Last season, the Memphis Grizzlies finished a staggering 22-60 and missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2009-10 campaign. With the Western Conference as strong as ever, it is going to be tough for Memphis to find their way back into the postseason. However, even though it may be tough, it is not impossible. There are a couple bright spots on the roster that give glimpses of hope, but certain things need to happen. Here are the x-factors that will determine the amount of success that Memphis has in 2018-19.
Mike Conley Health
A torn Achilles kept the veteran point guard sidelined for 70 games in 2017-18, marking the lowest amount of games he’s played in a season. Many linked the Grizzlies’ woes with the absence of Conley, which is not far-fetched at all. With that being said, maintaining his health will be one of the team’s top priorities this season. At 31 years old, the point guard is still the primary scoring option for Memphis; Conley has averaged double-digit scoring since his sophomore season (14.3 career PPG).
The good news for Grizzlies fans is that during his last full season, he averaged career-highs in points per contest and field goal percentage, with 20.5 points on 46.0 percent shooting (including 40.8 percent from deep). The offense needs to continue to run through the former Ohio State buckeye, but it can’t do that unless he’s healthy.
A mixture of shooting efficiency and craftiness makes Conley a headache for opposing defenses. Not only does he have an advanced offensive arsenal, but is a force on the defensive side as well. Conley has averaged 1.5 steals per game in his 11 year career; his ability to make plays and cause turnovers makes him one of the best two-way point guards in the league. Mike Conley‘s health will be of the utmost importance and has the most influence on the Grizzlies’ success this season.
Jaren Jackson Jr. Development
With Marc Gasol not getting any younger, the Grizzlies decided to draft for the future and took Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. with the fourth overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Despite only averaging 10.9 PPG and 5.8 RPG in his lone season in East Lansing, Jackson Jr.’s length and versatility made him an intriguing prospect. His strong Summer League performances indicate that Memphis plans on utilizing him sooner rather than later. In five games, he averaged 11.2 PPG on 41 percent shooting to go along with 8.2 RPG and a staggering 3.8 BPG.
Length and quickness make Jackson one of the league’s promising young defenders. His ability to run the floor in transition creates matchup problems for other teams. Although Jackson has yet to develop an offensive identity, he possesses all of the abilities to become an elite forward. The 6-foot-11 big man has shown flashes of his craftiness in the paint, while being able to step out and hit the mid-range shot. To take the load off of Gasol and combat with him aging, Jackson offers athleticism and floor spacing, which is a perfect compliment to Gasol. With a scarce frontcourt, the Grizzlies will look for him to develop and produce quickly.
Perhaps the most alarming statistic last season for the Memphis Grizzlies was assists per game; the Grizzlies recorded on average just 21.5 assists per contest, which was the fourth-worst in the NBA. Even though he missed almost all of last season, Conley has never averaged over 6.5 assists per game in his career, even with him being a very good floor general.
The inconsistency of lineups also contributed, but for them to make it back to the playoffs in 2018-19, the Grizzlies must facilitate better. Adding a backup point guard in Shelvin Mack is a minor alleviation, but it is a team-wide effort to improve. Players like Wayne Selden Jr., Dillon Brooks, Garrett Temple, and MarShon Brooks will need to, by committee, find additional ways to get teammates open shots.
Not having Tyreke Evans hurt them a bit, but it should free up more usage for other players. Conley is not going to shot hunt, and the Grizz’ movement is better off with that.