An offseason full of healing, dealing and acquiring will allow the Memphis Grizzlies to return to playoff form.
Memphis won 22 games last season, twenty-two. The only team in the association that lost more games than the Grizzlies were the Phoenix Suns, who made a more than obvious tanking effort starting in October.
Memphis’ point guard, Mike Conley, missed 70 of the teams 82 games with a heel injury, and the once playoff mainstay Grizzlies had very little reason not to fire then-head coach David Fizdale before December after his negative relationship with Marc Gasol became public, and brought in J.B. Bickerstaff.
While losing Conley to a significant injury more than eliminated Memphis’ shot at making the playoffs for an eighth consecutive season, Memphis’ start to the season gave their front office enough reason to fire Fizdale, promote from within, and give Bickerstaff more than half the season to experiment with an injury-riddled team that was seeking a short-term rebuild ahead of the 2018-19 season.
Mike Conley and Marc Gasol Thrive When Together
Before I delve into the key acquisitions made by Memphis this offseason that will additionally add to the incredible turnaround that will be the 2018-19 season, it is important to note just how critical it is for Gasol’s success to have Conley on the floor with him.
During the 2016-17 season, Conley played in 69 games for the Grizzlies, and Gasol, who was selected to his third All-Star Game, averaged a career-high 20 points, six rebounds, and five assists.
Conley’s ability to spread the floor also allowed Gasol to shoot an efficient 46 percent from the floor, and nearly 40 percent from three on close to four attempts per game.
Consequentially, after Conley missed the majority of the 2017-18 season, Gasol averaged two less points per game, one less rebound, shot just 42 percent from the floor, and just 34 percent from three-point range.
As a result, it is worth mentioning that when the two are both healthy, and on the floor together, they are among the league’s best point guard/center combinations.
Since both Conley and Gasol are both signed through at least the 2019-2020 season, there is more than enough time for Bickerstaff and his staff to help the two All-Star caliber players mesh with the newly acquired talent, and revive playoff basketball expectations in Memphis.
Before I take a look at the other key, new faces that will make Memphis relevant again, it is important to note that Conley’s 2016 deal that many thought was humorous, was actually sensible. The 2018-19 NBA season will mark the third of the point guard’s five-year, $150 Million max deal signed in July of 2016.
Two years later, Conley, who then signed the richest contract in league history, is now the fifth-highest paid point guard in the NBA. Not to mention that John Wall’s extension, Kyrie Irving’s due contract, and Kemba Walker may all receive more if not the same amount of money as Conley ahead of the 2019-2020 season.
Kyle Anderson Might Have Been the Most Underrated Pickup of the Summer
The first new face heading to Memphis that I believe will have a major impact at the start of October is Kyle Anderson. Following the San Antonio Spurs’ decision to not match Memphis’ four-year, $37 Million offer sheet for the talented Small Forward, Memphis got their man.
Under Bickerstaff, Memphis has and will continue to preach a defense-first approach, and Anderson fits the bill to help them achieve their goal. The UCLA product wasn’t given many opportunities to showcase his scoring ability over the course of his first four years in San Antonio.
After averaging just 3.4 points on just three shots per game, 2.7 rebounds, and just over an assist during his first three years in San Antonio, Anderson was finally able to become more of a factor during the 2017-18 season.
Last season, Anderson started 67 of the 74 games he played in, averaged eight points, over five rebounds, and close to three assists.
The 6-foot-9 forward also took a career-most 5.9 shots per game and shot eight percent better from the floor. Anderson flourished in a San Antonio system that favors defense and sharing the basketball. As a result, his transition into Memphis’ defense-first system should be seamless, while his offensive output should skyrocket as his offensive opportunities increase.
Chad Forcier, one of Memphis’ new assistant coaches who was a part of Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff from 2007-2016, worked with Anderson in San Antonio and will continue to mentor the two-way player in Memphis.
Anderson was one of the lone bright spots in San Antonio’s tumultuous 2017-18 season.
The 24-year-old proved just how belonging he is in big moments, and also displayed his versatility on a nightly basis, averaging a career-high in minutes. The fifth-year pro, coupled with recently signed forward Omri Casspi, are two wings that will both add necessary length and versatility to a Memphis team that often struggled in that category last season.
No. 4 Pick Jaren Jackson Jr. Epitomizes the New Age of Centers in the NBA
Memphis Grizzlies Executive Vice President, John Hollinger, has stressed on plenty of occasions since drafting the standout Michigan State product that the organization is looking to make sure his development is as organic as possible.
With Marc Gasol as a mentor, Jackson who isn’t even 19 years old yet, will have plenty of time in his young career to learn how to be a dominant defender and scorer from one of the league’s best two-way big men.
Jackson made a name for himself as one of college basketball’s best two-way players during the 2017-18 season. In his lone year at Michigan State, Jackson averaged 11 points and six rebounds on an impressive 51 percent shooting from the floor, and an uncharacteristic 40 percent from three-point range.
The big man also shot 80 percent from the line, something 6-foot-11 players are rarely able to accomplish. Defensively, Jackson averaged three blocks per game. Gasol averaged 1.5 swats in the NBA last year, and the two will certainly host plenty of block party’s during at least the next few years.
Jackson’s college-to-pro transition already looks encouraging considering the dominant display he put on during the 2018 NBA Summer League.
Playing against NBA-level talent, the rookie averaged more than 11 points, eight rebounds, and an assist, and alongside fellow Memphis draftee Jevon Carter, the two carried the Grizzlies summer league team to the semi-finals.
Regardless of how quickly the Grizzlies are willing to play Jackson extensively, it is safe to say that the rookie forward will be ready to make an impact as soon as his name is called.
Dillon Brooks Will Continue to Make His Doubters Eat Their Words
Dillon Brooks, a guy that alongside Jordan Bell, Chris Boucher, and Tyler Dorsey anchored Oregon to a Final Four appearance during his third and final season in college, was not properly rewarded when taken with the 45th overall pick in the NBA Draft that followed it.
A little over a year later, Brooks is now looked at as one of the more prominent NBA Draft steals in recent memory large in part to his ability to prove his worth as a high-end NBA player during his rookie season with Memphis.
Brooks played in all 82 of Memphis’ games during the 2017-18 season, averaging 11 points and three rebounds, all while quickly establishing himself in the upper-echelon of scoring rookies.
The 6-foot-6, 220-pound scoring machine from Mississauga, ON will certainly play a key role in Memphis’ success next season.
Valuable Bench Players and Acquisitions That Will Make Noise Next Season
Conley’s 2018-19 return was more than enough of a sign that Tyreke Evans was no longer the go-to guy for the Grizzlies this coming season. As expected, the 28-year-old who averaged 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists took his talents to Indiana, where he will be given far more opportunities to dominate than in Memphis.
As a result, the Grizzlies drafted college hoops’ best on-ball defender, Jevon Carter, this past June, a decision that would pay dividends even before the 2018-19 NBA tips off.
During NBA Summer League play, the West Virginia hoops alum averaged more than 11 points, nearly five rebounds, four assists, and played a major role in Memphis’ semifinal run.
As a result, the 22-year-old was rewarded when the Grizzlies signed him to a multi-year contract whilst the point guard was dominating his opponents in Las Vegas. Slotted behind Conley, Carter has the potential to be one of the more prominent backup point guards in the NBA in just his rookie season.
During my time in Las Vegas for the event, I bumped into Carter ahead of his semi-final matchup with Portland. During our conversation, the humble point guard displayed how appreciative he was after signing the deal with Memphis, and just how eager he is to play in Memphis this coming October.
JaMychal Green, who turn heads during the 2017-18 season with averages of 10 points and eight rebounds, probably won’t play close to the 28 minutes per night like he did last season, especially after the Jackson selection.
However, what he will do is continue to be one of the more active rebounders in the Western Conference, and perhaps get signed by a team that can utilize him as an everyday starter once his $17 Million deal is up next summer.
Omri Casspi and Garrett Temple, two veteran presences that can provide valuable minutes off the bench, will also play a promising role this coming season for Memphis. Both Casspi and Temple have career averages of eight points, and at times, can be knockdown shooters from three-point land.
A Coaching Staff Full of NBA Veterans Means Mountains of Familiarity
Jerry Stackhouse, Nick Van Exel, Greg Buckner, and Vitaly Potapenko are just four of the many assistant coaches on Memphis’ bench. What separates them from the rest of the Grizzlies’ experienced coaches is that they all had long, and for the most part, dominant NBA careers.
While in attendance for NBA Summer League action, I had the privilege of discussing Memphis’s outlook for the 2018-19 season with Stackhouse, who seemed excited for what the future holds.
NBA players often feel disconnected when their coaches have no experience playing. With Stackhouse, Van Exel, Buckner, and Potapenko all together, Memphis’ roster will feel more connected than ever with their coaching staff.
The Memphis Grizzlies’ lackluster 22-win 2017-18 season is something that their fans are hoping to forget about as soon as possible. A healthy star point guard and a dominant offseason should allow them to forget about it far sooner than most thought.