With its young, talented roster, the Memphis Grizzlies appear destined for an era of success in the near future. Impressive recent performances, in my opinion, suggest the Grizzlies could even hoist the title this season.
The Phoenix Suns may be the nominal leaders of the Western Conference, but the game between the Grizzlies and the Suns on April 1 suggested that Memphis — not Phoenix — might be the team to beat in the West.
The Suns played their best starting five, whereas the Grizzlies were missing several key contributors, including Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Desmond Bane, and Steven Adams. Despite these notable absences, the Grizzlies prevailed, 122-114.
Morant has justifiably commanded the headlines in Memphis with his All-NBA-level production — 27.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per game — but the Grizzlies’ game against the Suns suggests that perhaps their most valuable attribute lies in their depth, not their point guard.
Morant will be the go-to guy in playoff crunch time, but Memphis is much more than a one-man show. The star has missed 21 games — over one quarter of the regular season — due to injury, and in those games, the Grizzlies have a near-flawless record of 19-2.
The fact that the Grizzlies have clinched their division for the first time in franchise history despite missing Morant for a significant portion of the season is a testament not only to the depth of their roster but also to the effectiveness of their system. Head Coach Taylor Jenkins’ team is built on collective effort, not the individual talent of any one player.
What makes Memphis a nightmare playoff matchup for opposing teams is that it can win in a variety of ways. When Morant gets cooking, driving into the paint and dunking mercilessly on anybody who is unfortunate enough to stand in his way, there is little opposing defenders can do to stop him.
However, Memphis is designed to win even when its best player is not on the court at all. The Grizzlies have five other players besides Morant who average more than 10 points per game. In the playoffs, when injuries can instantly derail a team’s title chances, Memphis’ deep rotation could give it the edge in a tight series.
On defense, too, the Grizzlies are designed for playoff success. Led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Jackson, Memphis’ defensive unit revels in disruption, leading the league in both steals and blocks.
The Grizzlies have a knack for turning defense into good offense. When their half-court offense fires blanks, they stay patient and feast off their opponent’s mistakes. They force turnovers at an impressive rate, and they are fourth in the league in points scored off turnovers.
There is also something to be said about the importance of momentum.
In the past 25 games — stretching back to the beginning of February — the Grizzlies have only lost five games. Heading into the playoffs with such a sustained stretch of dominance will only boost the confidence of this young team.
Although youth has been one of Memphis’ greatest strengths in the regular season, doubters will say it may prove to be one of its biggest weaknesses in a high-stakes playoff series; young teams typically lack the experience and savvy to navigate a deep playoff run.
That said, this Grizzlies team — on pace to finish with the best record in franchise history — has already bucked trends and is poised to prove that a young team could go all the way. Many current Grizzlies logged meaningful minutes in the 2020-21 playoffs, defeating the Golden State Warriors in the play-in before falling to the Utah Jazz in the first round, which only hardened Memphis’ resolve and boosted its confidence.
Some inexperienced teams shrink in the playoff limelight, but this Memphis team can rise to the occasion, talking trash and backing it up all the while.
The Grit and Grind era ended in Memphis with a single Conference Finals appearance, but these Grizzlies are hungry to give the smallest market in the NBA by population something to cheer about. Christian Baldari is a sophomore in the College. Beware the Hype appears online and in print every other week.