Going into the 2019 NBA Draft, there were some who said that Ja Morant — not Zion Williamson — would actually end up being the best player from the class. Of course, Williamson was still the talk of the town and was generally regarded as the cream of the crop. But with the way Morant has played during his rookie campaign for the Memphis Grizzlies, it may be time to rethink that, especially considering the fact that Zion has not even gotten on the floor yet due to persistent knee issues.
However, that’s a story for another day.
This is about the Grizzlies, who have somehow worked themselves into legitimate playoff contention and currently hold the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff picture at 19-22.
Memphis is kind of like the Sacramento Kings of last season: a team that was supposed to stink but has a stable of interesting and exciting young talent that has made it one heck of a pest.
It’s not just Ja Morant, either.
It’s also Jaren Jackson Jr., who drew Kevin Garnett comparisons during his rookie season and is everything you can want in a modern big man. Then there is third-year wing Dillon Brooks, who showed promise in Years 1 and 2 and has broken out this season. And how about rookie forward Brandon Clarke, who is averaging 12.3 points per game while shooting 62.9 percent from the floor?
The Grizzlies could certainly use some more young talent off the bench, but De’Anthony Melton is also promising and the young core in place is a heck of a group for a franchise that really has just started its rebuild. They also have a quality veteran in Jonas Valanciunas to help stabilize the roster.
Will Memphis make the playoffs this year? Who knows. There are numerous other teams on the Grizzlies’ tail for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, but Memphis is the hot squad right now, having won six straight games.
Of course, knowing how young of a team the Grizzlies are, they could just as easily turn around and lose six straight, but the fact that they have shown this much progress in such a short amount of time speaks volumes of the job the front office has done of getting this club back on the right track.
It also spells trouble for the rest of the West, as you have to wonder just how lethal the Morant-Jackson duo could be in a couple of years and how much better Brooks and Clarke will get.
The Grizzlies are hardly done building, either.
Rebuilds are not supposed to move along this quickly, and yet, Memphis has found a way to accumulate young talent while also remaining relevant at the same time, which is incredible.
That being said, the Grizzlies should take heed from the aforementioned Kings, who have struggled mightily this season due to injuries and underwhelming performance across the board.
It’s not an easy road, and just because you are playing well today does not mean you will carry that over into tomorrow.
There will be bumps and bruises along the way, but Memphis should be very happy about how well it is has positioned itself for the future.