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3 reasons why Memphis Grizzlies have to pounce on the Western Conference next season

Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies continue to trend in the right direction. Last season they went 38-34 and grinded their way to the Western Conference playoffs by beating the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors in the NBA Play-in Tournament — albeit they lost to the Utah Jazz in five games in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Memphis has been extremely busy on the trade front this offseason. They began the fireworks by sending Jonas Valanciunas and the 17th and 51st picks in last month’s NBA Draft to the New Orleans Pelicans for Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, the 10th and 40th selections and a future first-round draft pick courtesy of the Los Angeles Lakers. The 10th pick was utilized on Stanford forward Ziaire Williams, whereas the 40th and 51st selections were shipped elsewhere.

Memphis later traded Bledsoe to the Los Angeles Clippers for Patrick Beverley, Rajon Rondo and Daniel Oturu. The Grizzlies then sent Beverley to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Jarrett Culver and Juancho Hernangomez. They also traded Grayson Allen to the Milwaukee Bucks for Sam Merrill and two future second-round draft picks.

Yeah, that’s a lot. In summation: the Grizzlies added future draft capital while improving head coach Taylor Jenkins’ rotation. This is a team that needs to significantly climb the ladder in the West next season. Here are three reasons for that urgency.

Grizzlies 2022: Western Conference has several big injuries

There are three contenders in the West that have to deal with a significant injury and/or legitimate health concerns from the jump of the 2021-22 NBA season: Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors.

The Clippers and Nuggets will likely be without Kawhi Leonard and Jamal Murray for the bulk of the regular season due to knee injuries. As for Golden State, Klay Thompson returns after being sidelined for two seasons while Stephen Curry and Draymond Green have racked up a handful of injuries in recent memory.

Now, these teams can surely overcome the injuries and health apprehension. If Leonard and Murray are healthy for the postseason, that gives their respective teams a fighting chance. The Warriors added depth and talent this offseason by picking up or reuniting with Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, Otto Porter Jr. and Andre Iguodala.

As for the rest of the West, the new-look Los Angeles Lakers are an awfully old team (they have 10 players who are 32 or older) while the Dallas Mavericks are trying to break through and the Portland Trail Blazers are in a holding pattern. The Phoenix Suns should be a well-oiled machine once more, but getting back to the NBA Finals is easier said than done.

There are a boatload of questions in the conference that open the door for a team or two to make a sizable move up the standings. Memphis is the premier candidate to do as such.

Grizzlies have a gritty nucleus with upside

Memphis has a smooth starting five and rotation as a whole with upside. As for the starting five, the presumed five-man unit is Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Steven Adams.

Morant is explosive off the dribble and adept at finding his teammates. Brooks is a tenacious two-way player who continues to become more effective in isolation. Anderson is a fundamentally sound, two-way player. When healthy, Jackson stretches the floor and denies shots at a high rate. Adams is a sturdy force in the paint on both ends of the floor.

One could argue that the Grizzlies have a capable starting five off the bench. Desmond Bane had an impressive rookie season, where he scored off the dribble and sticked jump shots from the perimeter.

Brandon Clarke is an athletic frontcourt player. De’Anthony Melton can score. Ziaire Williams is an athletic forward with the potential to be a two-way player in the NBA. If he remains on the roster, Rondo is a proven ball-handler. Hernangomez is a capable scorer. Culver and Oturu are likely out to prove themselves after limited and/or shaky starts to their NBA careers.

This team has a plausible balance of youth and veterans that complement each other. All in all, their rotation has shooting, scoring, defense and length. Players like Morant, Brooks and Bane can only grow more productive and impactful with reps. One of those individuals in particular, though, has to make a profound jump next season.

Ja Morant has to become a superstar

Morant is a stud. Across his two seasons in the NBA, the Murray State product has averaged 18.4 points and 7.3 assists per game. He has been superb with the ball in his hands when it comes to scoring in the halfcourt, scoring in transition and creating for his teammates. So far, so good for Morant, but now he has to make a third-year jump.

History tells us that plenty of top-five draft picks/impact young players make a jump from year two to three in their NBA careers. Jayson Tatum, Nikola Jokic, Anthony Davis and De’Aaron Fox serve as examples of players making such a jump. Morant is, without question, capable of making a similar jump.

He has all the tools to be a superstar and is coming off a bold play-in round and first-round playoff series where he averaged a combined 29.4 points per game. The issue is there’s a lot of parity at point guard in the NBA. When ranking the best floor generals in the sport, Morant maybe sneaks into the top 10; it’s a thick battle on a yearly basis. It’s a battle that matters for the Grizzlies because Morant is the centerpiece of their operation in the present and for the future.

The current state of affairs with some teams in the West can work in the Grizzlies’ favor, but it can’t be taken for granted. There’s never margin for error in the conference.

There are plenty of variables at play when it comes to the Grizzlies hosting a first-round playoff series but none loom larger than their franchise player taking the next step. Such a process entails taking over in crunch time on a consistent basis and becoming even more productive. In essence, last postseason has to be a glimpse of what’s to come for Morant.

This is the Memphis Grizzlies’ best chance of shooting up the West.