After securing the best regular season in franchise history, the Memphis Grizzlies are ready to make some noise in the NBA Playoffs. Locked into second place in the west, this is the highest seeding the Grizzlies have had in their franchise’s short lifespan. While their current roster is one of the youngest in the league, Memphis looks to make a big run in the postseason.
Here are three reasons the Grizzlies are serious title contenders:
JA MORANT’S IMPROVEMENT:
The third-year guard has made an incredible leap to superstar status this season. Ja Morant, averaging 27.6 points per game, is averaging the thirteenth-highest points per game by a 22-year-old in NBA history.
Morant averages 8.5 more points per game than last season, which is the highest PPG jump in one season since C.J. McCollum in 2015-16 (+14.0). Not only this, but Morant is shooting 49.4 FG% (a 4.4% increase from last season) and is top fifteen in assists per game (6.7).
Photo from USA Today (USAToday.com/sports)
It will be tough for Morant to top his masterful playoff performance from last season, averaging 30.2 points on 48.7% shooting and dropping 8.2 assists through five games. However, Morant’s sights are set on winning a title, not personal stats.
“Our goal is to win the championship,” Morant said, “I feel like as long as we stay locked in, continue to grow together, play together, that goal can be achieved.”
GRIZZLIES WIN WITHOUT MORANT:
Morant has missed a significant amount of time this season, only playing 57 games through the 82 game schedule. However, Memphis has held down a top record in the NBA due to their performance when Morant is absent from the lineup.
The Grizzlies were 20-5 without the superstar guard, a win percentage of .800. Truly incredible how the team thrives while one of the most dominant players in the league is off the floor. This record is a testament to how good their supporting cast has been and shows the true depth of this Memphis squad.
Three guys, in particular, have stepped up with Morant out, Desmond Bane, Dillion Brooks, and Jaren Jackson Jr.
All three are averaging over 19 points per game without Ja Morant and have had some incredible performances.
Desmond Bane in 24 minutes vs Pacers:
His 80.0 FG% ranks 6th amongst all NBA players who have scored 30+ points this season
— Grizzlies Analytics (@GrizzAnalytics) March 25, 2022
With the Grizzlies being so good without Ja, it’s easy to assume that they are a playoff threat with him in the lineup.
Memphis is one of the league’s most complete teams this season, starting with their stifling defense. The Grizzlies have the fourth-best defensive rating in the NBA (108.5) and lead the league in many defensive stat categories.
The Grizzlies average more steals (9.8) and blocks per game (6.5) than any other team in the NBA. In addition, they also average the most rebounds and offensive rebounds a game. These stats can make the difference in a playoff series, especially while anchored by Jaren Jackson’s defensive prowess.
Jackson Jr. was the block leader of the NBA, averaging 2.3 blocks per game and denying 177 total shots (40 more than second place). Not only this, but Jackson had the fifth-best defensive rating of any player at 105.8. He has put together a solid case to earn himself Defensive Player of the Year honors.
“Of course, I think I’m Defensive Player of the Year,” said Jackson. “I’m able to do a lot more than most people who get a lot of blocks. I’m able to switch out on guards. I’m able to talk.”
Jackson and the Grizzlies will have a chance to prove themselves in the postseason starting this Saturday. The play-in-tournament will determine their matchup when the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers square off for the seventh-seed in the Western Conference.