The Memphis Grizzlies are a complete team and ready to win big

Memphis Grizzlies Ja Morant (Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports)
Memphis Grizzlies Ja Morant (Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Memphis Grizzlies are ready to win now. 

October 19th was the official start of the 2021-22 NBA season. On that day, ESPN released their season preview, including power rankings and breakout stars. They projected the Memphis Grizzlies to be right smack in the middle of the NBA as the 16th best team in the league behind teams like the Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, and Portland Trail Blazers.

That take may sound ridiculous today, but it was common before the season began.

Bleacher Report had a similar viewpoint on this Grizzlies squad. Over the summer, they released an article projecting every team’s record for the upcoming season. They predicted Memphis would finish with a 42-40 record.

Sporting News projected Memphis to finish as the ninth seed in the West, barely making the play-in tournament.

In Yahoo! Sports season preview, out of the seven members of the Yahoo Sports basketball team, only one predicted Memphis would make the playoffs. That one person was Chris Haynes who believed the Grizzlies would just squeak into the playoffs as the eighth seed.

The sportsbooks felt the same way too. Memphis’ win over/under number was around the low 40’s on most, if not all, sportsbooks.

Now, with about 20 games left in the regular season, the Grizzlies (43-20) have already exceeded their expected win total for the season and are just a half-game behind the Golden State Warriors (43-18) for the two seed in the Western Conference. They have been one of, if not the biggest surprise of the NBA season thus far.

A lot of their success this year can be attributed to the massive leap made by Ja Morant.

A season ago, Ja averaged just under 20 points per game and led the Grizzlies to the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-17 season. He had an exceptional second year and had many Grizzlies fans hopeful for the future. Little did they know that Ja would morph into a bonafide superstar just a year later.

Averaging 27.6 points per game, Ja is the most exciting player to watch in the NBA today. He has the ability to put a team on his back during the postseason, but the thing is, the Grizzlies are so deep he doesn’t need to do that.

Five other Memphis players average double-figures, four of which take at least 13 shots per game, and eight players play at least 20 minutes per game.

This team has a tough, blue-collar attitude. Unafraid of nobody and unafraid to talk some trash, these Grizzlies are a special mix of young and veteran players. Each guy not only accepts their role and thrives at it.

Ja scoring and playmaking for his teammates. Steven Adams getting rebounds, playing solid post defense, and setting powerful screens. Dillion Brooks and Desmond Bane knocking down triples, relieving the offensive pressure off Ja’s plate, and playing great perimeter defense. Jaren Jackson Jr. spacing the floor and being able to guard every position. Tyus Jones and Kyle Anderson providing a spark off the bench

Watching the Grizzlies, it’s clear that they enjoy playing together. That may seem like something not worth mentioning but it’s so important for a team to have good chemistry. Watch a Los Angeles Lakers game and then watch these Grizzlies play and you’ll see a drastic difference in body language, effort, and communication.

Per NBA stats, Memphis leads the league in rebounding. They’re seventh in assists and only 10th in turnovers. They’re tops in the NBA in both steals and blocks. They get to the free-throw line the second-most often in the NBA. They average the second-most points per game (113.9) behind only the Charlotte Hornets. They are top 10 in defensive rating (108.6).

They have been great all season but have been even better since the start of the new year. The Grizzlies own the NBA’s best record (21-6) since December 31st, per StatMuse.

With that being said, chemistry and good team stats are great and all, but everything gets thrown out the window come playoff time.

Speaking of the playoffs, they aren’t that far away. And looking at the West, the Grizzlies have as good a shot as anyone to reach the NBA Finals.

Starting with the top-seeded Suns, Chris Paul fractured his right thumb and will be re-evaluated in 6-to-8 weeks. The regular season ends in five and a half weeks. If Chris Paul isn’t 100 percent come playoff time, then the Suns will have trouble making it to the Conference Finals, let alone the NBA Finals.

Right below Phoenix in the standings is Golden State who has injury concerns as well. Draymond Green has been out since January 5th dealing with a back injury. He did make his return to practice last week, but a back injury is serious stuff. Every injury is serious but an injury to the back might be at the top of the list of worst injuries. If Green, like Paul, is not 100 percent by playoff time, then Golden State will have trouble making it past the second round.

The only other threats to the Grizzlies in the West are the Utah Jazz, the Dallas Mavericks, the Denver Nuggets, and maybe the LA Clippers if Kawai Leonard and Paul George come back for the playoffs but that’s looking highly unlikely.

With the Jazz, well they’re the Jazz. Nobody trusts them in the playoffs because of how they have performed the past two postseasons. They are worse than they were last year when they were the top seed in the West and lost in the second round so why should anyone believe in them to make a Finals run? Sorry, Utah fans.

The same thing can be said of the Mavs as they’ve been knocked out of the first round in back-to-back seasons. But they do have Luka Doncic who is capable of single-handling leading a team to the Championship. Plus, they have been playing great basketball as of late. The Mavs are 20-7 since the start of the new year.

The Nuggets are the tricky one though. It boggles many NBA insiders’ minds how Denver has been playing so well without two of their top three players: Jamaal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. The Nuggets are currently 10 games above .500 (36-26) and are only three and a half games behind the fourth-seeded Utah Jazz.

Nikola Jokic is having an even better year than he did last season, and he won the MVP last season. If Murray can come back and be the player he was before his injury, then the Nuggets have a real shot to win the championship. But again, like Phoenix with Chris Paul, like Golden State with Draymond Green, and like Los Angeles, with Kawai and PG those are big “ifs.”

Next. NBA: 3 dark horse teams that could make a deep playoff run. dark

With how the West is shaping up, why can’t these Grizzlies make a run to the title? They have everything a team needs to succeed in the playoffs. They are a complete team. They are playing better basketball than any team in the league. They have an edge and are not afraid of the moment. Even with their youth and playoff inexperience, Memphis has a good chance to reach the NBA Finals.