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NBA Daily: Fixing The Memphis Grizzlies

With injuries to Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. where should the Grizzlies go from here?

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Less than 10 games into the new season, the Memphis Grizzlies were weakened mightily with the loss of star sophomore Ja Morant. This gives us the perfect chance to add the Grizzlies to our yearly Fixing series early on in the season. 

Morant, of course, went down in just the third game of the season on Dec. 28 against the Brooklyn Nets. Morant was off to a hot start in his first two games, even dropping 44 points and 9 assists against the San Antonio Spurs. Morant should only be out for three-to-five weeks with a sprained left ankle depending on how quickly he can bounce back. 

Memphis also started the season without their second-leading scorer from the 2019-20 season, Jaren Jackson Jr. He suffered a torn meniscus in the Orlando bubble and has no timetable for return. Jackson Jr. was the fourth overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft and, after putting up 17.4 points per game pre-injury, he’s a huge part of the future.

Outside of their two untouchable picks, the Memphis roster could use some work if they wish to become contenders. In this article, the current squad will be examined with tips and things to look for them to do in free agency and the draft in the offseason.

What’s Working?

The two aforementioned players, Morant and Jackson Jr. are in the team’s plans and have given them no reason to not be. Second-year player Brandon Clarke has also been a good piece for the team as his play coming off the bench set the team up for a play-in game for the eighth seed this past season.

Dillon Brooks has carried the offense since the injury to Morant, posting 17.4 points per game through the first 10 contests, but there are major questions about his efficiency. According to Basketball-Reference, the league average PER is 15, Brooks is currently at 12.8. Brooks is mainly valued as a 3-and-D player, so this may not be cause for major concern as but it is something to keep an eye on moving forward. 

Jonas Valančiūnas anchors the floor at the center position, consistently averaging a double-double since being acquired by Memphis in the Marc Gasol trade.

The bench has been led this year by young guards Grayson Allen and rookie Desmond Bane. Allen is a ferocious defender that is always applying pressure on opposing guards when he is on the floor, so he should continue to be in the mix. Bane has looked like a very savvy for the team at No. 30 overall. He has posted 8.9 points per game on 46.4 percent from the floor, 47.5 percent from deep and 85.7 percent from the free-throw line. 

There is more potential within the product already seen on the floor for Memphis, but these are the players who have been making the largest impact and figure to remain on the roster into next season.

What’s Not Working?

In a stacked Western Conference, there is work to be done to this roster if the team wishes to have perennial playoff expectations. 

Currently, Memphis ranks 27th in the NBA in offensive rating (103.9), per NBA Advanced Stats. The Oklahoma City Thunder (103.5), New York Knicks (103.3) and Cleveland Cavaliers (100.6) are the only three teams trailing the Grizzlies in this category. Naturally, this is due to a lack of scoring outside of both Morant and Jackson Jr. 

One glaring flaw in their scoring is three-point shooting. Without good three-point shooters in the game, the floor shrinks and makes it easier on the opposing defense. Rotation players like Kyle Anderson (30.4 percent), Grayson Allen (28.6 percent), Brandon Clarke (26.1 percent) and Tyus Jones (23.1 percent) are having bad seasons from deep. There’s still time for them to get their shots going – but if this continues to be a problem, then changes should be expected. 

Memphis currently ranks 29th in the NBA in shots from 20-to-24 feet out, allowing opposing offenses to shoot at 45.1 percent on them, per NBA Advanced Stats. The only team behind them is the Chicago Bulls, who let teams shoot 49.4 percent. The three-ball is an integral part of the game today and the Grizzlies really need to figure out what they have to do to improve their three-point defense. Additionally, they have struggled mightily switching on off-ball screens and rotating on defense.

If the Grizzlies wish to compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference this season they have to figure these things out.

Focus Area: Draft 

As things stand right now, Memphis would be picking in the lottery if the pick falls between 1-7. If not, they would have to be in playoff contention as the pick relays to Utah if the number lands between 8-14. 

The upcoming draft class is one that is stacked with talent and players that could fill the holes on the blossoming roster. Memphis should be looking for players in this draft who can slide in at shooting guard or small forward as these are the only two starting spots not set in stone. Morant is a ball-dominant point guard who always has the ball, so they’ll need someone that can create shots off the ball and keep the offense moving.

Jalen Green is a great fit at the shooting guard position if the Grizzlies are in a position to draft him. As a very explosive guard, Green can get to the basket at will and use his body to finish through contact. 

Other good fits could be Jonathan Kuminga (G League), Ziare Williams (Stanford), Moses Moody (Arkansas) or Greg Brown (Texas). These players are all good fits for the team as they can play the shooting guard or small forward position seamlessly – Moody specifically would be a great fit as he has hit a 40 percent clip so far this season, per Basketball-Reference.

Focus Area: Free Agency

According to Spotrac, Memphis should expect to have around $30 million in cap space entering free agency next season. Additionally, this projected cap does not include the $13 million that is projected to go to Justise Winslow if the team decides to retain him. 

The Grizzlies really need to use this free agency to acquire more bench scoring and players that can stretch the floor. If they were to acquire more shooting around Morant and Jackson Jr. the floor would open up and make it easier on them offensively. Morant has displayed excellent passing vision with the ball, and adding more consistent shooting would elevate the pace and production of this offense.

The upcoming free-agent class is stacked with stars. Memphis should be more of a desirable destination with their own young stars making names for themselves around the league. Only time can tell if the Grizzlies can improve on their surprise 2020 efforts, especially without Morant or Jackson Jr. in the near future, but this is a franchise on the rise – if they’re not already here, it shouldn’t be much longer.

Dylan Thayer is a Contributing Writer for Basketball Insiders, and a Sport Management student in the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.

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