Grizz Lead

Should The Grizzlies Push for the Playoffs?

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The Memphis Grizzlies’ rebuild is ahead of schedule. After embracing the youth movement in 2019, the team was expected to have a stretch of down seasons. While the team isn’t quite recreating the success of the Grit-And-Grind era yet, they are certainly playing better basketball than anyone expected them to this early. Memphis is 16-22 right now, sitting only one game out of the eighth seed in the West. Many fans have a playoff push on their minds.

After making the playoffs in seven seasons last decade, it’s understandable why some fans are itching to see postseason play return to Memphis. Their argument is fair; get the team some early playoff experience, and see where improvements need to be made against playoff-caliber teams.

The team doesn’t need a playoff push to determine where the improvements are needed, though.

An Improving Team

The Grizzlies have improved every month this season. They are 9-6 over their last 15 games. So far in January, they have a 7.5 net rating. If it holds, it will be their first positive month of the season. Their offense is clicking, and their defense is looking a little better each game. But they aren’t a playoff team yet.

Memphis does a lot of things right on offense that bode well for the future. They have high assist numbers, and are shooting the ball well. Their young players are the key reasons why. Ja Morant has established himself as an elite floor leader already. Jaren Jackson has emerged as an elite shooter with a quick trigger. Brandon Clarke is one of the most efficient scorers in the league. Their offense could produce fireworks in the postseason, and cause problems for a top team.

The team is in the middle of an offensive streak in which they’ve been one of the best scoring teams in the league. They’ve put up 110+ points in nine consecutive games, the longest such streak in the NBA this season and the longest in franchise history. However, they’ve only outscored their opponents by a total of 26 points during that span. That is a problem.

The team’s defensive rating has improved slightly every month this season, but it is still not at the level of a playoff team. They are currently sitting 23rd in the league in that category. On top of that, the team is a weaker rebounding team. Despite the game’s changes, those two things are still important in the postseason.

Nearly every Western Conference team has an elite wing and elite point guard. Those are two of Memphis’ weaker areas on defense. Ja Morant is still learning how to defend top-tier guards. Tyus Jones’ size will be exploited by teams with bigger guards. The wing rotation has a lot of grit, but no one is a true defensive stopper.

At a Crossroads

The Grizzlies have been playing good basketball of late, but their position in the standings is inflated. They are capitalizing on the downfall of other teams just as much as they are playing good ball. Many of the teams below them should be higher than they are now. The Portland Trail Blazers have fallen off significantly from last season. The Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves started hot but have collapsed over the past month. The Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors have had injury problems. The New Orleans Pelicans just haven’t quite lived up to their potential.

Even at the 9th seed, the Grizzlies are only 2.5 games ahead of 14th. Any significant slip could put them right back in the mix around the bottom. Some of the teams below are also expected to make playoff pushes of their own. Most teams in Memphis’ spot would choose to push for the playoffs, but the Grizzlies are in a more precarious position.

If the team chooses to push for the playoffs, they are essentially choosing to surrender their first round pick in the upcoming draft. Their pick is top-6 protected. If it falls outside of that range, it belongs to the Boston Celtics. While this draft class hasn’t looked as great as it was expected to be, it still has some high-quality wing players, which is exactly what the Grizzlies need. By securing a top-6 pick this year, the pick owed to the Celtics loses protection, so the Grizzlies would avoid that pressure and be able to compete freely next season.

After securing their draft pick, the Grizzlies could use free-agency to accelerate their rebuild even more. They are armed with the second-most cap space in the league for this upcoming free agency period. They’ll probably aim to bring back Dillon Brooks and De’Anthony Melton, but will still have plenty of space to work with as they continue rebuilding.

The Verdict

Ultimately, the Grizzlies should aim for the lottery one more time. This upcoming draft pick could be the last foundational piece they need to finish their new core. Getting to the lottery may require some things fans won’t like this season; load management for Ja and Jaren, trading away vets, less De’Anthony Melton. The long-term payoff will more than make up for it, as this could serve as the last step before another string of playoff appearances.

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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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