Sometimes all it takes to snap out of a funk is a change of scenery. This seemed to be the case for the Memphis Grizzlies, who notched their first win of the young season over the Brooklyn Nets on Monday. Having dropped their previous two games in uninspiring fashion, the victory was exactly the mood changer the Grizzlies needed. “We came in with a mentality [that] we needed to get one”, said coach Taylor Jenkins after the game. “I thought we came out with an unbelievable edge”.
Brandon Clarke certainly rose to the occasion. In a return to form, the sophomore out of Gonzaga dropped an efficient 16 points off the bench and drained his first three of the season. Though the form of his jumper may still be questionable, it’s clear that Clarke has returned to his all-rookie form from last year. “I got my wind back now”, Clarke beamed during his postgame presser. “I just didn’t feel like I was in the shape I like to be in [during] the first two games, and I really feel like I’m back in that shape now so I’m able to make all of those hustle plays I’m known for making”.
Though the Nets decided to assign Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to bench-riding duty, the Grizzlies soon were faced with their own roster perils. Midway through the second quarter, Ja Morant landed awkwardly while contesting a Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot jumper.
The injury posed a triad of issues for Jenkins and company. Most pressing was the game at hand–the Grizzlies were en route to surrendering the nine point lead they had built up in the first quarter, challenging the coaching staff to make up for Morant’s production on the fly. Fortunately, having set a career-high in scoring in Memphis’ previous contest, Kyle Anderson was game to set records once more. In a second consecutive career night, the former Spur scorched the rim for four triples on his way to a game-high 28 points.
However, it’s obvious that Morant’s injury will have ramifications far beyond the Barclays Center. Further testing revealed a Grade 2 ankle sprain, an injury forecasted to sideline the former Rookie of the Year for three to five weeks. It’ll be an interesting month for Memphis, who has an all-star sized hole to restructure their offense around. Expect the Grizzlies’ offense to quickly morph into the Dillon Brooks show–the Oregon Duck has always been a prolific scorer, but he’s emphasized how much he’s worked on playmaking over the offseason.
That’s not to say the load will fall solely on Brooks. Jenkins has always preached strength in numbers, and his roster is loaded with intriguing options who could shine with increased opportunity. Tyus Jones has never gotten a chance to lead an offense under a winning system—could an increased workload lead to his revitalization? Don’t sleep on Jontay Porter either. The Grizzlies raved about him throughout training camp, and he was renowned for his playmaking throughout his time at Missouri.
Even upon Morant’s return, the injury may still prove frightening. If you’re a student of NBA history, you know that the past doesn’t look kindly on the bodies of guards like Ja. Taking a glance at the league’s most athletic guards, lower body injuries seem to be commonplace. Similar vertical threats such as John Wall, Russell Westbrook, and Derrick Rose have all missed significant chunks of time with various ailments of the extremities. With such great leaping abilities, the likelihood of an unfortunate landing tends to increase–if Morant isn’t careful, these injuries could derail his entire career (just ask Steve Francis, whose rise in the NBA was just as quick as his fall).
It’s not all gloom in Grind City, though. Due to the progression of sports medicine, trainers have begun to even the playing field for the guards most susceptible to lower body injuries. Anyone remember the chronic ankle injuries Steph Curry struggled with in the early 2010’s? After going through intense rehab to work on the way he landed, those problems were as good as forgotten. Though the Grizzlies’ schedule gets rough in the coming weeks, with a few key players stepping up their game, they could find themselves better than ever upon Morant’s return. Let’s just hope Ja can stay on the floor once he’s back.