Grizzlies

3 Biggest Questions for Post-All-Star Grizzlies

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The Grizzlies just had one of the most active trade deadlines in franchise history. The new-look front office finally found a trade partner for Andre Iguodala, and sent Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill to Miami with him. They were able to snag Justise Winslow, James Johnson, and Dion Waiters for the trio. From there, they waived Waiters and sent Johnson to Minnesota for Gorgui Dieng. They also sent Bruno Caboclo to Houston, getting Jordan Bell in return.

The team has exceeded expectations so far in every aspect. After making so many changes, questions naturally arise. Here are a few of the big questions facing the team after the All-Star break.

1. Can the team hold a playoff spot?

This is the burning question in every Grizz fan’s mind right now. The Grizzlies currently hold a four-game lead over the Portland Trail Blazers, but also have the league’s toughest schedule down the stretch. Their opponents hold a combined 56% win percentage, and 12 of them are currently in the playoffs. The team will come out of the break and immediately embark on a four-game road trip, facing the Kings, Lakers, Clippers and Rockets in the span of a week. It will be essential for them to come out and compete in all four games to establish a rhythm as they start the final stretch.

The team proved they can compete with the top teams during the first 54 games of the season. They’ve gone toe-to-toe with some of the top teams, and won a few games against them. However, now they have to prove they can handle those teams at full strength. Top teams often elevate their game when the playoffs get close. The Grizzlies will have to be ready for these games. The team is familiar with all but one opponent remaining. That should bode well for them, despite their 12-18 record against their upcoming opponents. The only new team they’ll play is the reigning champion Toronto Raptors, who are currently 40-15.

The best way for the Grizzlies to reduce some of the pressure on themselves is to capitalize on the games against the non-playoff teams. They face the Knicks, Kings, Hawks, Pelicans, Spurs and Blazers a combined 10 times. Those teams currently have a collective 37.5% win percentage. Winning those ten games would help the Grizzlies maintain the eighth spot, and give them room to drop some games to the top teams. The games against the Blazers are particularly important because they are the Grizzlies’ closest competition for the spot. A win against them adds a full game to Memphis’ lead.

The Grizzlies can absolutely hold the eighth seed. They’re a young, confident and fearless team. Memphis fans should expect fireworks and frustration going down the stretch.

2. How is Josh Jackson utilized going forward?

In late January, the Grizzlies called Josh Jackson up from the G-League. Fans had been waiting for the move all season, constantly tweeting #FreeJoshJackson under Grizzlies posts. Jackson has plenty of NBA experience from his first two seasons, but Memphis made it clear early on that he needed to prove to them that he could keep it together off the court. While in the G-League, Jackson was a key player on a top-ranked Memphis Hustle squad. During his 26 games, Jackson averaged 20.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists on 45/38/60 shooting splits. He also added 1.3 steals and 1.4 blocks per game.

Jackson’s fit on the Grizzlies roster wasn’t as easy to define, though. At first, he was deep in the depth chart behind Jae Crowder and Kyle Anderson. Now, Crowder is gone, along with Solomon Hill. The previously-crowded wing position is now barren, and Jackson should see consistent minutes from here out. Through seven games, Jackson is averaging 17.6 minutes per game. That number should climb as the season progresses and he settles into a flow.

Jackson has struggled a bit offensively during his time with the Grizzlies. He’s averaging only 6.0 points on 37/17/69 shooting splits. He’s re-adjusting to the NBA game, and learning a new system. There were 295 days between his last game in Phoenix and his first game in Memphis. Given time, he should find his rhythm and be productive on that end. A great sign for Jackson and the team, though, is how well he’s played defensively. It’s a small sample size, but he’s posted a team-leading 99.3 defensive rating so far. It will be important for Jackson to maintain his defensive prowess on a team looking for a wing stopper.

Memphis presents a great opportunity for Jackson to revitalize his career. He had fallen out of favor in Phoenix after failing to meet his high expectations, but he is still a valuable player. The Grizzlies have the pieces around him to put him in a great position to succeed. He doesn’t have to be a centerpiece on this team, but has a defined role that he can excel in. After he settles in, he could emerge as the Grizzlies’ wing of the future.

3. What should be expected from the new players?

Justise Winslow will add a few elements to the team. He will bring extra ball-handling and playmaking from the wing position. Winslow is also a great perimeter defender who can handle opposing guards, allowing Ja Morant to play some off-ball. His shooting has improved during his career, and he has the potential to become a legitimate threat from deep. The main point of emphasis for Winslow right now is health. The 23-year-old has had a tough time staying healthy, appearing in only 11 games so far this season. However, he fits the Grizzlies’ system and timeline, which allows the team to be patient with him as he recovers. Winslow was college teammates with Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen, as well.

Gorgui Dieng is a veteran who is currently in the middle of one of his best seasons as a pro. In just 17 minutes per game, he’s averaging 7.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and just under one block. He has established himself as a deep-range threat who will add to the Grizzlies’ rotation of stretch bigs. He’s currently shooting 38% from three. Dieng has a clean bill of health over his career, and will be a great safety net in case of any injury. He has also shown the capability to play as a starter if necessary. Able to play either big position, Dieng should fit nicely alongside any combination of players.

Jordan Bell is a young, athletic big who will add another vertical threat beside Morant and Brandon Clarke. A bit undersized, he’ll likely serve as the third power forward behind Jaren Jackson Jr. and Clarke. At 25, Bell fits the Grizzlies’ timeline and helps their youth movement. He isn’t much of a scorer, but brings value defensively. His 7’0″ wingspan and athleticism help him force misses and grab rebounds. Bell spent his first two seasons in Golden State, and the knowledge he gained there is invaluable for this young team. While he may have reached his ceiling already, his hustle will serve the team well for however long they keep him. Bell and Dillon Brooks played together in college.

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About Richmond Bailey Caldwell

Die-hard Grizzlies fan since 2009. Aspiring basketball writer and coach. University of Georgia sport management alum. Perennial first team all-defense selection.

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