Grizzlies

Grizz Lead Roundtable: 2019-20 Season in Review

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The Grizzlies’ season came to an end after they lost their play-in matchup against Portland. While many Grizz fans (us included) are hurting right now, the season was still a success. It started with a successful draft and ended with an unforeseen playoff push. The ending wasn’t what anyone wanted, but it could’ve been a blessing in disguise. The team is now home and able to focus on next season. Getting healthy should be Memphis’ top priority, then it should look to improve upon its weaknesses.

Our group of Grizzlies analysts got together to discuss the past, present and future of this young Memphis team.

The Team

  • Richmond Bailey Caldwell
  • Reggie Walker Junior
  • Daniel Greer
  • Zak White

1. How would you grade this season for the Grizzlies?

Bailey: A-. It would’ve been an A+ had the bubble gone a bit better. I don’t mean that from a win/loss perspective, either. I was fully prepared for the basketball issues to show up. The team came out with no energy and that cost them more than anything. They didn’t show their trademark swagger and fight until the play-in game, which might not have been necessary had they started the way they finished.

Even with the bad finish, however, the team exceeded in every aspect. At the top, our new front office did an awesome job with making smart roster moves at the trade deadline. Even if Justise Winslow doesn’t pan out, the move clears up our future after his contract ends. From there, rookie coach Taylor Jenkins did a good job establishing his culture and system with this young team. He did more than expected with a roster with some glaring flaws. The players bought in, and performed well.

Rookie point guard Ja Morant established himself as the leader and star of this team, and Jaren Jackson Jr. took a step forward as he stepped into the second option role. There are plenty of questions left to answer, but the future is looking very bright in Memphis.

Reggie: You ever have that one teacher who you just knew was down for you from day one? It didn’t matter what you did, they were going to mess with you on that grading scale. Well, I’m that teacher and the Memphis Grizzlies 2020 squad is that student.

The fact that the majority of the main core was in school less than four years ago justifies more so me handing out above-average passing scores for a season that saw its fair share of novelty, turmoil and doubt.

That said, and considering the low expectations for all involved from Coach Jenkins all the way to pre-bubble Josh Jackson, I give the GenNext boys a solid….A!

Daniel: The coming out party for these next-gen Grizzlies seemed to be a party that lasted all year long. This team wasn’t supposed to be this good this quickly. The season did not finish the way we wanted it to, but these young cubs gained the respect of their peers. I give this team an A- because it exceeded expectations, but has room for improvement. The next few seasons at the Grindhouse will be amazing.

Zak: B. The only reason that Memphis doesn’t get an A from me is that it failed to close out the season strong and secure a playoff birth, despite entering the NBA restart with a 62.5% chance of making the playoffs. All the Grizzlies had to do was win a few more games. Unfortunately, the injury bug and inexperience reared their ugly heads and prevented them from shocking the entire league.

Overall, when a team wins 34 games in a season where Vegas only picked them to win 26.5, you have to count that as a victory. We saw flashes of brilliance and know that if the Grizzlies can sustain a higher level of play, they have potential for deep playoff runs in the future.

2. What was your favorite moment of the season?

Bailey: Back in December, my girlfriend and I went to Memphis for a weekend back-to-back series. This was our first game as a couple, and her first game ever. Night one, the Grizzlies had to face the mighty Bucks without Morant. After news broke that he wasn’t playing, we admittedly weren’t expecting a lot. The Grizzlies hadn’t quite hit their stride yet, so we didn’t know how good the team truly was. But that night, we witnessed history. Jaren Jackson Jr. scored a career-high 43, including a franchise-record 26 in the third. Despite the loss, the energy in FedEx Forum was incredible as always. I found out later that I was visible in JJJ’s highlight video and a gif from that night, as well, which was the icing on the cake.

The next night, the Grizzlies faced the Washington Wizards. We got to the game early, and I was able to get an autograph from Ja after his warmup. The squad picked up a 17-point win in what turned out to be one of the first glimpses of what was to come. In that game, all of the Grizzlies’ key players scored double digits. Dillon Brooks led everyone with 27, Ja added 18 and Jaren had 16. Brandon Clarke scored 25, including a monster dunk on Ian Mahinmi. The Forum nearly exploded when Clarke went up.

Reggie: We all love coming home. Heck, there’s even a name for it that has led to many adult beverages being bandied about parties throughout the history of college times.

But one Homecoming in particular really stood out to me in a season that had numerous stand out moments.

When Ja Morant and the Grizzlies visited Charlotte and most of Ja’s folks made the trip from South Carolina, the whole thing felt like a magical set up.

The ball fell thru the net with damn near no time left on the clock, and Morant yelled to the shocked crowd, “This what I do!” All while his father ignores court side security to give his boy a hug. That was the moment I knew.

A road game felt like the Grindhouse and that’s a moment I’ll never forget.

Daniel: The Grizzlies fall into a skid. Some guy sends out a tweet. Ja Morant goes off against the Lakers. That guy, yeah, well, he was called out by Morant after the game. My favorite moment of the year is a selfish moment, but a moment I will never forget. It was a surreal moment in time and it showed that fire that Ja carries with him.

Zak: On Oct. 10, 2019, a star became illuminated throughout the entire league. Many talented players have come through Memphis over the years, but it would be hard to claim that anyone made an impact as early on as Ja Morant.

In only the third game of his young NBA career, Morant made a statement play for his new team. At the time, the Grizzlies were searching for their first win of the season. On that night, Sunday Oct. 27, they were locked in a battle with perennial all-star point guard Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. In a last-ditch effort to win the game, Irving attempted a fade-away jump shot at the end of regulation, hoping to steal a victory for his new teammates.

Ja Morant had other plans.

The rookie rose to the occasion, both literally and figuratively. Showcasing his intensity and athleticism, Morant skied to meet the ball with his hand as Irving attempted to release it. This triumphant block sent the game to overtime and an eventually, Grizzlies victory. To me, this was the moment when I knew that we had a star in our midst, and that the future was bright.

https://twitter.com/DefPenHoops/status/1188613611633233921?s=20

3. What is the biggest area of improvement for next season?

Bailey: This is a toss-up for me. The most obvious answer is shooting. Outside of JJJ and bubble Grayson, the Grizzlies don’t have a consistent shooter. It’s been their problem essentially forever. I’m not sure the best way to immediately improve there, though. I trust Zach Kleiman to make good moves, but after such an unprecedented season, it’s impossible to predict how the offseason will shape up.

I think the players will have to put in a lot of work during before next season and make in-house improvements. The 2021 offseason is probably a more realistic chance for external help. The other focus should be player health. Kleiman recently confirmed JJJ had successful surgery on his meniscus, which is great news. Tyus Jones will be able to work his knee back to health, which will also be key. And maybe, just maybe, Justise Winslow will make his Memphis debut next season, too.

Reggie: Hello. Today I will be playing the part of a broken record and my first piece is titled, “The Grizz need shooters.”

Now, true enough with the new and improved NBA, the Grizz finally did a decent job of “keeping up with Currys” and nailing a sufficient amount of long-range jumpers that kept them in games.

But let’s be real, with over 400 floaters made and Jonas Valanciunas being productive throughout the year, the paint was this team’s bread and butter just like in prior seasons.

Not truly Grit-and-Grind because of the break-neck, above-the-rim pace. But yet still no sure-fire shooters either.

Finding another dead-eye sniper to put next to JJJ and…(Grayson Allen?), or whoever else the front office see fit, is the perfect formula to keep momentum building toward a championship window.

Daniel: The bubble brought out the best in Ja and Jaren. We saw just how good these young, talented players could be. We also realized the biggest need for this team is perimeter scoring. Grayson Allen showed up and showed out in the bubble. He will be a key role player coming off the bench for the years to come. But this team needs to find a shooting guard for the future and allow Dillon Brooks to come off the bench and play within himself. If you can surround Morant with a couple consistent shooters, then the sky is the limit for this team.

Zak: This may come as a surprise to everyone, but the Grizzlies need to find more ways to score. According to Cleaning The Glass, the Grizzlies ranked 15th in team defense this season, allowing 110 points per 100 possessions. This is honestly not bad for a team that owns one of the fastest paces in the league. On the offensive side of the floor, however, the Grizzlies ranked 23rd with 109.2 points per 100 possessions. There are five non-playoff teams that have more efficient offenses than the Grizzlies.

Coach Taylor Jenkins has adopted the strategy that many NBA franchises are gravitating toward. Moreyball — aptly named after the Rockets GM — involves taking shots at the rim or from three. Analytically, it makes sense. This is all well and good, but the Grizzlies have to execute better in these areas if they want to succeed with this strategy. This season, Memphis ranked 23rd in 3P% — about a percentage point and a half below the league-average.

The Grizzlies already have some of the proper personnel on the roster to play this style. Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks (when he is playing his game) and Grayson Allen are very capable three-point shooters. Nonetheless, the team really needs Ja Morant, Justise Winslow and others to step up and become at least respectable threats from beyond the arc. If the players on the roster don’t take a collective leap in this area, next year could be a long season for the let-it-fly version of the Grizzlies.

4. Who or what would be your ideal addition to this team?

Bailey: There are plenty of answers to this question, but not many are feasible. I’d love Bradley Beal or Devin Booker as much as the next fan, but I don’t think we could realistically obtain them. For me, I think we have most of our long-term core in place, and the key is filling the roster with players that complement it. Keeping that in mind, I tend to lean toward aiming for upper-mid tier guys, a few specialists and draft prospects.

The Grizzlies could make a splash in 2021 free agency, but historically speaking, the chances are low. Shooting is the most definitive need, but I’d also love to find a strong rebounding big. The Grizzlies should be in the mix for guys like Duncan Robinson, Myles Turner and/or Jerami Grant. I also think the team could find some talent in the second round of this year’s draft, and should look to add another pick there. Adding an additional creator such as Mason Jones or Josh Hall could do a lot of good for the future.

Reggie: Without upsetting the core too much, I do believe bringing in that pure shooter I crave can be obtained through trade easier than free agency.

Everyone and their grandmother wants Brandon Clarke at the center of any deal, and most of the time, that’s a big fat NO in my book.

But eventually, to make an omelet, you have to go to Whole Foods and pay $6.72 for a carton of farm-raised fresh, right?

If a deal comes along for a Washington two-guard or a malcontent shooter out of Sacramento, then whose to say Clarke isn’t the key piece to put this whole thing in motion?

I guess what I’m implying is…”it’s my Ja and Beal backcourt and I need it now!”

Daniel: As I look into my crystal ball, I see a beautiful headband. I see a 6-foot-6 guy from Chelan, Wash. A shooter who gets buckets. If I could add a free agent this year, the player I go get is Joe Harris. The Nets shooting guard is a 40 percent-plus shooter from three-point range. If you add shooting, you add space. If you add space, you add Ja highlights. If you want more Ja highlights you add Joe Harris.

Zak: The Grizzlies have needed a consistent scoring wing for ages. Obviously, the guys at the top of many peoples’ list include Bradley Beal, Zach LaVine and Buddy Hield. I am not sure how many assets Memphis is willing to part with in a trade for additional scoring. The price tag for these coveted players will be high. The opportunity for Memphis may be there, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some or all of those guys on the market in the near future.

5. What’s your prediction for next season?

Bailey: I am hesitant about next season. As currently constructed, even with natural improvements, it’s hard to see us having a better year than this one. The West is going to be even more crowded. Golden State will return to form, Phoenix looked great in the bubble and Portland will return to its WCF level. That being said, I can see our team being better, but the record being the same (or worse). I’m more focused on how our players improve individually. Can Jaren shoot the lights out again? What’s Ja’s next step look like? Does anyone put Dillon in his place during the offseason? Those are the storylines I’m interested in next year.

Reggie: The West will be LOADED next year, and for that reason, the Memphis Grizzlies will once again not be looked at as a playoff lock.

With that being known, it’s the perfect time to place your bets on Beale Street Blue. This year’s squad has shown me a lot about what its future projects, and embracing the underdog role is top of the list.

Think about it. There were early injuries, outside noise and a freaking global pandemic, and this team still was standing in the midst of all the action at the end.

So, do you really think a little competition in a crowded conference is going to matter to these guys?

I think not…Grizz clinch their first playoff berth in the GrizNextGen era.

Daniel: Next season will be interesting for this young Grizzlies team. My prediction is they make the playoffs and prove a lot of people wrong, again. The Western Conference is loaded with talent from top to bottom. The Grizzlies will need to be more consistent throughout the year, but the young core is hungry to keep climbing.

Zak: It’s really hard to say where the Grizzlies will end up at the end of next season. You expect Golden State to be right back in the playoff mix. With the return of Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, the Warriors will rise from the basement and again be contenders in the West. You also don’t see many of the current playoff teams taking any big hits. The Spurs, Suns and Pelicans will all be back strong and competing for playoff slots. The teams I see with the grimmest futures are the Timberwolves and Kings. 

As is always the case, so much depends on health. The key could be Justise Winslow. If he is healthy and ends up being the player the Memphis front office traded for this year, he will drastically increases Memphis’ production on both ends of the floor. He gives the Grizzlies a lock-down defender that can also manage ball-handling responsibilities to allow for more creativity on offense with Morant.

For next year, it is certainly possible for Memphis to sneak into the playoffs as a seventh or eighth seed. Either way, this team is likely too young to make a deep playoff run so soon. However, a return to postseason play seems like a true possibility.

Follow us on Twitter @Grizz_Lead for the latest Grizzlies news and insight.

About Richmond Bailey Caldwell

Die-hard Grizzlies fan since 2009. Aspiring basketball writer and coach. University of Georgia sport management alum. Perennial first team all-defense selection.

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