Are the Memphis Grizzlies a contender again with the return of Ja Morant?
When it was learned that Ja Morant would be suspended for the first 25 games of the regular season, the overwhelming belief was that the Memphis Grizzlies would have to do a solid job of surviving without their superstar guard to have any shot of finishing as one of the top seeds in the Western Conference.
The 25 games came and went and, to put it nicely, the Grizzlies didn't exactly hold up their end of the bargain. In the 25 games without Morant, the Grizzlies were 6-19 and 13th in the West standings. During that span, their offense was a mess and carried the worst offensive rating in the league. If it wasn't for their respectable defensive numbers, who knows how much worse the Grizzlies would've been.
In summary, it was a forgettable start to the season for the Grizzlies. However, that is officially in the past because Morant is back from his suspension and looks as good as ever. Perhaps even more importantly, he has the Grizzlies playing like a completely different team.
The Grizzlies are 3-0 since Morant's return and the numbers are very much improved. In the three games with Morant, the Grizzlies have the sixth-best offensive rating, still have the 11th-best defensive rating and the fifth-best net rating in the league. Morant is averaging 28 points, nine assists, and six rebounds per game on 51 percent shooting from the field. In short, they look very much like a contender again.
It's certainly a small sample size but it's also a handful of games that the Grizzlies should feel good about. The big question is how realistic can the Grizzlies climb up the West standings over the course of the last 50ish games of the season.
Predicting where the Memphis Grizzlies will end the season in the Western Conference standings
Looking at the standings, it's completely unwise to completely count Memphis out of finish as one of the top seeds in the West but at the same time, it's probably not likely. Even if the Grizzlies start winning at an unprecedented pace.
Despite their three-game winning streak, the Grizzlies are still ranked 13th in the West. They're also 5.5 games back of the 10th seed. That goes to show how much of an early-season hole they dug themselves into without Morant.
To avoid the Play-In Tournament, the Grizzlies are going to have to make up 7.5 games in the standings and jump seven teams. That's a tall task but should be the realistic goal for the Grizzlies heading into the new year.
The Grizzlies have a long way to go to erase their extremely poor start to the season. The good news is that they have the talent to make up the ground. The ultimate question is, are there enough games remaining in the season for Memphis to get where they want?