Is it possible to have ZERO expectations and high expectations at the same time?
Whether or not that question can even be answered is beside the point. For fans of the Memphis Grizzlies, however, striking a balance between the two may be a bit of a dance.
As the curtain rises on a new NBA season, Memphis media again huddled around various tables at FedExForum Monday to interview players and new Head Coach Taylor Jenkins. We were seeking answers about what to expect from this team going forward. And while common logic says to temper your hopes for team success this season, the current roster’s youthful exuberance is contagious.
On one hand, common logic says that the Grizzlies will lean very heavily on a ridiculously young roster — the kind of roster that struggles to win games in general, let alone in the new-look but just as tough Western Conference. Should you EXPECT them to win much against veteran squads?
On the other hand, it looks like the Grizzlies have two studs-in-the-making in Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. They’ll be playing a new (for Memphis) fast, pace-and-space style of ball a new head coach — mostly with players who weren’t on the roster last season, Morant among them.
Everything and everyone is so new that there is literally nothing to compare this squad to. Morant, who has been recovering from an injury, said he hasn’t even played in pickup games with his new teammates, and the first day of practice is Tuesday, Oct. 1. There’s just no way to KNOW who these Grizzlies will be until they get out on the court.
But the potential is tantalizing. Here are the three key takeaways I picked up after several interviews at Media Day:
Expect these Grizzlies to play hard for Taylor Jenkins
One thing about Taylor Jenkins: He stays on message.
From his introductory press conference through their summer league championship, he’s preached about getting his squad to play according to a set of principles: To be competitive, to play and work together and to consistently get better. Unselfish play and accountability will be key as well. And while player development is a priority, Jenkins does want to put W’s in the win column.
“The expectations for us are always high,” Jenkins said. “Winning and losing matter to us. We want to establish winning habits. Ultimately, in year one, we want to establish who we are.
“As we measure how we’re doing, it’s all about us,” he added. “It’s all about how we want to work together — our habits — and how we want to play together. And that’s what we’re going to hold ourselves accountable to every single day.”
Multiple players commented about how quickly Jenkins’ summer league team picked up his schemes and style — even without Morant, Jackson and Dillon Brooks, who all sat out with injuries. Add in that Morant and Jackson have already bought in, and it’s safe to say that Jenkins should elicit inspired play from his team.
Ja and Jaren indeed became fast friends over the summer
I wrote about this earlier this summer, when Morant and Jackson were spotted hanging out in Vegas while the team was competing in Summer League. Neither player suited up, but they were absolutely bonding — over junk food, rap and their own “carpool karaoke” while riding with Uber.
“I’m big on relationships,” Morant said. “And me and Jaren started building a relationship right after the draft and we’ve talked a lot since. I guess it kinda makes it better on the court because we have a feel for each other.”
“That’s my brother, man,” Jackson said later. “We were around each other so much that we just organically grew that chemistry. Me, him and Dillon (Brooks) weren’t playing in Summer League, so we were around each other all the time, working out. That all goes into team chemistry.
“You learn each other’s tendencies, you learn more about each other,” he added. “Everyone on the team is very close. You’ll find out.”
If you miss Tony Allen, you’re going to LOVE Jae Crowder
Jae Crowder came to Memphis in the trade that sent Mike Conley to Utah. Fans were already intrigued. Crowder earned a reputation for tough, physical defense while playing for the Boston Celtics and most recently, the Jazz.
I watched Tony Allen turn the phrase “hold our hats on the defensive end” into something of a cliché because he used it so much. Crowder may never use that phrase, but listening to him talk about playing defense and locking in on every play made it easy for me to see Crowder filling the role Allen used to — the guy who plays so hard it’s infectious.
“I just want to set the tone on that end of the court,” Crowder said. “Hopefully, that’ll help take our offense to where we want it to be. But it all starts with getting defensive stops. We’ve got to focus on getting defensive stops and the offense will come.”
I asked if the coaches have explicitly asked him to anchor the defense, in terms of work ethic and getting after it. Turns out they didn’t have to. “I tasked myself with that,” Crowder said. “I’ve always been that type a guy, from the jump ball, to set the tone to play at a high level.”
I told Crowder that his approach will make him a hero to Grizz fans.
“That’s just my style of I play,” he said with a smile. “Hopefully it pleases the fans. If that makes me a hero, I’m good with that. I just want to give my all to the team and the organization.”
There’s more to come from Grizzlies’ media day . . . stay tuned. And check out this week’s edition of The New Tri-State Defender!