After a second consecutive 50+ win season, the Memphis Grizzlies were quickly bundled out of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Lakers, with the cocky young side sent thudding back to earth by the might and experience of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and their vastly improved supporting cast. That series will leave them with plenty to think about over the summer, but the fact remains that they are a highly talented young team with plenty to look forward to – if they tweak a few things. These are the three offseason fixes the Grizzlies must make to become a 2024 NBA Finals contender.
1. Stop talking, start doing
The Grizzlies were fun for a while. A young team with talent to burn, led by one of the most athletic, watchable young superstars in recent memory in Ja Morant. They played fast, they played exciting, and they boasted a youthful swagger which at least for a period, only served to add to that aura of enthusiasm which surrounded them. At some point, however, it all went awry.
That endearing cockiness gradually turned to an irritating arrogance. Ja Morant saying he was “fine in the west,” of course, was a memorable example which came back to bite them, while Dillon Brooks was the main culprit with a barrage of bizarre comments filled to the brim with unjustified confidence turning the public – and his fellow NBA players – squarely against him, and moreover against the team.
Maybe they wanted it way. Maybe they wanted to feel it was them against the world, and only those inside the four walls of the Grizzlies locker room knew the kind of cloth this group was cut from. Maybe – but then they went down in six games to a guy called LeBron James, who Brooks demanded still needed to prove himself to him, with the last game a humiliating 40-point blowout.
Confidence is a good – in fact, necessary – thing in the world of the NBA, but for a team which has yet to do anything of substance, the Grizzlies went well and truly past the line of confidence this year. It became apparent throughout the season that their youth, the same youth which made them such an exciting team to watch, was paired with immaturity, and at times they appeared to be more concerned with looking cool and telling the world how happy they were with themselves than playing basketball. There’s no hiding in the NBA Playoffs, as the Grizzlies found out this year, and if they’re to take the next step in 2023-24, they need to focus a little more on what’s happening on the court, rather than off it.
2. Shoot like you mean it
One on-court area in which the Grizzlies struggled to match it with most teams in the league this season was their long-range shooting. Throughout the course of the regular season, they took 34% of their shots from beyond the arc, right around league average. Just 35.7% of those went down, good for 22nd in the league, and in the playoffs those struggled were only amplified, as they so often are.
In a seven-game series, opposing defenses are invariably more locked in on which shots you want and which shots you don’t, and the Lakers did a good job of forcing the Grizz to take more three-point attempts than they would have liked. The 34% of shots which they took from beyond the arc in the regular season jumped to 38.1%, and the already subpar efficiency of 35.7% dropped way down to 32.1%.
Desmond Bane is an excellent shooter, having shot over 40% from three-point range in each of his three seasons in the league; his 40.8% this year was his worst number yet. That aside, there isn’t a whole lot out there for them. Jaren Jackson Jr was okay from deep this year, hitting 35.5%; Ja Morant was a disaster, hitting only 30.7% of his attempts from long-range; and Dillon Brooks sure isn’t the answer either, having shot 32.6% from deep this year and 30.9% last year.
A couple of guys off the bench are a little better, Luke Kennard the most notable among them, but they aren’t taking a whole lot of shots. There is a clear dearth of shooting talent in the Grizzlies’ current starting lineup, and until they solve that problem, it will continue to be exploited in the postseason.
3. Add a back-up big
Steven Adams is no superstar, but his absence was at times notable for a Grizzlies team that lacks a great deal of size outside of their Kiwi behemoth. Adams played just 42 games this season after injuring his PCL and then requiring a stem cell injection, and without him there wasn’t a great deal of size out on the floor for the young Grizzlies.
Jaren Jackson Jr, of course, is an elite defender – the best in the league, you could argue – but he’s not really a five. Xavier Tillman had his moments, particularly in the postseason, suiting up at center for the Grizz, but he’s barely 6’8”.
Plenty of teams play small at times these days and even if Adams was available, Taylor Jenkins would leave him on the bench for much of the fourth quarter in plenty of matchups. However, having just one actual center on the roster – particularly when that center is about to turn 30 and has been carrying around an extremely heavy body throughout those years – leaves a notable gap.
Indeed, though the Grizzlies were a great defensive team this season, one area in which they struggled was on the defensive glass. They gave up offensive boards 27.4% of the time, per Cleaning the Glass, putting them in the bottom ten in the league in that category.
The Grizzlies don’t need a huge, Adams-like center on the field for 48 minutes a game. It is, however, nice to have the option, and with Adams recovering from a long-term injury, it’s paramount that they add a little more depth to their rotation in this area next season.
Overall, the 2022-23 season was a disappointing one for the Grizzlies, even if they won 51 games. That was five less than last season, and they were ultimately eliminated a round earlier than last season – and in humiliating fashion at that. However, their ability isn’t going anywhere. They are one of the youngest teams in the league and have talent to burn, and with a few minor tweaks they can be a very dangerous team next season.