Ja Morant led the Grizzlies to a surprising playoff berth last season, but the odds are stacked against Memphis replicating that feat.
The Grit N’ Grind era is over in Memphis, but Ja Morant gives the Grizzlies more star power than ever before. This season might be too soon for Morant to lead his young team to the playoffs, but the future is bright on Beale Street.
Morant exceeded even the most ambitious expectations for his rookie campaign. In a league where rookie point guards frequently struggle, he managed to contribute to winning basketball. His development will be key to the Grizzlies’ immediate and long-term futures.
The bigger questions in Memphis revolve around the rest of the roster. Keep a close eye on these five queries when the regular season tips off.
1. Who is the most underrated player on the Grizzlies’ all-underrated roster?
Grizzlies officials would like Jaren Jackson Jr. to be the answer to this question, but injuries continue to plague the talented big man. Interestingly, it’s veteran center Jonas Valanciunas who really manages to fly under the radar in Memphis.
The Lithuanian big man doesn’t fit seamlessly into the modern NBA, but he was a walking double-double for the Grizzlies a season ago. Not many big guys in the league manage to post 15 points and 11 rebounds per night. He doesn’t stretch the floor on offense or guard on the perimeter on defense, but he still raises this team’s floor a great deal.
2. Bigger NBA Draft Twitter darling: Brandon Clarke, De’Anthony Melton or Desmond Bane?
The Grizzlies aren’t all that popular with the national media, but they do curry a lot of favor on social media. Clarke, Melton, and Bane all have the potential to blossom into Twitter darlings this season. Bane is the biggest longshot because he’s a rookie with an uncertain role. He could start on the wing or spend the majority of his season in the G-League. Both Melton and Clarke are solid bets to log big minutes.
Melton gets the nod here because Memphis needs him to grow into a bigger role on the wing. If he can improve his jump shot, he could easily turn into this team’s third-best player. He’ll remain an acquired taste for the foreseeable future, but his advanced stops might really pop this year.
3. What do the Grizzlies get from Justise Winslow this season?
Winslow is set up to be the Grizzlies’ biggest wild card. If he can get healthy, he should seize the team’s starting spot at small forward. He has the potential to take a lot of pressure off Morant as a wing who can make plays off the dribble.
The problem is that no one knows when he’ll actually make it onto the court. He’s not quite in Chandler Parsons territory in terms of his medicals, but Grizzlies fans have every right to be concerned. Unfortunately, the odds favor him struggling to make a serious impact because his body just won’t allow it. Look for Memphis to decline their team option on Winslow after another injury-riddled campaign.
4. What’s the best superhero comp for Ja Morant?
Morant is a unique superstar that should only be compared to a unique superhero. That makes him the NBA’s version of Wolverine.
Both Morant and Wolverine like to attack their opponents with reckless abandon. Occasionally, that tendency gets them into trouble. It still makes both of them box office hits. Morant might pick and choose his spots a little more in his sophomore season, but he’ll still be at his best when he’s slashing to the rim.
5. What does success look like for the Grizzlies this season?
Optimistic Grizzlies fans want to see their favorite team move up the Western Conference standings this season. It’s more likely this will be a season of consolidation for Morant and company. The most important thing for Memphis to achieve this season is a sense of clarity about who is, and who is not, a part of their future core.
Winslow’s future is very much up in the air. Melton needs to show the front office whether or not he’s capable of being a starter alongside Morant or if he needs to be a leader of the second unit.
The biggest thing the Grizzlies need this season is for Jaren Jackson Jr. to show he can be a reliable sidekick for Morant. If he can be a legitimate No. 2 option then the Grizzlies have a chance to grow into a legitimate title contender. If he looks like a third option it might be time for Memphis to take a big swing on a player that has a better chance to become Morant’s true co-star.