Last year the Memphis Grizzlies ended the season by speeding past expectations. A second-round loss to the eventual NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors, was an excellent building block for the future. With some uncertainty in the talent of other Western Conference teams at the outset, the landscape for the Grizzlies was wide open.
What the Grizzlies achieved on the court was a 51-31 record and a second-place finish in the conference. What they achieved off the court was much less impressive. Their record, in light of injuries and absences, was a testament to the depth and talent cultivated within the organization. Publicized behavior away from the game was evidence of a young team lacking maturity and leadership, which culminated in a playoff upset.
If it weren’t for a twisted knee to star point guard Ja Morant, the Grizzlies would have been in the Western Conference Finals in 2022. At least, that’s what they would tell you anyways. Irrespective of that, the Grizzlies were a sexy pick this season for a team that could make it out of the West. The main selling points were that Morant’s star progression would continue linearly. His running mates, Jaren Jackson Jr and Desmond Bane, would continue to improve. And then there is that depth. In the 2021-2022 season, the Grizzlies were 20-5 when Morant sat out. With that type of success, even minus Morant, the Grizzlies looked like a serious contender.
Offensive Grade: B-
Across the NBA, teams experienced an offensive explosion this season. For example, the Sacramento Kings set a new NBA record for offensive rating during the year. The Grizzlies, though, remained somewhat stagnant offensively. The organization dropped from the fifth-ranked offense last season to the 15th-ranked offense this season.
The team got their points from a diverse scoring group. Averaging 116.9 points per game, the Grizzlies had seven players average over double-digit points. Most notable was Bane, who followed up a stellar sophomore campaign with an even more prolific third season. Bane averaged 21.5 points per game while shooting over forty percent from the three-point line. The others, like Tyus Jones and Brandon Clarke (before getting hurt), again led the bench unit that scored collectively around 34 points per game.
The diversity in scoring was necessitated by injuries and absences. Bane and Morant each missed over twenty games, and center Steven Adams missed the last quarter of the season, including the playoffs. When Adams was healthy, the Grizzlies were one of the best offensive-rebounding teams. Those rebounds led to second possessions and open shots. Those opportunities were siphoned off after.
Defensive Grade: B+
The Grizzlies’ identity is on defense, and it has been under coach Taylor Jenkins for a while. The Grizzlies came into the year poised to put together another solid defensive unit centered around Jackson Jr. “Rim-Protector” doesn’t do justice to what Jackson Jr. does night in and night out. When he is in there, Jackson Jr. is deterring players from even thinking of shooting near the rim. Jackson Jr was rewarded for his effort with the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award.
Individual defense carried over, and the Grizzlies as a team ranked second in Basketball References’ defensive rating metric. Even with players missing, the Grizzlies earned wins on the defensive end.
The structure of their defense revolves around what they are able to do with their big men. Xavier Tillman, in addition to Clarke and Adams, is versatile on the defensive end. Because of that, the Grizzlies are able to deploy their ball hounds, Bane and Dillon Brooks, in an aggressive fashion.
Without Adams, the Grizzlies dropped from first in defensive rebounding (by a two-rebound margin) to fourth by the time the season ended. This, in hindsight, was a key contributor to why the Grizzlies ended up falling short in the playoffs.
Overall Grade: B
The Grizzlies were not ready to seriously compete for a championship this year, and the first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers crystallized it.
The Grizzlies faltered in game one of the series, surrendering a fifteen to zero run in the final minutes of the contest. After that, they would never recover. Granted, Morant was hurt after a scary fall in game one. But the veteran Lakers team took every shot that Memphis threw at them and countered with poise and execution.
One Grizzlies player, in particular, took it upon himself to talk a lot during the series. Whether anyone thinks Brooks metaphorically poking the bear had any effect, that’s missing the point. It all felt very manufactured. Brooks felt as though it was more important to announce they the Grizzlies were there rather than show.
It wasn’t all immaturity. The Grizzlies play simply wasn’t good enough, either. The Grizzlies had a putrid 102.8 offensive rating in the playoffs. Flaws due to injuries were exposed too. They lacked a front line that could give them 48 minutes. While Jackson Jr had limitations exposed against Anthony Davis, he was the only real defensive tool that Jenkins had in the series.
In the offseason, more thought has to be put toward roster construction. Adams is an essential piece in how the team operates now. But Adams shouldn’t carry that much importance to a team with the Grizzlies talent.
Shooting on the wings should be a priority too. For all of the praise the Grizzlies deserve in their player development, it has had trouble retaining players that would have helped them. Just in the past three years, the Grizzlies have lost Kyle Anderson, De’Anthony Melton, and Danny Green. Not only were those players important role pieces, but they were good teammates as well.
The Grizzlies are also in a unique position to add more pieces to its team via trade. The organization has a bunch of future assets and have desirable contracts on their roster to deal out. The Grizzlies don’t need a babysitter, but they do need someone or a collection of someone(s) to hold them accountable.
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