2021-22 Kia Season Preview

2021-22 Season Preview: Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis will be relying on Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.'s continued growth while getting healthy contributions from supporting pieces.

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright

Could Ja Morant be a darkhorse candidate for Kia MVP this season?

Fresh off its first postseason appearance since 2016-17, Memphis resisted the temptation to make splashy moves in the offseason and took a more measured approach. With a young core in place featuring Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Dillon Brooks, the Grizzlies appear to be in favor of maintaining team chemistry while anticipating the group will naturally build on the momentum it generated from a successful 2020-21 campaign.

The Grizzlies moved Jonas Valanciunas, this year’s 17th pick and the 51st pick on draft night to New Orleans for Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, and the 10th and 40th picks, which enabled them to snatch up a 2022 first-round pick from the Los Angeles Lakers. Memphis drafted Ziaire Williams with that 10th selection, and then packaged the No. 40 pick and a couple of future second rounders to send to Utah for the 30th pick, which it used to draft Santi Aldana. Through all the offseason transactions — which won’t all be mentioned here — Memphis lost two starters in Valanciunas, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer last season, and Grayson Allen from last season’s 38-34 squad. But the Grizzlies were able to take a shot on Jarrett Culver, the sixth pick of the 2019 draft, by way of a trade with Minnesota, while building toward the future.


BIGGEST QUESTION

Will Memphis’ two foundational stars continue to grow? The question doesn’t seem as difficult to answer for Morant, who has made strides in each of his first two NBA seasons and appears on the verge of progressing into an NBA All-Star caliber player. Jackson, meanwhile, is somewhat of an unknown after playing in just 11 games last season due to a torn meniscus. Jackson wowed the NBA in 2019-20 by producing a sensational 3-point shooting season (39.4% from 3-point range on 6.5 attempts per game). Will Jackson return to that form in 2021-22? Morant and Jackson are both just 22 years old, but we need to see more of this future superstar duo on the floor together. The team’s brass does, too, as it eyes future complementary pieces to surround them with.


SEASON PREDICTION

By operating with some restraint in the offseason, Memphis perhaps better set itself up for the future, but it didn’t do much to improve the roster from last season. That’s not to say the Grizzlies won’t be a better team. It’s clear the club expects improvement from the core pieces and the supporting talent, but will the Grizzlies make enough strides to realistically compete in what’s expected to be an improved Western Conference? It’s likely Memphis will be headed to the Play-In Tournament for the third consecutive season. Predicted finish: 40-42.    


PROJECTED STARTING FIVE

Ja Morant: Athleticism and competitiveness makes him a problem, but just wait until the jumper develops.

Dillon Brooks: Third option is a defensive scrapper that needs to improve consistency.

Kyle Anderson: The herky-jerky “Slo Mo” forward set career highs last season in points (12.4) and assists (3.6).

Jaren Jackson Jr.: First two seasons (38.4% on 510 attempts from 3-point range) are more indicative of his upside than 2020-21.

Steven Adams: Might lack Valanciunas’ overall punch on offense, but adds toughness, postseason experience and he’s a lob threat as a roller.


KEY RESERVES

Brandon Clarke: Explosive and versatile on both ends, Clarke needs to regain shooting form.

De’Anthony Melton: Tough on D, Melton improved deep accuracy from 28.6% in 2019-20 to 41.2% last season.

Desmond Bane: Loss of Allen’s 3-point shooting should lead to an expanded role this season.


LAST 5 SEASONS

How the Grizzlies have fared stats-wise over the last 5 seasons …

Season W L Win pct. OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
2020-21 38 34 .528 111.7 15 110.5 7 +1.2 14
2019-20 34 39 .466 108.7 21 109.7 14 -1.0 17
2018-19 33 49 .402 105.6 27 108.0 9 -2.4 24
2017-18 22 60 .268 103.6 27 110.4 26 -6.8 27
2016-17 43 39 .524 107.0 19 106.5 7 +0.5 12

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions


STAT TO KNOW

23.3 — The Grizzlies ranked first in the percentage of their shots that came in the paint (56%), but just 25th in free throw rate (23.2 attempts per 100 shots from the field) last season.

— John Schuhmann

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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