2021 Midseason Report
2021 Midseason report: Memphis Grizzlies
NBA.com takes stock of the Memphis Grizzlies after the first half of the 2020-21 season.
From NBA.com Staff
First half summary: Missing Jaren Jackson Jr. (left meniscus surgery recovery) and Justise Winslow (left hip displacement) with injuries to start the season, you almost expected the worst when Ja Morant suffered a Grade 2 ankle sprain in just the third game. That injury sidelined Morant for eight contests. But in his absence, the Grizzlies’ depth showed up in a major way, fighting to a record of 4-4 without their star point guard. Morant returned to action on Jan. 26 with Memphis riding a three-game winning streak, and the Grizzlies rolled to four consecutive victories from there … before enduring a four-game skid to start off February.
The Grizzlies remain in contention for a postseason spot, and players continue to come off the injury report. That means Memphis at some point will be finally whole during the second half of the season. In the meantime, the Grizzlies came into March ranked No. 2 in bench points per game (41.0), first in bench steals (4.4) and fourth in bench 3-point shooting percentage (39.7). Memphis’ reserves scored a franchise-record 85 points in the team’s 133-84 drubbing of the Houston Rockets on Feb. 28, marking the first time since Feb. 2, 2013 that a team’s bench outscored its opponent’s entire lineup. Memphis is targeting a March return for Jackson, while Winslow debuted Feb. 20 — more than a year after he was acquired in a trade with Miami — and finished the month with his best performance (20 points on 8-of-12 shooting) thus far in a 45-point rout of the Rockets.
Biggest question going into the second half: Can Memphis fully implement the players returning from injury in time to make a serious playoff push? Memphis sat at .500 after the first 30 games, and the combined winning percentage of the teams remaining on the schedule for the next 42 games was .499.
It’s worth noting Memphis faces a brutal portion of the schedule from March 24 to April 26. Of their 20 games in that stretch, 15 are on the road including two with Utah, Denver and Portland in addition to one with Philadelphia, Miami, Milwaukee and the LA Clippers. And there are five back-to-back sets in that mix, too. To survive the second half, the Grizzlies will need better shooting from Morant and Dillon Brooks, while Jackson needs to hit the ground running upon his return. Winslow’s progression needs to continue, too, as Memphis gradually ramps up his workload. Jonas Valanciunas is averaging a double-double with a career-high 15.6 ppg and 11.3 rpg, which has been key in Memphis leading the league in points in the paint (55.3).
Playoffs or lottery?: Memphis landed strong top four lottery picks in 2018 and 2019 with Jackson and Morant, and it’s likely the Grizzlies will be headed back there after narrowly missing the playoffs again this season. The Grizzlies will likely be in the Play-In Tournament mix again, but inexperience and a lack of chemistry stemming from all their injuries will likely lead to Memphis struggling to get in.
A lottery pick only aids Memphis in its collection of talent to build around Morant and Jackson, and the 2021 draft appears to be stacked. Let’s not forget the Grizzlies are still in the process of a rebuild, and already have several players on the roster capable of serving as complementary pieces to Morant and Jackson in Brooks, Winslow, De’Anthony Melton, Brandon Clarke, and Desmond Bane, not to mention the flexibility to make a solid addition during 2021 free agency. It’s a luxury to be in the midst of a rebuild with the requisite talent on hand to legitimately compete for a berth in the postseason. That’s where Memphis finds itself going into the second half of the season, and regardless of the outcome over the final 40 games, the future remains bright.
— Michael C. Wright