April 30, 2020, 12:56 pm
The Memphis Grizzlies had a strong offseason, stealing Brandon Clarke with the 21st pick and nailing their No. 2 selection of Ja Morant. They also added De’Anthony Melton and hired Coach Taylor Jenkins to replace the underwhelming J.B. Bickerstaff. These moves compounded with the development of Jaren Jackson Jr. summed up to them holding the eighth seed by the time the season was suspended, beating out most preseason expectations of their performance.
Even though they’re currently in the playoff picture, the Grizzlies had one of the hardest remaining schedules in terms of opponent’s record and the battle for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference was leading up to a dramatic finish.
When you look at the roster, there’s still a lot of untapped potential. Morant is currently the frontrunner for the Rookie of the Year, Jackson is one of the most versatile young bigs in the game and Clarke is making every team regret passing him up.
Ja Morant is ruthless. There were comparisons to Russell Westbrook when he was in college and after 59 games you can see why. He attacks the rim on his drives so ferociously that it frightens even his own coaches. Every time he’s in the paint you can either expect a posterization attempt (shoutout to Kevin Love), an acrobatic layup or a jaw-dropping pass.
He’s must see tv, but the high flying playstyle has led to some scary landings. He missed a few games with a back injury and with all of the time he spends in the air, there’s some elevated injury risk. The Grizzlies were very careful with Morant’s playing time as he was already on a minutes limit to start the year, taking load management to new heights. It was a long-term way of thinking, but by the season’s end his playing time began to ramp up.
Most guards struggle with efficiency and rookie guards are almost never strong shooters, but Morant shot .491 from the floor while averaging 17.6 points per game. He also dishes out 6.9 assists, but the low rebounding numbers and .770 free throw shooting bring his overall fantasy ranking down a bit. He’s an ascending star and one of the major reasons as to why the Grizzlies are in the position they’re in. In dynasty leagues, he should be high on your list and it’ll cost an early round draft pick if you want to nab Ja next year. Though he sits just inside the top-130 in 9-cat, he’s already a top-75 guy in 8-cat, and Morant is still just scratching the surface.
Brandon Clarke had no business being the 21st pick. Most draft boards had him in the early picks, but for some reason plenty of teams passed on him. He’s a bit older and doesn’t have the greatest measurables in height, but he was one of the best finishers and defenders in college. He’s a bit older as well, but was also one of the most polished prospects in the league.
Through 50 games, he’s averaging 12.0 points on .623 shooting with 0.5 steals and 0.8 blocks in only 21.7 minutes of action. He’s going to be a starter for this team soon and is also a valuable asset in all fantasy leagues, as his absurd shooting percentage already has him posting top-105/80 value in those limited minutes.
Jaren Jackson Jr. improved upon his rookie year, bumping up his scoring numbers from 13.8 points and 0.9 3s to 16.9 points and 2.5 3s a game. He’s also increased his blocks to 1.6 a game and is still hitting .468 from the floor, so he’s not sacrificing much efficiency while giving you all the money counter stats. He’s also developing a nasty pick-and-pop game with Ja Morant. That duo is going to cause some serious problems for opposing teams in the years to come.
Pair that with Jonas Valanciunas, who’s having a career year, and you get a dynamic trio of bigs that can match up with almost anyone.
As stated earlier, Morant missed a few games due to a back injury, but overall the team was relatively healthy throughout the year.
The last nine games were the worst stretch in terms of injuries as they lost Jackson to a knee injury. This meant that Brandon Clarke would get his time to shine, but the next game he also went down with a hip injury. The Grizzlies still managed to go 4-5 during that stretch, but it left them vulnerable to slip in the standings, especially with their toughest stretch of the season coming up.
Morant did everything he could to keep them afloat, making highlight plays that you’d see on social media each night he played, but the Kings, Blazers and even Pelicans were all beginning to hit their stride and make a run for the final playoff spot. If the season were to end today, the Grizzlies are more than deserving of the eight seed. Out of all of the teams in the hunt for the eight seed, the suspension in play helps the Grizzlies out the most as they can recover and get their star forwards back in action.
Man in the Middle
We here at Hoop Ball had lofty expectations for Jonas Valanciunas. It took a little longer for other folks to come around, but eventually most of the other sites and experts began to realize that Valanciunas was going to absolutely kill it this season. The B150 had him as the No. 57 player in 8-cat leagues and he’s sitting right at No. 53.
He’s playing a career-high 26.2 minutes (still not that much if you think about it) and it’s led to a career-high 11.2 rebounds. The scoring is right around his career average as well as the rest of his other numbers, but he’s just had a much more consistent season as he’s no longer subject to the random duds when he’d be pulled off the floor by Dwane Casey. The best thing the Grizzlies have given him is a consistent role.
He’s on contract for two more seasons after this one and this might be the peak of his fantasy career as Brandon Clarke will start to eat up more time as he continues to blossom. Regardless, JV’s an easy double-double who does his damage efficiently, which always gives him a steady floor.
Grit and Grind Reborn
There’s no way the Grizzlies will replicate what they had with their Grit and Grind squad of Tony Allen, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and company, but there’s major potential for a modern version of it with their current roster. Clarke and Jackson are products of the modern NBA and are the new archetypes of what is demanded of forwards in today’s game: being able to switch on every defensive possession and rim roll or hit a 3-pointer with high accuracy. Couple this with Morant’s superstar offensive potential and De’Anthony Melton’s highly underrated defense and you have the makings of something that can achieve more than what Grit and Grind could.
We’ve discussed the fantasy and reality implications of their young core, but a guy I want to touch on specifically is Melton. He slowly worked his way into more minutes as the season went on and surpassed Tyus Jones (who was one of the best backup PGs in the league entering this season) in the rotation which is no small feat. Melton’s a capable facilitator and although he isn’t the most accurate shooter, his shot profile helps cover that weakness. His primary role is being a pest on defense. He leads the team in steals with 1.3 per game in only 19.4 minutes of action. Some strong runs of play put Melton on the standard-league radar, and even in this playing time he’s inside the top-170 on the full year.
In dynasty leagues he holds sleeper value because he isn’t a household name yet and is still just a steals specialist. The 3-year extension of Dillon Brooks shows the Grizzlies still value shooting, but if I were to place a bet on who will have a more successful career and greater impact in fantasy and in winning basketball games, it’s easily Melton.