The Memphis Grizzlies climb up the Western Conference standings has been as fast as it’s been furious. They started off the season a bit uneven, sitting at 9-10 late in November. Since that time, they have won 19 or their last 23 contests. They are now just three and a half games behind the Phoenix Suns and the Golden State Warriors who are tied atop the conference. Last season this franchise made strides by winning the play-in game over the Warriors and making the playoffs. After an upset in game one, they were eliminated by the Utah Jazz. This season, this team looks determined to build on the progress they’ve showed.
Memphis Grizzlies Climb Up the Western Conference Standings
This young team’s ascension is even more impressive when you take in account all the roster fluctuation. Eleven different players have started a game for Memphis this season, and 23 different guys have played for them. Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks have each missed extended time, but this team has been able to excel despite that. The Grizzlies sit in fourth in the log jammed West. The seeds 5-9 are separated by just two and a half games. This recent streak by Memphis has given them a five-game cushion ahead of that pack.
This team’s rise up the standings is due in no small part to Morant’s transformation from exciting young player to full-fledged superstar. It seems every night you can see point guard for the Memphis Grizzlies climb an invisible ladder make an astonishingly athletic play. His chase down block versus the Lakers on Sunday was the latest example of this. In a league filled with amazing athletes, Morant stands out. His ability to finish around in the paint is astonishing. Its not just the attacks above the rim either, he has elite level finishing ability on drives for lay-ups and floaters.
He has taken his game to a new level in his third NBA season. The Columbia, SC native has improved his outside shooting while still attacking the rim like few others can. He plays with a pace and explosiveness that not many guys can match. They key is that he is learning how to use his speed to control games, and not be out of control. Morant is certainly an NBA All-Star this season and has shown he can take over games when his team needs him to.
Steady and Present
With all the roster fluctuation this season, it has been Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. who have been the constants. Bane has taken a big leap forward. The second-year pro has nearly doubled his scoring average and has become a reliable offensive option for Memphis. He is a good three-point shooter and adds a physical defensive presence on the wing. Bane is a midseason candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award. Jackson Jr. is finally healthy after missing most of last year due to injury. He has regained his from two seasons ago and gives the Grizzlies a legit inside-out scorer in the frontcourt. He is also contributing two blocks and a steal per contest. These two have both played in 41/42 games this season. They have been the constants while Morant, Brooks, and others have missed time.
Strength in Numbers
The Memphis Grizzlies climb from playoff hopeful to top half of the Western Conference is also due to the depth and balance of this team. While Morant is a budding star and grabs the headlines, the entire roster contributes to the team’s success. The start of their current hot streak began while their star point guard was out with a knee injury. The team won 10 of twelve contests in early December with Morant inactive. They are 9-2 since his return. Four players average double figures for this squad. Jackson Jr., Brooks, and Bane have all proven capable of taking over a game offensively if Morant is out or struggles. The Grizzlies also have solid veterans like Steven Adams and Kyle Anderson to do all the dirty work. De’Anthony Melton and Brandon Clarke can provide scoring punch off the bench as well.
The season is at the midway point. The Grizzlies have 40 games left and have put themselves in a good position to take on the second half of the year. They have four home games coming up, then they hit the road for seven of the next nine. They are on a nine-game winning streak heading into Tuesday’s match-up with the Warriors. Memphis has built a team ready for success. They have a star in Morant, but also a great cast around him that know their roles and are currently excelling at them.
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