Photo courtesy of Brandon Dill – Getty Images
The Grizzlies’ 2021-22 season likely won’t result in a one seed, but there’s reason for optimism in Memphis. Today, we’ll focus in on the starting lineup.
Before discussing this upcoming season, let’s recap how the 2020-21 season ended as well as the offseason.
The Grizzlies finished eighth in the Western Conference in 2020-21 after eliminating both the Spurs and the Warriors in the play-in tournament. They then finished the year with a 4-1 series loss against the top-seeded Utah Jazz.
Game 1 of the series was very close, and honestly, an incredible game as the Grizzlies overcame Utah’s home-court advantage and got the win. The rest of the series, however, was a complete steamroll of Memphis by the Jazz.
Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks did their best to keep the Grizzlies in contention, with Morant averaging 30.2 PPG in the series including a Grizzlies’ franchise-record 47-point performance in Game 2 in Utah, but in the end, Utah’s depth prevailed.
In the offseason, the Grizzlies traded Jonas Valanciunas to the New Orleans Pelicans for Steven Adams. Grizz Nation was not happy with the trade, but it wasn’t as bad as advertised.
Valanciunaswas an excellent scorer, could stretch the floor with his threes and bully you in the paint, but when it came to defense and rim protection he was a major liability. Getting Steven Adams back in the trade gives them an elite rim protector and a player who can rebound like nobody’s business.
The NBA Draft was an even bigger letdown, as the Grizzlies passed on Moses Moody and James Bouknight to draft Zaire Williams out of Stanford. Williams was a projected late first-round pick, so Memphis fans were very surprised with his selection.
Now onto the projected starting lineup for Memphis going into the season.
This year is going to tell people everything they need to know about Ja Morant. Everybody knows of his athletic ability, but can he develop consistent 3-point and mid-range shots? Can he become an elite perimeter defender?
He’s only in year three, but fans are starting to get impatient with his development. He’s excellent at driving to the basket and finishing through contact, but can he take the next step to stardom?
Now to the Grizzlies’ potential X-Factor of this upcoming season – Jaren Jackson Jr.Jackson is a 6-foot-11 C/F out of Michigan State. He is an excellent rim protector and has a decent three-point shot, as well as the ability to take it to the basket and post up opposing centers.
There are two glaring problems in his game, however. Those being staying healthy and foul trouble. There have been numerous games where the first quarter ends and Jackson has two or more fouls. He just simply needs to be better in that category if he’s going to reach the status of elite.
Keeping his arms straight up when contesting in the paint is the biggest component of his defensive game that he needs to add to his repertoire. Staying healthy is his next focus that he needs to make a priority. The Grizzlies are a significantly better team with Jackson healthy and the best ability, after all, is availability.
If the Grizzlies are going to contend with the best of the best, Dillon Brooks has got to put an end to his streaky shooting. He’s a consistently elite perimeter defender but seems red hot from the field one week and ice cold for the next. He’s a solid two-guard with excellent size for his position and great jump shot, it would just be a lot more convenient if he could knock it down at a higher clip.
Last but not least is forward Kyle Anderson. Slow-mo, Floor general, or whatever else you may want to call him -Anderson is the real deal. He can handle the ball, shoot the mid-range jumper and drive to the basket to hit the tough shots in the paint when you need him to. Not to mention his playmaking ability on top of all that. His stats aren’t conventionally sexy, but the former Spur excels doing things on the court that don’t show up on the stat sheet.
As far as predictions go, I have Memphis going 49-33 this season. That would be good enough to make the playoffs for a second straight year as the Grizzlies will continue to overachieve. This year of basketball for Memphis is going to be long and strenuous, but as long as they stay healthy they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.