The “Grit and Grind” era has concluded in Memphis as the Grizzlies look to build around their two promising players Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. (Photo via ClutchPoints)

2019–2020 NBA Season Previews: Memphis Grizzlies

Head Coach: Taylor Jenkins

Last Season: 33–49, 12th in Western Conference

Projected Starters:

  • PG: Ja Morant
  • SG: Dillon Brooks
  • SF: Jae Crowder
  • PF: Jaren Jackson Jr.
  • C: Jonas Valanciunas

Additions: Grayson Allen, Brandon Clarke (R), Jae Crowder, Marko Guduric (R), Solomon Hill, Andre Igoudala, Josh Jackson, Tyus Jones, John Konchar (R), De’Anthony Melton, Ja Morant (R).

Losses: Avery Bradley, Jevon Carter, Mike Conley, Tyler Dorsey, Justin Holiday, C.J. Miles, Joakim Noah, Chandler Parsons, Ivan Rabb, Julian Washburn, Delon Wright, Tyler Zeller.

The “Grit and Grind” era has officially come to an end in Memphis. With longtime centerpieces Marc Gasol and Mike Conley now on different teams, the Grizzlies now enter the rebuilding stage as they try to focus their attention on the young talent they posses. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., the replacements to Conley and Gasol, have been handed the keys to the franchise.

Morant was the clear cut second best player out of this past summer’s NBA Draft, as the floor general from Murray State was selected second behind Zion Williamson. In just two years, Morant went from a two-star player with hardly any division one offers to a potential NBA franchise cornerstone. In his sophomore season with Murray State, Morant became the first player in NCAA history to average 20 points and 10 assists since assists were created in the 1983–84. While it is certainly easy to be enamored by his athleticism, his elite playmaking skills and ability to create for himself make him a top tier prospect.

The biggest concerns for Morant at this point are his defense and his proneness to turnovers. Morant will have to become more diligent on the defensive end, as he looked disinterested at times as a Racer. The rookie point guard also needs to add strength, as he will be one of the smaller guards in the league at just 6-foot-3, 175 pounds.

Turnovers were the only real flaw in his offensive game this past season, as Morant averaged over five of them per game. Not all of them were on Morant, however, as there were instances where his teammates weren’t able to see what he was developing.

Overall, Morant has all the physical tools and skills to become an all-star point guard in the NBA. He gets to the line, makes his teammates better, and has bounce and speed for days. If he continues to improve his 3-point shot and cuts down on his mistakes… watch out.

As for Jackson, his rookie season was somewhat of an enigma.

The Michigan State product had a rookie of the year caliber season in which he flashed immense potential on both ends of the floor, but also had some problems in his first season.

Offensively, “JJJ” became just the fourth rookie since 1980 to average at least 13.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting at least 36 percent from deep. He has decent handles and can attack off the dribble, is deceptively quick and can also shoot step back threes like a guard.

Where things get tricky for Jackson, however, is shooting from the corners.

In his rookie season, Jackson shot just 20 percent from the corners. The drop off may lie in the fact that defenders were closer to him when he was in the corner. Jackson converted on 38 percent of his wide open 3-pointers last season (1.6 attempts per game). When defenders were within 4–6 feet of him, however, it was a different story as he knocked down just 25 percent of those shots (0.8 attempts per game). It is also worth noting he took just three 3-pointers with a defender less than four feet away from him last season. In short, Jackson will need time to get more confident in his shot.

While Jackson is known for his stellar defense, that too is a bit contradictory.

Last season, the Grizzlies allowed five fewer points per 100 possessions when Jackson was on the floor. His anticipation and awareness on the defensive end were uncharacteristic for a rookie, and his timing was often impeccable blocking shots. Jackson is very quick off his feet and is stellar at attacking the ball, and when you combine those factors with his length and awareness, you have all the makings of a stellar defender.

Despite all this, his defense is still fairly raw.

Jackson ranked 33rd last season in points allowed per possession, which would rank him near notoriously poor defenders such as Kyle Korver and Jabari Parker. His pick-and-roll defense also ranks in the 32nd percentile, behind Enes Kanter.

Jackson is still just 20 years old and still developing strength. He was often trying to compensate for a lack of strength by leaning on defenders, which left him susceptible to spin moves and blow byes. This lack of strength and stamina led to constant foul trouble, as he had three or more fouls in 45 of his 58 games last season.

If Jackson continues to develop his body, which should happen over time, he has star written all over him and should be a force in this league for years to come.

As far as the rest of the roster, the best way to describe it would be a mixture of savvy veterans and still developing youngsters. The Grizzlies made a plethora of trades this past off-season, and since I don’t project them as a playoff team, I would expect them to entertain offers for players such as Andre Igoudala and Jae Crowder as they look to keep building their youth.

While I have Kyle Anderson and Dillon Brooks in the starting lineup, the Grizzlies will likely entertain several different starting fives as they try to gauge the value of all their players. Anderson and Brooks have both shown potential as solid playmaking wings, and Anderson has used his length effectively in the past to rack up steals and rebounds on the defensive end as well.

Looked at as a throwaway in the Marc Gasol trade, Jonas Valanciunas turned out to be a great fit next to Jackson last season in Memphis. This led the Grizzlies to resign “JV” to a three-year deal. While he is a limited defender, especially in the pick and roll, he has exceptional touch around the basket and can score around the rim with the best of them.

While Valanciunas will be the starting center, I will be keeping an eye out for another big man on this team by the name of Brandon Clarke.

Clarke was one of my biggest sleepers going into the draft, as the 22-year-old former Gonzaga big man put together a tremendous junior campaign last season. Despite his lack of size for a big man at just 6-foot-8, 207 pounds, Clarke was one of college basketball’s most disruptive defenders last season. He averaged 4.5 blocks per 40 minutes and was highly active in both the passing lanes and at the rim.

Offensively, Clarke has yet to develop a consistent jumper but still excels at put backs, transition baskets and as the roll man in the pick and roll. Look for Clarke to make an impact for Memphis off the bench and provide quality backup minutes at the center spot.

At this point, many have considered Josh Jackson, the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, a bust. In his two years in Phoenix, Jackson averaged 12 points per game on a sub-par slash line of 41/29/65. Jackson is still very raw skill-wise at this point, and there have been several questions about his maturity and ability to handle himself off the court. Despite these concerns, Jackson still has potential due to his quickness, agility and instincts on the court. A change of scenery may be just what Jackson needs as he looks to continue to iron out his jumper and expand his offensive repertoire.

Rounding out individual players, Tyus Jones serves as the backup to Ja Morant and will look to continue to showcase his playmaking abilities. While he may be limited to a bench role in the NBA due to his lack of physical tools, I believe Jones can be one of the best reserve point guards as he has a natural ability to run an offense and come up with steals on the defensive end.

X-Factor: Jonas Valanciunas

Jonas Valanciunas isn’t your typical “best player on an NBA roster,” but he’s still a quality NBA center who can produce in limited minutes. He played extremely well in 19 games for Memphis last season, averaging 19.9 points and 10.2 rebounds per contest.

While he hasn’t lived up to his top five selection in 2011, Valanciunas is an above-average center in the paint thanks to his size, athleticism and skill. That being said, he is still a very streaky player and is definitely in the wrong era of big men.

You can throw many veterans on this roster on here, but I’ll choose Valanciunas since he will more than likely play the biggest role for the Grizzlies. Morant and Jackson should be fine, but if the Grizzlies want to make a surprise playoff run, they’ll need Valanciunas and the rest of their veterans to make a big impact.

Questions:

How many more trades do the Grizzlies make?

As previously mentioned, the Grizzlies made several moves this past off-season. They dealt longtime point guard Mike Conley to the Jazz for a 2020 first-rounder which paved the way for the Ja Morant era.

The Grizzlies have several trade pieces on their roster, with the biggest being Andre Igoudala. Many did not expect “Iggy” to be on the Grizzlies roster for this long, and there are now reports that Igoudala will not report to the team.

Memphis has two future first-round picks at it’s disposal thanks to trades from this past summer. If things go south for them this season, they will look to acquire more assets and continue to foster their youth movement.

Will the end of “Grit and Grind” be beneficial?

The simple answer for me is… absolutely. With an overhauled roster and a new coach, the Grizzlies can now adapt to the fast-paced play that the NBA has seen a steady increase of in recent years. “Grit and Grind” always meant a slow, forced style of play that the Grizzlies never won with. Even if it was a fan favorite, I believe the “Grit and Grind” era coming to the close was the best thing that could happen for Memphis.

Verdict:

The Grizzlies begin a much needed rebuild this season, if they haven’t done so already in these past few years. A new style and team culture begins this campaign with Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. as fans at the Forum should be in for a treat.

That being said, the Grizzlies are still a few years away from reaching their pinnacle. Outside of their two blossoming stars, their roster will experience plenty of reconstruction as they attempt to find the right pieces to surround their new point guard-big man combination.

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