Grizzlies’ Opening Week Had Good, Bad and Ugly


The Grizzlies just finished their opening week of the 2020-21 season. If you were to ask a fan how they felt about the week, they’d likely respond with some variant of, “I’m glad it’s over.” Even though we knew the struggles would be present from day one, they’re still frustrating to experience, especially when new, unforeseen factors arise.

This Week In Review

A Tough Start

Memphis started their season at home against San Antonio. Ja Morant had a historic night, but couldn’t quite will the team to a victory. Three nights later, he led the team to battle against newly-established rival Trae Young. A few hours before the game, it was announced that De’Anthony Melton had been placed under the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Memphis would go on to lose the game by 10.

The Grizz traveled to Brooklyn for their first road game a few nights later. In a stroke of luck, they managed to avoid Kyrie and KD, who sat out for rest purposes. Their luck would take a bad turn in the second quarter, when Morant went down with an ankle injury. The Grizz rallied around Morant and managed to secure their first win in overtime, essentially duplicating their first win last season. Despite the win, the team was now faced with more questions than answers. They faced Boston in their final game this week in what can best be described as an experimental game.

The Results

Week record: 1-3

12/23 vs. San Antonio: L, 131-119

12/26 vs. Atlanta: L, 122-112

12/28 @ Brooklyn: W, 116-111 (OT)

12/30 @ Boston: L, 126-107

The Takeaways

The Great: Ja Morant

Before his injury, Ja was on fire. He came out the gates ready to lead the team every night. His poise, pace and manipulation of the game had improved. The Morant-Valanciunas pick-and-roll was looking lethal. There wasn’t a player that could keep him out of the paint.

On opening night, Morant torched the Spurs, putting up a career-high 44 points on an incredible 18/27 from the floor. He followed that up with a dazzling 28-point, seven-assist performance against new-found foe Trae Young a few nights later. But, for everything that Morant did pre-injury, it’s his post-injury performances that are even more impressive.

Morant left the Brooklyn game in the second quarter after severely spraining his ankle. He was unable to walk, and left in a wheelchair. Later in the game, he returned to the bench in a walking boot, and was shown multiple times talking to teammates, leading them and celebrating. A few nights later, he did the same thing in Boston.

These seemingly small things go a long way. A second-year player displaying such leadership and maturity is a rare sight, and are the qualities of a great leader. Morant understands his role as a leader and has played it flawlessly, even from the sideline.

The Good: Kyle Anderson

Ja isn’t the only Grizzly with some new career highs. Kyle Anderson also had a strong start to the season. He started off the season with back-to-back double-digit rebound games, giving fans hope that he can hold his own while holding down the starting power forward slot. In game two, he set a new career high with 14 boards.

The biggest development for Anderson has been his scoring. He tied his career high for points in game two with 20. He turned around and blew that out the water in game three, posting 28 points and yet another new career-high four three-pointers.

Most importantly, though, Anderson stepped into the primary ball-handler role after Morant went down and helped stabilize the offense. Even though he struggled during the Boston game, Anderson’s ability to be a point forward for the team is vital. One of the team’s biggest weaknesses is lack of playmakers, and the loss of Morant only exposed it further.

At 27, Anderson is still young by NBA standards, but is a veteran on this young Grizzlies team. His stability will be relied upon heavily for the next few weeks. Playing more on-ball may negatively impact his scoring, but his impact will still be felt through his rebounding, defense, and passing. He might break his career best in assists soon.

The Bad: The Bench

After providing fans with endless entertainment last year, the Grizzlies’ bench has been a source of anguish for fans this year. The unit’s big three – Brandon Clarke, Tyus Jones and De’Anthony Melton – had a pitiful showing in game one. The absence of Melton over the next three games didn’t do them any favors, either.

The unit followed up their pitiful performance with an abysmal showing in Atlanta. The inexplicable decline has had fans confused all week. What’s wrong with Clarke? Did Tyus forget how to play point guard? Why doesn’t Bane get more touches?

The performances since then have done very little to quell the fans’ confusion. The lone good sign has been the steady improvements of Clarke, even though questions about his altered jump shot remain. Tyus has now entered the starting lineup, which raises more questions about playmaking when the backups come in.

Not all is lost, though. Things on the bench could get better soon. According to Drew Hill of the Daily Memphian, Melton is hoping to return to the team sometime next week. Hill also reported that Grayson Allen is only day-to-day with his ankle sprain, and participated in the most recent practice. The addition of those two, and potentially a few others from the lengthy injury report, could help bolster the team as they weather the storm without Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

The Ugly: The Injuries

When it rains, it pours. That’s the best way to describe the current injury situation for the Grizzlies. At one point, the only players expected to be missing were Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justise Winslow. The injury report now lists eight players for the next game against Charlotte.

Injuries are part of the game. They happen. But it sure does seem like the injury bug has bitten this team a lot in this young season. Three players on the injury report (Xavier Tillman, Killian Tillie, Jontay Porter) have yet to make their NBA debuts. Winslow hasn’t played a single game for Memphis yet. The injuries, if lingering, could make it tough to gauge what the team needs going forward.

These injuries make things tough for the team and fans right now. Memphis is missing a ton of talent and key pieces to their system. The next few weeks will be full of some bad basketball. It will undoubtedly be beneficial in some ways, though. Some guys from the end of the bench will have a chance to prove themselves. We’ll see a good bit of Konchar. Desmond Bane might finally get the green light, or even be a starter!

This year is all about development, and working back from injury is part of that. The players have nothing but time, and the team is being rightfully cautious with them. Not competing doesn’t make these injuries in less unfortunate, but it does make them a little easier to stomach. The Grizzlies now have to decide how they proceed once healthy, though. It is almost a guarantee they’ll have a bad record once Ja, Jaren, and the crew return. Do they try to climb back, or do they aim for a lottery pick in a draft full of guys capable of immediately impacting the team?

At least we’ll have something to watch for either way.

Next Week’s Preview

Opponents: @ Charlotte, vs. LA Lakers, vs. LA Lakers

Projection: 0-3

The Grizz catch a tough draw this week. On New Year’s Day, they face the upstart Hornets led by emerging star LaMelo Ball. The next two games will be played at home against the reigning champion Lakers, who have picked up right where they left off. Even if Anthony Davis and/or LeBron James rest in Memphis, the Grizzlies will have their hands full.

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.

Recommended for you

Powered by