There’s a lot to like about the Memphis Grizzlies. They’ve fully embraced the future this season, and they’re a better team and organization because of it. It helps to have a pair of budding stars on the roster in Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., arguably the most exciting under-25 duo in the league.
Morant has been a staple of the nightly highlight reel since the season started, including that time he nearly ended Kevin Love’s career prematurely, and Jackson Jr. has come on strong in the last few weeks after a sluggish start. It hasn’t translated to a whole lot of wins just yet, but the incremental progress has left plenty of room for optimism around Memphis.
Despite their 10-18 record, the Grizzlies lead the league in points in the paint and are 3rd in assists per game. They’re currently 13th in the West standings, but they’re just 2.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. In short, there’s plenty of room for improvement, and with the holiday season upon us, there are a few items on their wish list that would certainly help speed things along.
#1: Learning How To Close Out (Or Just Be Competitive In) Close Games
The Grizzlies’ net rating plummets late in close games. When they hold a lead in the last five minutes of a contest, they’re a minus-19.6 and rank 23rd overall in plus-minus in clutch situations. Just last week, they blew a 24-point lead against OKC and dropped another close one to the Cavs on Friday after the game was tied with less than three minutes remaining.
This is largely a product of youth and inexperience. If you buy the notion that the Grizzlies are already ahead of schedule (and I do), then these growing pains should start to ease up a bit and eventually translate into wins once they figure out how to close out games. For now, they still have plenty of work to do in this department.
#2: Health and Consistency
Jaren Jackson Jr. missed the last two months of his rookie season with a quad injury and subsequently spent the first few weeks of the season finding his rhythm again. He struggled to make an impact consistently as he learned to negotiate the emergence of star rookie Ja Morant. After averaging around 15 ppg through the first two months, Jackson’s scoring has shot up to 21 ppg in December on 48 percent from the field and better than 39 percent on his eight attempts from three per game. At 6’10, he should probably be a better rebounder than his 4.4 boards per game, but some of that is a product of the time he spends on the perimeter. Life is about give and take.
It’s no mistake that Jackson’s resurgence coincided with Morant’s injury. The ROY front-runner missed four games in early December after a scary fall on the baseline that not only sidelined him with back spasms, but rekindled the debate about the placement of cameramen underneath the baskets. That debate notwithstanding, Morant is well aware of his penchant for attacking the rim with reckless abandon, and in the wake of that injury, promised to think twice about sacrificing his body moving forward. For the sake of his own well-being and the future of the franchise, let’s hope he does.
#3: Assets For Andre Iguodala
Yes, you may have forgotten that Andre Iguodala was still stuck in limbo in Memphis. The Grizzlies’ front office would prefer not to buy him out and has been reluctant to trade him until they can back what they think he’s worth, which in their estimation is a first-round pick, but in reality is closer to a second-rounder or some other combination of assets.
Neither age nor ability are the hurdle here. Iguodala would slot right in with any number of championship contenders this season, be it the Lakers, Clippers, Rockets, or even the Mavs, though Dallas has publicly taken the position that they aren’t actively trying to deal for Iggy. His contract coupled with the fact that most of the top contenders have already dealt away most of their future draft picks this past summer makes things a bit tricky. Houston is reportedly still in play, but for them, more than anyone, making the money work would requires some true magic on the part of Daryl Morey. Regardless, as the February trade deadline inches closer, the Grizzlies will need to act before they squander what little leverage they once had in these negotiations.