How significantly better can the Memphis Grizzlies realistically get subsequent season?
They’ve a burgeoning star in Ja Morant. In his second yr within the NBA, the previous Rookie of the Yr averaged 19.1 factors, 7.4 assists and 4 rebounds per recreation. He helped information the Grizzlies out of the play-in match, first keeping off the San Antonio Spurs, then going into the Bay and scoring 35 factors to go along with six assists, six rebounds and 4 steals to stave off Stephen Curry, Draymond Inexperienced and firm.
And whereas Memphis acquired outmatched in opposition to the Utah Jazz, Morant helped lead his staff to a Sport 1 victory and adopted it up with a 47-point, 7-assist efficiency within the following contest.
Dillon Brooks additionally used the postseason to solidify his significance to the expansion of the franchise. Because the defender primarily accountable for guarding DeMar DeRozan, the fourth-year wing helped frustrate the Spurs’ main scorer, who made 5 of his 21 subject objectives, ending with an inefficient 20 factors. And within the closing body, Brooks scored eight straight factors for the Grizzlies, serving to them acquire a lead they by no means relinquished.
In his first style of the playoffs, Brooks averaged 25.8 factors, 4.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals whereas cashing in on 51.5 p.c of the 19.4 pictures he took per recreation, together with connecting on 40 p.c of the 4 three-point makes an attempt he hoisted per contest. In that Sport 1 win in opposition to the Jazz, he scored a game-high 31 factors.
Whereas Morant and Brooks used this season to bolster what they imply to the Grizzlies, it’s unclear how a lot Jaren Jackson Jr. can contribute to elevating the franchise previous the purpose of needing to combat by the play-in match. Maybe, rising right into a legit title contender in some unspecified time in the future down the highway.
That actuality isn’t Jackson’s fault. The fourth total decide within the 2018 draft suffered a meniscus tear in his left knee when the 2019-20 marketing campaign resumed within the Orlando bubble. The harm price him all however 11 video games this season. Understandably, he regarded rusty upon returning to the lineup, significantly from lengthy vary. After making 39.4 p.c of his 6.5 three-point makes an attempt final season, he transformed simply 28.3 p.c of 5.5 pictures from past the arc this yr.
Regardless of his struggles as a shooter, in these 11 video games, Jackson nonetheless managed to supply 14.4 factors, 5.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per contest. And in a January interview with Marc Spears of The Undefeated, Jackson confirmed that he’s grown to seven toes tall. That enhance might assist him develop into an much more impactful rim protector. Hopefully, he makes use of this offseason to recapture his rhythm as a shooter and develop the remainder of his recreation so he can re-establish himself as part of the Grizzlies’ core transferring ahead. Buying and selling him now, earlier than he’s had that chance, and whereas his worth is probably going decrease than it is going to be subsequent season, appears untimely. But when the 2021-22 marketing campaign performs out in a extra unlucky trend, it could nudge Memphis to maneuver on from Jackson if it hasn’t performed so already.
As for the remainder of the Grizzlies’ roster, govt vice chairman of basketball operations Zach Kleiman has performed a terrific job placing collectively a staff loaded with high quality younger gamers similar to Morant, Brooks, Jackson, Brandon Clarke, Desmond Bane, and Xavier Tillman. That’s why he acquired a long-term extension earlier this month.
This offseason, probably the most urgent resolution the franchise has to make is whether or not to train Justise Winslow’s $13 million staff possibility. The Grizzlies acquired the previous tenth total decide in hopes he would fill their want for an enormous wing defensively and provides them one other playmaker on the offensive finish. Nonetheless, accidents, beginning with the again harm he suffered whereas with the Miami HEAT, have restricted him to 27 underwhelming video games with Memphis, together with one look within the playoffs. Declining the choice yr would go a great distance in the direction of the Grizzlies having ample cap area this offseason, however they’d be trying to fill the identical bins he didn’t test off for them, and the free-agent market lacks attractive choices. In the event that they’re decided to accumulate an improve, a commerce makes probably the most sense. In any other case, they may give Winslow one final probability in a season the place the schedule is much less condensed to see if he can tackle one of many staff’s most notable holes.
Along with discovering extra two-way manufacturing from an enormous wing, Memphis’ offense must develop into extra dynamic. To their credit score, the Grizzlies relentlessly assault the paint, crash the offensive glass they usually feast off turnovers. However they took the seventh-fewest threes within the NBA this season, making an attempt simply 31.4 per recreation. For context, the Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder launched 35.1, they usually ranked thirteenth. The Jazz hoisted a league-best 43 per contest. They weren’t significantly environment friendly from lengthy vary, both, changing 11.2 of these makes an attempt, which interprets to a 35.6 p.c success fee, figures that rank twenty fourth and twentieth, respectively.
It’s no secret that’s the weakest a part of Morant’s recreation offensively. He tried a mean of three.8 threes per recreation this season and made 30.3 p.c of them. For him to unlock his full potential, he has to become a decent long-range shooter. It’s one factor for defenses to choose him to take a shot from past the arc, nevertheless it’s one other for them to sag dramatically off him, compromising his means to assault the rim.
It might additionally behoove Memphis to get to the free-throw line extra usually. Regardless of how usually Morant and firm put strain on the rim, the Grizzlies took 21.3 free throws per recreation, tying the Orlando Magic for seventeenth. For his half, Morant averaged 5.9 within the common season and raised that quantity to eight within the playoffs. Nonetheless, regardless of large physique management, he takes loads of arduous falls across the basket, which is harking back to a younger Dwyane Wade. Morant has a really efficient floater he ought to begin counting on much more, and an elevated proficiency from past the arc might additionally assist scale back the quantity of punishment Morant takes on drives to the rim.
Defensively, Memphis is especially efficient at pressuring the ball. The Grizzlies tied the Philadelphia 76ers, producing probably the most steals per recreation this season (9.1). That, mixed with how efficient they had been at limiting opponents’ second-chance alternatives, grabbing 35.3 defensive rebounds per recreation, the ninth-most within the NBA this season, went a great distance in the direction of Memphis holding groups to 110.5 factors per 100 possessions, the seventh-best defensive score within the league. Nonetheless, the Grizzlies have to shore up their three-point protection. Opponents averaged a tick under 13 made threes per recreation in opposition to them, changing 36.7 p.c of their makes an attempt from past the arc, each of which ranked 18th league-wide.
Inside enchancment is more likely to be the important thing to most of Memphis’ development subsequent season. However they’ve the seventeenth decide within the draft, and as said earlier, with a lot younger expertise on their roster, their exploration of the commerce market may very well be how they tackle a few of their weaknesses and fortify the supporting forged round Morant.
On the horizon, troublesome choices concerning rookie extensions, most notably, because it pertains to Jackson’s subsequent contract, loom; moreover, key veterans similar to Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Anderson are coming into the ultimate yr of their contracts. A affected person strategy is perhaps greatest, however there’s additionally no assure a gamers’ worth will improve and even keep the identical subsequent season. That’s all of the extra motive for the Grizzlies to completely look at the probabilities out there to them on the commerce market.
Memphis doesn’t have a transparent path to title rivalry however has a franchise cornerstone, a roster loaded with younger expertise and the Grizzlies are in fine condition concerning the cap. Additionally they have a calmly protected 2024 first-round decide the Warriors owe them, which might develop into a priceless asset that helps them ascend. Whether or not they accomplish that aim and the way excessive they climb is a matter of how artistic, diligent and fortunate they’re. Time will inform.