NBA 2023-2024 Preview: Can the Grizzlies Regain Their Dominance in the West?

Memphis Grizzlies OKC NBA Preview 2023 2024
 

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2022/2023 Recap: Regular Season Triumph Followed by Playoff Setback

The past season was a rollercoaster ride for the Memphis Grizzlies. On the court, they delivered an outstanding regular season performance, securing the 2nd spot in the Western Conference with a record of 51 wins and 31 losses. This record was in line with their previous season, which was a breakthrough for the team. The Tennessee-based squad boasted the 15th-ranked offense in the NBA, but more notably, they held the 2nd-best defense, thanks to a roster filled with dedicated warriors. However, they faced significant off-court challenges, which ultimately took a toll as the season cocluded.

One of the major setbacks was the troubles of Ja Morant, their All-Star point guard and team leader. In March, he received an 8-game suspension for brandishing a gun during a live Instagram session, and he repeated the offense two months later, resulting in a 25-game suspension at the start of this season.

Injuries also plagued the Grizzlies, with four out of their five starters missing at least 20 games (Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr, Steven Adams). They entered the playoffs with a depleted frontcourt, facing the Lakers in the first round, who were a tough challenge despite their 7th seed. Led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers played at a much higher level than their seeding suggested, and Tyler Jenkins’ team couldn’t do much, losing the series 4-2.

To take the team to the next level and avoid another playoff disappointment, the Memphis front office made a significant move this summer by acquiring Marcus Smart in a trade. The former Celtics point guard, known for his defense and with extensive playoff experience, could be the perfect veteran leader for these Grizzlies.

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Offseason Move

Departures

  • Dillon Brooks (Rockets)
  • Tyus Jones (Wizards)
  • Extensions
  • Desmond Bane (5 years)

Arrivals

  • Marcus Smart (Celtics)
  • Derrick Rose (Knicks)
  • GG Jackson (45th pick in the 2023 Draft)

Grizzlies’ Starting Five

Ja Morant, Marcus Smart, Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr, Steven Adams

(During Ja Morant’s suspension, Ziaire Williams is expected to replace him in the starting lineup)

Bench Rotation

Point Guards

  • Derrick Rose
  • Jacob Gilyard (two-way)

Shooting Guards

  • Luke Kennard

Small Forwards

  • Ziaire Williams
  • John Konchar
  • David Roddy
  • Vincent Williams Jr (two-way)

Power Forwards

  • Santi Aldama
  • Kenny Lofton Jr
  • Jake LaRavia
  • GG Jackson (two-way)

Centers

  • Xavier Tillman
  • Brandon Clarke

Strengths And Weaknesses

Strength: Team Cohesion

This group has been together for several years, with 11 out of the 15 players on guaranteed contracts being drafted by the Grizzlies. This is a rare phenomenon in modern NBA and results in team cohesion that is second to none. When led by an elite coach like Tyler Jenkins, the team consistently produces positive results. This cohesion is especially evident when some players are sidelined. Last season, when leader Ja Morant was absent, other players stepped up, and the Grizzlies maintained a positive record. His absence at the beginning of the season should not be overly detrimental. Additionally, every new player seamlessly integrates into the roster. This will likely be the case for the two newcomers, Marcus Smart and Derrick Rose.

Weakness: Shooting Efficiency

One area that these two newcomers won’t necessarily improve is shooting efficiency. Last season, the Grizzlies ranked 25th in the NBA in free throw percentage (73%), 23rd in three-point shooting (35%), and 16th in two-point shooting (54%). This was due to several non-shooter profiles who struggled to convert open opportunities created by their teammates into baskets. One such player, Dillon Brooks, departed the franchise this summer. However, two others, Smart and Rose, joined the team, both of whom have career three-point shooting percentages below 33%. It’s also important not to underestimate the departure of Tyus Jones and its impact on the team’s offensive fluidity. In summary, outside shooting will be a significant challenge for the Grizzlies this season, as will free throw accuracy. Internal improvement will be necessary to avoid it becoming a detriment to their performance.

Player to Watch: Santi Aldama

Santi Aldama, the 2.11m Spanish power forward, has made significant strides and is a crucial part of the Grizzlies’ project. His playing time more than doubled between his rookie season and the last one, clearly demonstrating his growth. Last season, he averaged 9.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.3 assists while shooting 47% from the field and 35% from three-point range in an average of 22 minutes per game. These numbers make him a perfect 7th or 8th man in the rotation. What’s more, he can play positions 3, 4, and 5, and possesses a physical presence combined with a high basketball IQ. His impressive performance in the FIBA World Cup with Spain (11.2 points per game) will also boost his confidence in the NBA. At just 22 years old, he’s a young player who could potentially have a breakout season.

Season Prediction: 7th in the West

In a significantly strengthened Western Conference, the Grizzlies will find it challenging to maintain their 2nd-place position. They are now considered underdogs, trailing behind the powerhouse teams like the Nuggets, Suns, and Lakers. They will also grapple with a shortage of point guards. Ja Morant will miss 25 games, Derrick Rose is injury-prone, and Marcus Smart is not a natural point guard. The latter two will also need to adapt to their new team’s playing style and learn new systems. The departure of Tyus Jones could be detrimental in this regard. All of this will require an adjustment period, potentially resulting in a slow start to the season. Furthermore, the Grizzlies will likely face the injury bug that has plagued their roster in recent times. These factors could cost them a higher spot in the standings at the end of the season.

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