As part of a new series of articles produced exclusively for Sky Sports by NBA superfans from across the UK and Ireland, we look at the state of play for every franchise with preseason set to get under way at the end of this month
By Steve Kirk
Sunday 25 September 2022 17:24, UK
Grizzlies superfan Steve Kirk assesses the 2021-22 season for his team, and then casts an eye ahead to the 2022-23 campaign for Memphis.
I travelled to America with my brother in 2014 with very little interest or knowledge of basketball. My main reason for travelling was to see some NFL (New Orleans Saints) and college football (Mississippi State Bulldogs). While in Memphis, we decided to check out an NBA game and I fell in love with the ‘Grit and Grind’ Memphis Grizzlies and the passion of the city for the team. I have followed them ever since through playoff runs to a rebuild and back again. I started Grizzlies Fans UK about 2 years ago and have loved seeing the number of fans over here grow and get involved. Follow me @GrizzliesFansUK on Twitter.
Jaren Jackson Jr. When he gets on a roll, he is an incredible player on both ends of the court. Blocks everything on defence and when his shot is falling, he just chucks it up from anywhere and drains threes with a really unorthodox shooting style.
2021-22 was just an incredible season for the Grizzlies. They tied a franchise record with 56 regular season wins and had the second best record in the NBA. They lost to eventual NBA champions the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference semi-finals, but pushed them hard.
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The big success of the year was Ja Morant who put himself in the MVP conversation (and won the Most Improved Player award) with dominant paint scoring and high-flying highlights. His game against San Antonio was mind-blowing. He scored 52 points and had two of the most amazing plays you will see. The 6’3″ Morant threw down a massive dunk on 7-foot rim-protector Jakob Poeltl and then minutes later, caught a length-of-the-court pass in mid-air and flipped in a 3-point shot from the corner as the half-time buzzer went. It has to be seen to be believed. And that was just one of many highlights he produced during an incredible season.
Desmond Bane was a revelation. He improved his playmaking and defence, putting himself up there with the best shooting guards in the league. Jaren Jackson showed what a monster he is on defence, leading the league in blocks and achieving NBA All-Defensive First Team.
Dillon Brooks had a bit of a down year. Missed most of the year with injuries and only shot 30 per cent from three when he returned. He was still good defensively but needs to take a back seat on offense when his shot isn’t falling.
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Expectations will be higher than ever and Grizzlies will have a target on their back next season. With the Western Conference looking incredibly strong for the coming year, Grizzlies are going to have to take another step forward to make it to the Western Conference finals. To do this they will be reliant on their rookies having had a quiet offseason. They lost De’Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson, who were two of my favourite players and played big roles coming off the bench. Filling their shoes will be rookies Jake LaRavia, a sharpshooter out of Wake Forest and David Roddy, who is built like an NFL running back, with elite speed and strength but needs to develop a consistent shot.
They also drafted Kennedy Chandler and Vince Williams Jr. Chandler is a backup PG who showed great defense and some nice playmaking in NBA Summer League and Williams could be a good 3-and-D role player. Undrafted two-way player, Kenneth Lofton Jr was the star of summer league. He doesn’t have your normal NBA physique but he has the strength and agility to get to the rim and he dominated the second overall pick, Chet Holmgren, in their summer encounter. Lofton will probably play more in the G League than the NBA this year but will be a fan favourite if he gets minutes.
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To repeat last year’s success and go even further Grizz will need some of their role players to step forward. The most important of these is last year’s first round pick Ziaire Williams. He started slow but played good minutes in last year’s playoffs as he showed in summer league that he can take on more of an on-ball role. With Jaren Jackson Jr missing the start of this season with a foot injury, Ziaire will need to play a bigger role and hopefully be a quality wing on both ends.
John Konchar and Brandon Clarke are two other players who Memphis will be looking to take steps forward. Konchar has always done well in limited minutes but with Melton being traded to the Sixers, he will have to take on a bigger defensive role and take a lot more threes. Clarke was great in the playoffs last year but his lack of shooting is a concern as he will be probably starting alongside Steven Adams in Jaren’s absence. The lack of spacing with those two together could make it harder for Ja to find driving lanes.
I would grade the off-season at a ‘C-‘. I like the draft picks but they have not made a significant trade or free agent signing and will be relying on rookies to play big minutes and replace Melton and Anderson.
Next year this team will be expected to win playoff games after the success of last year and hopefully reach the Western Conference finals. I am not sure that the moves made this year will achieve this as they seem to be setting up more to win in years to come. Playing rookies rarely improves a team’s win total and the opposition in the Western Conference will be a lot stronger than last year. If they can get close to last year’s results, I think that would be a successful year.
Ja Morant is the most electrifying player in all of sports. He has a better highlight reel in individual games than most players have over the season.
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This is one of the youngest teams in the league and they don’t take a step backwards against anybody. This winds a lot of veteran players up (particularly the Warriors) but makes for some great battles and a lot of smack talk.
The culture of this team is superb. They have excellent locker room chemistry and the enjoyment they get from seeing guys succeed is a joy to watch. It’s great to see the bench reactions when one of the role players makes an important play. There is a true bond between the group and they seem to love each other’s company.
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