Memphis Grizzlies: Steps to Contention

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The Memphis Grizzlies are on the cusp of playoff contention. They went into the NBA Bubble as the West’s eighth seed, but inexperience and injury ultimately saw them fall short in the play-in game versus the Portland Trail Blazers. With that being said, the Grizzlies have a very solid foundation to build on.

How the Memphis Grizzlies can Continue to Improve

Step One: Utilize Brandon Clarke as Much as Possible

Brandon Clarke was a steal for Memphis in the latter stages of the 2019 Draft’s first round. Although coming off the bench, Clarke was one of the top rookies of this past season across the league.

Clarke, however, backs up Jaren Jackson Jr. This makes sense, as Jackson Jr. is growing into a major offensive talent at the power forward position. Jackson Jr. suffered a torn meniscus after playing just three games in the Bubble, however. His surgery was successful, and he looks on track to fully recover by the start of next season, but it’s important to note that he’s had an injury history with the same knee. Due to that, it might be wise for Memphis to keep him on somewhat of a minutes restriction to open the season.

That’s not a gloomy scenario, as Clarke is more than capable of stepping up. This season he put up 12 points, six rebounds, and one block per game in 22 minutes on the floor. This put his per 36 minutes numbers at an impressive 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. Like Jackson Jr., Clarke can also spread the floor. He shot 36 percent from deep last season but is also a force in the paint as seen by his total field goal percentage of 62 percent.

Clarke is also a very effective defender. He doesn’t hold ideal size for his position at 6’8″, but his athleticism allows him to be able to guard small forwards and power forwards who can stretch the floor. He may struggle versus big centers, but that’s why the Grizzlies have Jonas Valanciunas. Expect Clarke to see a sharp minutes increase.

Step Two: Re-Sign De’Anthony Melton

De’Anthony Melton holds the Grizzlies’ back-up combo-guard spot. He’ll never be a starter as Ja Morant continues to ascend into superstardom and Dillon Brooks solidifies himself as the team’s third option, but Melton is a major asset off the bench.

Melton’s statistics don’t jump out of the box score, although he puts up solid numbers of eight points, four rebounds, and three assists per game in 20 minutes on the floor. He can get to the basket from time to time, but Melton needs to improve his three-point shooting if he wants to become an offensive spark plug.

With that being said, Melton is a fantastic defender. His elite instincts and quickness make him a defensive ball hawk. Having a 6’9″ wingspan while standing at just 6’2″ is just another asset to his already impressive traits. His per 36 minutes defensive statistics are a testament to this, as in that category he averaged 2.4 steals and 4.8 deflections per game. In addition, even though Morant is the future in Memphis, Melton did lead the entire team in the plus-minus statistical category.

Tyus Jones is the primary back-up point guard as he can shoot as well as facilitate. Grayson Allen is a solid back-up shooting guard as he is one of the best shooters on the team. Melton, however, is the perfect in-between as he brings the defensive tenacity.

Having two great, young defenders in Clarke and Melton coming off the bench creates strong depth for Memphis. With Melton being a restricted free agent, expect the Grizzlies to match any reasonable offer.

Step Three: The Memphis Grizzlies Must Monitor Free Agent Small Forwards in 2021

The only position in the Memphis starting five with hovering question marks is at small forward.

Kyle Anderson is the current starter. Although a decent player, nothing particularly stands out in his game. Anderson is a back-up on a legitimate contending team, so he can’t continue to start for Memphis years down the line. The Grizzlies are aware of this, which is why they traded for Justise Winslow.

Winslow is an extremely versatile small forward who can also play both guard positions. This past season he put up very impressive numbers at 11 points, seven rebounds, and four assists per game. The only issue with that is he played 11 games. Winslow’s injury history has the ability to hold him back from his true potential. Memphis holds a team option for him during the 2021 offseason, one they will certainly accept, but only time will tell if he can become a reliable starter every night.

If not, the Grizzlies should explore ways to trade Anderson and targets small forwards in 2021. That offseason will feature a star-studded cast at the position, but many are not realistic targets for Memphis. Those that are realistic include Otto Porter Jr., Will BartonKyle KuzmaJosh Hart, and Kelly Oubre Jr. Improvement from Morant, Jackson Jr., Brooks, and Clarke, plus an addition of one of these small forwards, will set the Memphis Grizzlies up for contention.

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