When looking through the NBA standings, one team continues to
show no signs of slowing down as a team officially taking the leap
forward to sustainable playoff contender. The Memphis Grizzlies are
breaking through their ceiling ahead of schedule, thanks in large
part to point guard Ja Morant taking the leap to superstardom in
his third season.
Thankfully, basketball fans weren’t robbed of what could’ve been
a special season from Morant early on in the 2021-22 season with
what looked to be a more serious knee injury.
Six weeks ago, Morant landed awkwardly on his left knee
resulting in a sprain. In real-time, it looked way worse when
remembering catastrophic injuries in the past with lower
extremities. Morant stutter-stepped on a drive to the rim, which
caused a non-contact buckling of his knee. In his absence, Memphis
stayed afloat in the Western Conference as their young core carried
the burden, spearheaded by late first-round steal Desmond Bane, who
continues to look the part of a perfect backcourt complement
Memphis is 25-14, comfortably sitting as the No. 4 seed in the
West. As Morant’s ascension continues full steam ahead, it’s time
to realize how strong this Grizzlies team is positioned both now
Morant is the straw that stirs the drink on Beale Street in
Memphis, but the Grizzlies are a team littered with enticing pieces
fitting together seamlessly on the fly. Bane is averaging 17.4
points per game while carrying an above-average 58.5% True Shooting
percentage, boosted by his three-point marksmanship.
Jaren Jackson Jr. is taking strides forward in Year 4 after
losing a full season to his own knee injury suffered in the 2020
Orlando Bubble. He's averaging 16.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.8
blocks per game.
After a short stint with the Phoenix Suns, De’Anthony Melton has
found a home in Memphis as an energizer third guard who brings
endless amounts of two-way versatility. Dillon Brooks still remains
as a key cog in the Grizzlies’ machine when he’s been on the court
this season, averaging 19.3 points per game himself.
The Grizzlies’ front office has consistently taken flyers on
productive, high-upside college prospects and maximized on signing
castoffs. Case in point with former Minnesota Timberwolves lottery
pick Jarrett Culver. Memphis has continuously hit on second-round
picks as well, with Xavier Tillman and Killian Tillie carving out
roles. Last summer's No. 10 overall pick Ziaire Williams is working
his way into the mix and could be a future asset to the Grizzlies’
successful rise in the West.
Add it all together and the Grizzlies are nowhere close to a
mirage. If anything, they are just now beginning their climb in the
Western Conference for years to come. Aided by a superstar in
Morant, a valuable collection of successful young role-players who
can fill multiple avenues of on-court value, stabilizing veteran
presences like center Steven Adams, Memphis has hit the
Morant has been everything the Grizzlies hoped for when they
found their own lottery luck and jumped up to the second spot in
the 2019 NBA Draft. Morant was a fast-paced, jaw-dropping offensive
engine who provided endless highlight reel moments during his two
collegiate seasons at Murray State. A meteoric rise in his
sophomore season led to some even debating him alongside surefire
No. 1 pick Zion Williamson.
Morant immediately showed during his rookie season how special
of a player he was. Fast-forward to now, though, he’s beginning to
really take hold of being one of the best young lead guards in the
Morant is averaging 25.1 points, 6.7 assists, 5.7 rebounds and
1.4 steals while taking a superstar-esque jump from the perimeter,
shooting 40.0% on three-pointers. It’s resulted in Morant’s True
Shooting percentage skyrocketing to a career-best 57.7% this
season. When Morant has been on the court, Memphis is 15-12. He’s
not only carrying this Grizzlies squad, but taking the leap in the
As a true three-level scorer with rare explosive burst to the
basket, Morant is a gem in the backcourt. When comparing him around
the Association, his unique scoring blend makes him a nearly
unstoppable weapon to contain. After an adjustment period returning
from his sprained left knee, Morant is averaging an eye-popping
33.2 points over his last five games.
The Grizzlies are winning with a superstar buoying their
offense, but the defense is there in more consistent spurts as
well. Memphis ranks No. 7 in offensive rating (111.7) while being
smack dab in the middle of the league in defensive rating (108.7).
It’s a sustainable formula head coach Taylor Jenkins is firing off
on a nightly basis, which makes Memphis a real threat to nab a
top-five seed this season.
When the Grizzlies snuck into the playoffs last season after
defeating Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, it provided
much-needed playoff experience despite a quick first-round exit
against the top-seeded Utah Jazz. Memphis not only came back
stronger with internal development success stories across the
board, but they found their weaknesses and turned them into
It will be very interesting to see what the Grizzlies now do
with a month left before February’s trade deadline. Will they make
a win-now move to further bolster their chances of securing
homecourt advantage in April? It’s a serious discussion to be had
and could continue during the upcoming offseason.
Everything is falling into place for Memphis after a few down
years following the successful Grit ’N Grind era. Now, a new era of
Grizzlies basketball is thriving, with a completely different
identity built around fast-paced play and relentless offensive
firepower. They have a full-blown budding superstar in Morant
alongside multiple young players who are taking leaps to serious
starting quality as well.
Welcome back to playoff basketball, Memphis. You won't be
leaving anytime soon.