When last seen … the Memphis Grizzlies were leaving the NBA bubble hungry for another taste of the postseason atmosphere created by the play-in game they lost to the Portland Trail Blazers. The Grizzlies dropped their first four seeding games on the way to a 2-6 record in the bubble. And despite losing Jaren Jackson Jr. for the season with a torn left meniscus, Memphis still advanced to the play-in game for the eighth seed. Ja Morant put on a show in defeat, dropping a career-high 35 points and eight assists to show the world he’s a bonafide star.
What’s new? The Grizzlies added to their collection of young talent by drafting Desmond Bane before picking up Xavier Tillman Sr. late in the second round. But it appears Memphis was more committed to cohesion with its core group than outside talent acquisition. The low-key team’s best decision was probably re-signing lockdown defender De’Anthony Melton as a building block to a future featuring Morant, Jackson and Dillon Brooks. Melton’s four-year deal worth $35 million could turn out to be a real bargain later down the road.
What’s missing: Two key players in forwards Jackson and Justise Winslow as Grizzlies vice president of basketball operations Zach Kleiman revealed in November that both will be out for the start of the season. Jackson suffered a torn left meniscus on Aug. 3 in a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, while the injury-plagued Winslow is still recovering from a hip injury sustained back in July during a practice. The duo averages a combined 28.7 points and 11.2 rebounds. Winslow is expected to return fairly early in the season, but Jackson does not have an immediate timetable.
POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE
Ja Morant | 17.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 7.3 apg
NBA bigs quietly fear the young star posterizing them.
Dillon Brooks | 16.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.1 apg
Working at improving shot creation and stamina.
Kyle Anderson | 5.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.4 apg
Slow as molasses, but opponents still struggle to defend his point guard skillset.
Jaren Jackson Jr. | 17.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.4 apg
Grizzlies will miss his shooting and rim protection to start the season.
Jonas Valanciunas | 14.9 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 1.1 bpg
Throwback old-school bruiser finished 10th in double-doubles last season.
De’Anthony Melton | 7.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.3 spg
If 3-point shooting improves, the Grizz landed a three-and-D steal.
Justise Winslow | 11.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 4.0 apg
When healthy, athleticism and playmaking skills make for a perfect fit alongside Brooks, Morant and Jackson.
Brandon Clarke | 12.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.4 apg
Named first-team on the All-Rookie team last season.
Memphis Grizzlies, last 5 seasons
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Memphis probably takes a step back as it works through the early absences of Jackson and Winslow to start the season. But even if they returned fully healthy for the opener, their presence would do little to better the Grizzlies’ postseason prospects. The team simply isn’t quite ready as it looks to build around its talented young core of Morant, Brooks and Jackson. Memphis will make some noise, and Morant will always be much-watch TV. But the Grizzlies are a couple of years away from perennial postseason contention.
Predicted finish: 31-41.
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