Memphis Grizzlies: Marcus Smart proving integral to digging out of early-season hole

Marcus Smart's return is another element that should boost the Memphis Grizzlies up the Western Conference standings.
Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles Clippers
Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles Clippers / Sean M. Haffey/GettyImages

Marcus Smart is proving to be an important part of the Memphis Grizzlies' puzzle back to relevance in the Western Conference.

The Memphis Grizzlies overall have been extremely disappointing this season but since the return of Ja Morant, the team has looked completely different. Despite this, there's been one Grizzlies player whose reappearance has been swept under the rug because of Morant's. That's been Marcus Smart. And although it may not seem like it, he will be just as important to the team in the long run.

Marcus Smart has been great for Memphis in his return. After being out 17 games with a foot injury, in three games Smart is averaging 17 points and three steals per contest. He looks like he hasn't missed a beat. Marcus has returned at the perfect time for the Grizz. With Ja's return and other rotational pieces like Luke Kennard and Jon Konchar soon to be returning, this team looks a lot more complete.

Marcus Smart's impact since his return has been evident

Although Memphis is only 1-2 in his return, apart from the stats that have been good for Smart, his intangible impact has been just as noticeable. Specifically against the Pelicans and Clippers is where he shone the most. Against the Pels, Smart was everywhere. Defensively he was a pest all night, coming up with five big steals during the game, and two big 3's in the 4th quarter to ignite a run.

Against LA, yet again he played stellar defense, this time against Paul George holding him to 23 points as the primary defender. Marcus also happened to knock down four treys and score a team-high 22 points in a narrow loss.

Smart's return along with Ja's has clearly brought a newfound life to the team. Without Smart and Morant, the team looked lethargic and devoid of hope. Now even though with Marcus they haven't won as many games, they look much more competitive and ready to fight.

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The teams Marcus has played since he came back haven't been easy matchups. New Orleans, Denver, and the Clippers are all 7th seed or higher, so the 1 and 2 record is understandable. Plus they were without Morant against Denver, and he was clearly not himself, fighting an illness, vs. the Clips. But with a healthy Morant and Smart, Memphis should slowly but surely make its way back into playoff contention.