It’s tempting to say that the future is bright in Memphis. It’s more accurate to say that the future is now. With Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., the Grizzlies have one of the most talented young duos in the NBA — not to mention a slew of intriguing prospects surrounding them — and they’re already showing more than just a few glimpses of what they’re capable of.
Prior to the shutdown, they were the prohibitive favorite to secure the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. And before Zion Williamson made his much-anticipated debut and proceeded to destroy everything in his path, Morant was the frontrunner to win Rookie of the Year. With awards voting now encompassing only games played through March 11, the young point god should still be ahead of the pack.
The Grizzlies go as Morant goes, and as the 20-year-old sensation continues to discover his immense powers, their trajectory should remain on a steady incline. Playoff experience this early in a team’s development can grease the wheels on their growth and propel them into the upper echelon of the West sooner than we might’ve expected.
As of July 3, the Grizzlies were expected to bring a full roster to Orlando, according to head coach Taylor Jenkins.
Jaren Jackson Jr.
Yuta Watanabe (two-way contract)
John Konchar (two-way contract)
Fri. 7/31 POR 4:00 PM
Sun. 8/2 SAS 4:00 PM
Mon. 8/3 NOP 6:30 PM
Wed. 8/5 UTA 2:30 PM
Fri. 8/7 OKC 4:00 PM
Sun. 8/9 TOR 2:00 PM
Tue. 8/11 BOS 6:30 PM
Thu. 8/13 MIL TBD
1. Los Angeles Lakers: 49-14
2. Los Angeles Clippers: 44-20 (5.5)
3. Denver Nuggets: 43-22 (7.0)
4. Utah Jazz: 41-23 (8.5)
5. OKC Thunder: 40-24 (9.5)
6. Houston Rockets: 40-24 (9.5)
7. Dallas Mavericks: 40-27 (11.0)
8. Memphis Grizzlies: 32-33 (18.0)
9. Portland Trail Blazers: 29-37 (21.5)
10. New Orleans Pelicans: 28-36 (21.5)
11. Sacramento Kings: 28-36 (21.5)
12. San Antonio Spurs: 27-36 (22.0)
13. Phoenix Suns: 26-39 (24.0)
WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE?/WHAT TO EXPECT
Securing a playoff berth is the No. 1 goal. If you ask a certain contingent of Grizzlies fans, the powers-that-be are conspiring against them in this endeavor, as they face one of the most difficult slates of any team in Orlando, along with the perception that many people would rather see Zion and the Pelicans or Damian Lillard and the Blazers in the postseason. For an up-and-coming squad like them, it will surely be an uphill battle, and there’s little margin for error. But doing so will be sweet vindication for a team with a perpetual chip on its shoulder, and it’ll send their confidence levels off the charts going into next season.
Recent addition Justise Winslow is the player who could swing things their way in Orlando. At 6’7, Winslow is a versatile wing and a tenacious defender, able to guard four positions and capable of logging time at the point to help spell Morant for key stretches. Last season in Miami, Winslow made significant progress as a playmaker with Goran Dragic injured for most of the year and shown hints at improved efficiency from behind the arc.
But Winslow has been dealing with his own injuries this season. Therein lies the catch: Winslow hasn’t actually played for the Grizzlies yet. He was set to make his debut right before the shutdown, so the eight-game stretch in Orlando will represent a trial-by-fire. To be certain, Winslow still has some big question marks in key aspects of his game, namely his shooting and his ability to finish at the rim.
Still, Jenkins is confident that he can unlock his immense potential, and they’ll definitely need it if they want to hang on to their postseason spot.
BIGGEST ON-COURT QUESTION
One of the team’s key features is a balanced attack. Before the hiatus, they led the league in points in the paint, while also being top five in fast break points. Still, they’ve been a middling offensive team this season and not much better on defense. Their saving grace has been a pair of budding superstars who are capable of making good things happen amid the chaos that is sometimes self-created.
Inexperience and extended time off are the two biggest challenges for these Grizzlies in Orlando. This is a team that was starting to find its stride and establish its identity before the shutdown, and they’ll have to figure out a way to replicate that chemistry and momentum in a very short period of time and under surreal circumstances. In this light, their youth and resilience might prove to be their biggest asset.