Memphis rode a slew of young unproven players, journeymen and over-the-hill veterans to a near-bottom finish last season of 33-49. A total of 29 players migrated through the program, and by the end, the Grizzlies decided to leave behind the “Grit and Grind” era to embrace a complete rebuild in hopes of a quick turnaround. Don’t count on it this season, despite glimpses of promise from future star Jaren Jackson Jr. and first-round pick Ja Morant, as well as Memphis’ shrewd offseason moves to amass additional young talent and future assets.
> 30 Teams in 30 Days: Memphis Grizzlies
Over the span of a little more than four months, the Grizzlies traded away franchise cornerstones Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, two major moves in a year of seismic change … The package Memphis sent to the Utah Jazz for Conley included the No. 23 pick that the Grizzlies flipped to land Brandon Clarke, a former star forward at Gonzaga who earned MVP honors in the NBA Summer League … Memphis fired coach J.B. Bickerstaff in April, and demoted general manager Chris Wallace to scout. Less than a week later, the club named Rich Cho as vice president of basketball strategy and Glen Grunwald as senior adviser. There’s also a new president in Jason Wexler and a new VP of basketball operations in Zach Kleiman … In June, Memphis hired 34-year old Taylor Jenkins as coach … In the draft, the Grizzlies selected Morant with the No. 2 overall pick after New Orleans took Zion Williamson No. 1, in addition to Clarke, who should see minutes as a rookie. In Morant, NBA scouts see a potential franchise player for Memphis to pair with Jackson Jr., a rising star who already possesses a solid feel for the NBA to go with his immense skill set.
1. Embrace the rebuild. The offseason indicates Memphis is all-in on the rough road accompanying a rebuild. There isn’t enough established talent on the roster to harbor realistic expectations for a postseason run. That’s fine. With new cornerstones in Jackson Jr. and Morant, Memphis needs to work more toward the future than the present.
2. Learning curve will be steep. It’s Jenkins’ first stint as coach, the front office is new and the roster is seventh-youngest in the NBA. Jenkins needs to find the best ways to deploy the talent around Jackson Jr. and Morant. How Tyus Jones fits is key, as well as the development of Clarke, Grayson Allen and Josh Jackson.
3. Shooting improvement is a good start. Memphis finished 27th in offensive rating (105.6) last season and last in points per game (103.5), and poor shooting was a key culprit. The Grizzlies ranked 27th in 3-pointers made (9.9) and 25th in shooting percentage from distance (34.2). The return of Dillon Brooks (37.5 3-point percentage) should help.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Jenkins will oversee this massive rebuild on the floor, and despite his inexperience, he came up the right way: Through perennial power San Antonio, where he served as coach of its G League affiliate, before following former long-time Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer to Atlanta and later Milwaukee.
Ja Morant | 25.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 10.0 apg (Murray State)
Morant became the first college player to average 20 points and 10 assists since the latter were first tracked in 1983–84.
Dillon Brooks | 7.5 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 0.9 apg
A solid shooter with the ability to create, Brooks could potentially develop into a late-game closer.
Kyle Anderson | 8.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.0 apg
Underwent shoulder surgery in April, but possesses versatility, leadership and the ability to make others around him better.
Jaren Jackson Jr. | 13.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.4 bpg
First rookie in NBA history to hit at least 50 3-pointers, tally 50 steals and 50 blocks while shooting at least 50 percent.
Jonas Valanciunas | 15.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.0 bpg
Averaged a career-high 15.6 points last season with Toronto and 19 games in Memphis.
Brandon Clarke | 16.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 3 bpg (Gonzaga)
Promising young shot blocker made noise at NBA Summer League, earning MVP.
Jae Crowder | 11.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.7 apg
Veteran leadership should prove valuable to a young team finding its way.
Tyus Jones | 6.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 4.8 apg
A strong replacement for Delon Wright, Jones finished last season with an NBA record 6.9 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Memphis won’t make the playoffs, but “Grit and Grind” fans can expect an exciting young squad that will likely forge a similar identity. With everyone learning on the job, Jenkins needs to find a solid rotation among unknowns in Allen, Josh Jackson and De’Anthony Melton. How quickly Jackson Jr. and Morant develop chemistry is crucial.
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