From the deep: Out early with Grizzlies’ Jaren Jackson Jr., Ja Morant’s team back

The Memphis Grizzlies started the 2013-14 season with holes 10-15. They have new coach Dave Joerger and injured star Marc Gasol. In search of a spark, they traded Jared Bayless for Courtney Lee and called up James Johnson from what was then known as the G League. Joerger broke down the schedule week by week, giving the team smaller goals: to win two of the next three games, then three of the next four.

By the time Gasol returned, the Grizzlies had already begun to find themselves. They finished the season 40-17, good enough to make the playoffs as the seventh seed.

The next season, Mike Conley suffered a horrific facial fracture in Game 3 of the opening round, but Memphis still won the series in five games. Lesson: Never leave the Grizzlies out.

It’s still a good policy years after the Grizzlies’ Grit-‘n’-Grind days. In 2020-21, Memphis made the playoffs in all but 11 games despite missing Jaren Jackson Jr., who is recovering from a torn meniscus. To do that, it needs to win two playoff games, including overtime against the Golden State Warriors.

However, when Ja Morant suffered a knee injury against the Atlanta Hawks last November, it felt like a blow. The Grizzlies are 9-10 on the season with 32 points and have the worst defense in the league. But they won 10 of their next 11 games, all without their best player. Memphis finished the season with a 56-26 record, second in the West and top-five in defense.

So what should the Grizzlies look forward to this year? How should Jackson’s recent injury be considered? The 23-year-old big man, who had a breakout season on the defensive end, underwent foot surgery in late June and was ruled out for 4-6 months.

Unlike the last time Jackson was out for a long time, Memphis couldn’t fill the void at power forward with Kyle Anderson, who joined the Minnesota Timberwolves in free agency. It traded another of its best guards, De’Antoni Melton, for veteran Danny Green, who is recovering from an ACL and LCL tear, and with the 23rd overall pick, it used to select David Roddy.

Rhodey was a 6-foot-6 power forward who was very effective in college but needed to prove he could hang on the defensive end. If the starting spot is someone the Grizzlies draft late in the first round, though, he’ll likely fall to No. 1 overall pick Santi Aldama. No. 30 in last year’s draft, or Brandon Clark, No. 21 in 2019. Clark has far more experience, but don’t be surprised if Aldama gets it. (Have others are mixing, also. )

Unlike some games in the West, Memphis didn’t trade stars in the offseason and haven’t recovered from a long-term injury. Based on Jackson’s uncertain return date and the losses at Anderson and Melton, we’re curious to see how the defense and second unit will hold up. Still, if the Grizzlies have a way to overcome all of these issues, they’ll find it.


Grizzlies believers: Ja Morant already has it before the season starts 360 on his highlights. Something glorious is happening with the Grizzlies. My only complaint about their front desk is that they get too much young talent. If Kenneth Lofton Jr. is as good as I think, how will Tyler Jenkins find minutes for David Roddy?

Grizzly Skeptics: You’re talking about Kenneth Lofton Jr. Before Jaylen Jackson Jr.? OK then. You know Lofton has a two-way contract, right?

Grizzlies believers: Yes, but there’s only one way to go in his career: straight up! This team has an amazing track record, is well-loved on the internet, and is oddly underrated in the league, and Lofton may be the biggest steal of the bunch. He’s been on the U19 team, in college, in the G League elite camp, and in the combined production, and then lost. It feels like everyone but the Grizzlies is too focused on his weight.

Grizzly Skeptics: Lofton is funny, hope you’re right, it’s too early to tell, so let’s get to the most pressing issue: Jackson won’t be back until November or December. He was named to the All-Defensive First Team last season, and Memphis is 4.8 points better per 100 possessions with him than without him, according to Clean Glass. If that’s not rigid enough for you, DRAPM, adjusted for luck, is also without a doubt the best defender. On the defensive end, the Grizzlies wouldn’t be as ferocious without Jackson loitering around and blowing up the action.

Grizzly Believers: fiercely. Um. nice one. Wow, you did all this research just to tell me that JJJ is an amazing defender? thank you, I know now! But the Grizzlies have a good defense (and a good offense), with Steven Adams and Brandon Clark sharing the frontcourt last season. I’m not sure how Jenkins will manage the rotation, but it’s not a bad thing that Santi Aldama, Xavier Tillman, Jake LaRavia, Roddy and Lofton will be competing for Jackson’s minutes. Dillon Brooks, Ziaire Williams and John Konchar can all slide to the 4 in a pinch, and maybe Killian Tillie will get healthy at some point. Some lineup experimentation may help in the long run. The short-term damage of this injury is exaggerated.

Grizzly Skeptics: If Adams and Clark are such a good combination, then why did Jenkins only play them together for four minutes in last year’s playoffs and give Aldama a win over Clark on Monday? In addition to disrupting Memphis’ defense, Jackson’s absence isn’t ideal for space. Even though he shot just 31.9 percent from 3-point range last year, opposing teams are more concerned when he’s open on the perimeter than I have with any other starter not named Desmond Bane. After finishing 22nd in the halfcourt offense, according to Clean the Glass, I think the Grizzlies are determined to make a jump in the area, especially when they decide not to bring back the two of them, D’Antoni Melton and Kyle Anderson. their best defender. Such a jump is unlikely now.

Grizzlies believers: Around Monday: Aldama had 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting, including 4-of-5 from the field. He also shot 8-for-20 (40 percent) from 3-point range in summer league. He’s one of the reasons why I don’t worry about spacing. The other is, as you mentioned, Melton and Anderson’s minutes are going to be better spot-up shooters now. Over the years, I’ve been fully committed to the John Konchar experience, and I must point out that he shot 42.1 percent from the field last season. Rhodey is one of the best backup players in college basketball, as are rookies Lallavia, Kennedy Chandler and Vince Williams Jr. Floors can be separated. I expect Morant and Ziaire Williams to improve on this as well.

Grizzly Skeptics: This is so interesting. I raise legitimate concerns, and you wave them with your wand: Yes, Morant will start shooting 3s from behind, and a bunch of young, completely unproven Grizzlies will save the day with their sensational spot-up shots. Cool!

Grizzlies believers: Shouldn’t I expect a 23-year-old superstar who just won Most Improved Player to continue to develop? Should I fire young promising players for not having big names? It’s been easy to fire Bain, Clark and Melton over the past few years, but it’s definitely not smart. If the Grizzlies can go 20-5 without Morant, it can certainly survive Jackson’s season starting a little later.

Grizzly Skeptics: Last year, even with Morant out, I knew who the Grizzlies were: a tough, aggressive, physical, quick, unselfish team that wanted to force turnovers, control rebounds and play at halftime. Anderson and Melton aren’t stars, but neither are they insignificant losses. Jackson’s temporary loss isn’t trivial either. I don’t know if this is an elite defensive team right now, I don’t know if they can make up for that with offense. It’s not even just a space issue — I wish Memphis would trade another playmaker in favor of Morant, but instead, it puts him more on the line.

Grizzlies believers: Morant can handle it, on the other hand he says he’ll use his speed, athleticism and size to interfere with ball handlers. It’s not as exciting as adding consistent pull-ups 3, but it’s not a trivial improvement. I don’t see much change in the identity of the Grizzlies, if at all. Offensively, Morant would dominate the game, Bane would frighten opponents, and big men would pound the boards. They still have Steven Adams protecting the paint, and they still have a lot of versatile guys who can switch on the perimeter. Maybe the defense wasn’t as dominant early on, but the spacing should be better and the system is the same. It would be foolish to predict that the rankings will drop significantly.

Grizzly Skeptics: In an ideal world, Morant made 3s and made strides on the defensive end, Bane took another step as a playmaker, Ziel Williams broke out, and Jackson returned sooner than expected. Powering an already thriving team, thanks to the steady contributions of numerous young role players. More likely, though: Memphis missed out on defenders leaving, dropped defense and didn’t have many chances in transition, putting too much pressure on a halfcourt offense that relied too heavily on Morant. Given the strength of the West, the Grizzlies could drop a few spots, even if things are more right than wrong.

Curiosity: Kenneth Lofton Jr.

There is no one in the league like Lofton. There’s a bit of Boris Diaw in his game — he was a point guard before his growth spurt and handled the game like a human — but he’s more of a footballer in size and has Basket is definitely a domineering.

Lofton got his first chance at an NBA game and he went head-to-head with Brook Lopez and Serge Ibaka:

A two-way deal means Lofton can only be activated for a maximum of 50 NBA games unless Memphis converts his contract to a standard one. If he gets a real role in Jackson’s absence, he might force management to take a shot.

there’s one more thing

Green, 35, could have a role in this team.He said on his podcast that he hopes to be back before the All-Star break, Grizzlies general manager Zach Kleiman say at media day He could be back before the regular season ends. Green’s contract is about to expire, but that’s not another Iguodala situation.

But if they’re going to keep him, they’ll need to cut or trade someone else with guaranteed money before the season begins. Memphis has 16 players signed, excluding training camp trades and two-way contracts.

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