For years we associated the Memphis Grizzlies as the “Grit and Grind” era. Then, once Memphis drafted this kid from Murray State in 2019, it became the start of a new one.
Ja Morant was on the map from the jump as he averaged 17.8 PPG and 7.3 APG and won the 2019-2020 Rookie of the Year award. A couple of years later and now Ja is on his way to becoming a star in this league. While it’s only been a few games this season, it was always noticeable he had the talent to be something special.
His athletic tools have always popped off the television with his first step and quick-twitch where he can change directions on a dime and possess the body control to hang in mid-air as he glides past the shot blocker. Ja has always had vision you can’t teach and a confidence level that is off the charts.
So far in Morant’s career, the Grizzlies have seen some success on the floor as their record was 72-73 in his first two seasons. They even made the playoffs last season as the 8th seed in the Western Conference. While this doesn’t sound that encouraging, Morant is only 22 so he is still finding his way and it beats the other teams that have been tanking.
Even though Ja deserves much credit, this front office and coaching staff have done an excellent job of getting players that will buy into what the coach wants. Taylor Jenkins is now in his 3rd season with the Grizzlies and has been severely underrated by the media. Despite all the injuries they faced last season, they still found a way to be competitive playing with great energy on a nightly basis.
In terms of personnel, you see the Grizzlies surround Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, and Jaren Jackson Jr. with not the most athletically gifted players, but certainly very smart players. In previous offseasons, they drafted Brandon Clarke, John Konchar, Desmond Bane, Xavier Tilman, Killian Tillie, and Zhaire Williams. Then via free agency/trade, they have acquired Tyus Jones, Kyle Anderson, Steven Adams, and Jarrett Culver.
Memphis is going a different approach as most teams nowadays look for the player with the highest upside or longest wingspan so why does this approach work for the Grizzlies? Well, Taylor Jenkin’s half-court offense requires one to think the game fast. In most half-court offenses, you’re only getting into your 1st or 2nd option most times and if those aren’t there, you’re taking a tough shot. Here in Memphis, they make quick decisions and play with pace in their half-court offense by getting into actions quickly along with player movement without the ball.
These players are expected to get the ball where it needs to be for these plays to work, and if you can’t get it there, hit the next read and make the actions that branch off that decision. It’s kind of like comparing quarterbacks going through their progressions. Tom Brady can go through all his progressions much faster right now than a rookie because his IQ is simply higher. You see rookies struggle to get past their first or second read while Brady can consistently get to his 4th read. It’s the same concept here which is why the Grizzlies don’t settle for a lot of tough shots. They have the IQ and knowledge to know where the ball needs to go and more importantly, what to do without it. This requires everyone to be on the same page, because if one player doesn’t do their part, then the play can break down.
With all that said, a team still needs talent if they’re going to make it far and Morant is taking that next step. He has averaged 35.0 PPG with 8.0 APG on crazy efficient numbers through 3 games. Now I don’t expect him to keep this pace, but he was my pre-season pick for MIP, and expected him to make his first all-star appearance and he hasn’t disappointed.
Expect this team to be as high as a 5th or 6th seed in the Western Conference as they are one of the most effective half-court offenses in the NBA with one of the league’s emerging young stars.
With that said, there is a reason why this is a new era for Memphis. The average age of this team is 23.7 (2nd youngest in the NBA). Grizzlies have a bright future with key players under contract, an excellent head coach in Taylor Jenkins (along with a front office that will get players based on how he wants to play), and that talented PG from Murray State will be why this team will be relevant, with the potential to be great, for the next 8+ years.
Article written by Brad Patten
Player stats found on Basketball Reference (https://www.basketball-reference.com)
Average age found on HispanosNBA (https://en.hispanosnba.com/teams/comparison)
Photo credit to Mio Kiyoshi of USA Today (https://www.google.com/amp/s/fansided.com/2021/10/24/ja-morant-grizzlies-circus-layup-video/amp/)