies improved to 25-14 on the season, good enough for 4th in the Western Conference. After making their way into the playoffs through the play-in tournament a year ago, the Grizzlies look like a true playoff contender in the 2021-22 season.

After star point guard Ja Morant went down with a scary knee injury, many thought their chances of doing anything this season were over. Despite his absence, the Memphis Grizzlies won 10 of their 12 games, as Morant has now returned to the court, looking like one of the most dominant young players in the league.

At only 22 years of age, Morant is averaging 25.1 points, 6.7 assists, and 5.7 rebounds on 49.2 percent shooting from the field and an astounding 40.4 percent shooting from deep. The question mark in Ja’s game has always been his outside shot, as he only hit 30 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc last season. His amazing improvement has catapulted his game to another level, as opposing defenses now have to respect his ability to score from all areas of the floor.

Morant’s athleticism shined in his first two seasons in the league, and his finishing around the rim has only improved in his third campaign. His shooting percentage at the rim has increased to 70 percent, up from 64 percent last season. That type of accuracy, along with his quick first step and bouncy nature leads to free points at the rim almost any time he wants it.

His backcourt partner, Desmond Bane, has made an impressive name for himself in only his sophomore season. Averaging 17.6 points on 41.4 percent shooting from distance, Bane has become the prototypical 3-and-D wing – something that all contending teams need. With Morant’s ability to drive, surrounding him with shooters such as Bane is essential for this offense to be productive.

Players such as Jaren Jackson Jr., De’Anthony Melton, and Dillon Brooks also can stretch the floor for this Memphis offense, all shooting over 4.9 3’s per contest.

The Grizzlies are one of the deepest teams in the league, with 12 legitimate NBA players, not even including first-round pick Ziaire Williams. They have immense size on the defensive side of the ball, with Jackson Jr. and Steven Adams manning the frontcourt. This unit, along with Dillon Brooks, Bane, and Morant has only given up 96.8 points per 100 possessions this season, placing it in the 87th percentile of all lineups.

This team has the versatility and depth to play a variety of different styles. They can play a traditional big in Adams and get away with it, benefitting from his domination on the glass as the Grizz are the best offensive rebounding team in the league (31.4%), or they can go small, spacing the floor for their star point guard to go to work.

Besides Jackson, Memphis has Xavier Tillman, Brandon Clarke, and even Killian Tillie to play small ball center if they need to. Therefore, the Grizzlies have options to play virtually any type of defensive scheme, with both excellent perimeter defenders at practically every position, as well as a capable post defender in Adams.

This excess talent pipeline isn’t going anywhere. Besides Kyle Anderson and Adams, every notable player on the roster is 25 or younger, suggesting they have lots of room to grow. This Grizzlies core can progress alongside each other, potentially developing into a Suns-like contender with a few key transactions.

Ultimately, the Grizzlies can do damage in the playoffs now with their current roster but may look to improve at the trade deadline considering their promising start. They could benefit from another on-ball creator aside from Ja Morant, although Tyus Jones has had an excellent year as the backup point guard.

Memphis, unlike other teams, clearly has the assets to get better, considering their young talent and draft capital. They still retain all of their own first-round picks and have two additional picks just next season. Although depth is extremely valuable, exchanging some of that for an established star or starter may push Memphis to new heights, firmly labeling them as true contenders this season.

Even if they decide to stand pat with their current core, the Grizzlies will only continue to improve, eventually progressing to a team with nine above-average rotational players, with a perennial all-star point guard at the helm.

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There aren’t many teams with a brighter future than Memphis right now.