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Memphis Grizzlies 2021-22 Preview: Can Ja Morant And Company Make Another Leap?

The Memphis Grizzlies came through the play-in tournament to reach the playoffs in 2021 for the first time in the post-Grit ‘n Grind era, as the young Grizz, led by Ja Morant, beat the Spurs and Warriors to earn the 8-seed out West.

It was the type of season that only builds excitement for fans, but this offseason saw Memphis continue to take things slow rather than trying to make a big swing with any major additions. They’ll focus on internal development with their young core and hope that gets them not only back to the playoffs, but can lead to even more postseason success after a feisty 5-game exit against Utah.

Roster:

Ja Morant
Dillon Brooks
Kyle Anderson
Jaren Jackson Jr
Steven Adams
Brandon Clarke
De’Anthony Melton
Desmond Bane
Tyus Jones
Xavier Tillman
John Konchar
Jarrett Culver
Kris Dunn
Ziaire Williams
Santi Aldama
Sam Merrill
Killian Tillie (two-way)
Yves Pons (two-way)

Projected Vegas Win Total: 41.5 at BetMGM

Biggest Addition: Steven Adams

The Grizzlies, as mentioned, didn’t do an awful lot this offseason in terms of trying to make additions to win now. Their biggest move was to deal Jonas Valanciunas to New Orleans for Adams, Eric Bledsoe (now in L.A.), and the 10th pick which became Ziaire Williams. Adams brings a different dynamic than Valanciunas to the frontcourt, with less impact as an offensive threat, but still a quality rebounder and, with strong defenders around him, can be a solid rim deterrent. The real answer here is, hopefully, a full season of Jaren Jackson Jr. after he played in just 16 games to end the season, including playoffs. That might mitigate some of the pain of losing Valanciunas.

Biggest Loss: Jonas Valanciunas

It’s hard to overstate how good Valanciunas was for Memphis a year ago, and having to navigate next season without him is going to be the biggest challenge for the Grizzlies. His 17.1 points and 12.5 rebounds per game were, by far, the best on the team, and his 15.1 offensive rebound percentage played a big role in getting an offense that wasn’t particularly efficient (15th in the NBA in offensive rating) second chances when they needed them. Defensively he was also a big factor in their success despite not always carrying the reputation as a terrific defender, and his presence in the paint is going to be an uphill battle to replace on both ends.

Biggest Question: How good can Jaren Jackson Jr. be?

We have seen flashes of the talent that made him the No. 4 overall pick in 2018 — most notably a terrific sophomore campaign averaging 17.4 points per game — but he’s struggled to remain healthy. Now, with Valanciunas gone, he figures to be the offensive focal point in the frontcourt for the Grizzlies and, while so much focus will understandably be on whether Ja Morant has another leap in him, their success and whether they can replicate last season’s run to the playoffs will be dependent on how good (and healthy) Jaren Jackson Jr. is in an spotlighted role.

What Makes This Season A Success: Making the playoffs and positive growth from young players

Because last year saw them make the playoffs, that is now the expectation for Memphis no matter how daunting the task in the West. Beyond that, this offseason made clear that this is a franchise thinking about their future, and they’ll want to see the likes of JJJ, Brandon Clarke, Desmond Bane, and De’Anthony Melton all continue to show growth. They believe this is the core of the franchise, but I also think they want a bit more time to evaluate where the real needs are for upgrading. The fewer spots that look shaky the sooner they can try to make the moves to vault into West contender status, and that starts with backing up a great 2020-21 with more improvement internally this season at a number of spots.

What Makes This Season A Failure: Missing the playoffs and players taking steps back

This one’s pretty simple, missing the playoffs isn’t the only thing here, as a play-in berth probably wouldn’t make Memphis fans feel awful, but if it’s missing the playoffs because they see some guys take steps back from where they were a year ago, that will feel like they’re going in the wrong direction. This is a team feeling a tremendous amount of positive momentum after last season, but they mostly punted on this offseason. That could pay off if everyone keeps improving, but development isn’t always linear and, even if it’s not a disaster if guys stagnate or look a touch worse this season, it won’t make anyone in Memphis feel particularly good.

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