The starting lineup. (Photo: Warren Roseborough)

It’s easy to drink the Kool-Aid about “young teams” in the NBA – that a team’s inexperience spells inevitable losing and that it could take years for a team to mature into something. The Philadelpha 76ers drank so much of that Kool-Aid, they came up with their own flavor and called it “The Process.”

Lee Eric Smith

I remember that time I offered some of that Kool-Aid to former Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins – suggesting that for then-youngsters like Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol, winning would have to wait until they got older and wiser. Hollins, in his no-nonsense gruffness, promptly threw that Kool-Aid right back in my face.

“You don’t have to be a veteran to know how to play defense,” he said. “You don’t have to be in the league six years to not miss a defensive assignment. You don’t have to be a veteran team to play winning basketball. You just have to do the things that winning teams do.”

Hollins’ words have echoed in my brain repeatedly during these early-season wins that the Grizzlies have manufactured. Indeed there have been plenty of them where their inexperience has shown, among them back-to-back games where they were outscored by a combined 77-32 in the second quarter alone. Both games, of course, were blowout losses. And with the Lakers coming to town Saturday, it could be a three-game losing streak by Sunday.

But November has also seen this squad put together a three-game win streak that included road wins in San Antonio and Charlotte, and  a thrilling win over the Utah Jazz in Mike Conley’s return to Memphis. In many losses, the Grizzlies often still have a chance to win late in fourth quarters.

Watch them play and you can tell the chemistry is there and getting better. Players have bought into head coach Taylor Jenkins’ system and play hard on every possession. And even as young players, Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke are all hailed for the relative maturity of their games.

And then there’s raw talent. While Jackson has struggled with fouls this season, he is still viewed as a versatile defender with a potent-but-still-developing offensive game. Clarke gets praise for knowing what he’s good at and finding ways to excel at those things in games – rebounding, elbow jumpers, putbacks. And of course, Morant appears to be a bonafide NBA superstar on the rise.

So it all begs the question: Are the Grizzlies . . . good? Over their last six games, the Grizzlies are 3-3 – exactly .500. So, at best, they’re literally average. But let’s take a deeper look.

Over that span, Memphis is third in field-goal percentage at 48.2 percent. They’re shooting 38.5 percent from the arc, good for sixth in the league. They are currently third in the NBA in assists, averaging 29.2 per game. And remember when the Grizzlies were among the slowest paced teams in the league? This season, they play at the seventh-fastest pace in the NBA.

Those are all good signs. But no, it doesn’t make them a good team  . . . yet.

They are still very much in the middle of the pack on things like rebounding (18th) and turnovers (16.9 per game this season). They allow a whopping 12 three-pointers per game (yikes, that’s like spotting a team 36 points). They give up 118 points per game, though that figure is no doubt skewed by several 20-plus point blowout losses.  And while the third quarter woes have eased, second quarters are a problem now. There’s more work to do.

Last season, the Grizz started 12-5 before the wheels popped off and set the whole season on fire. So early season success can certainly be misleading. Even as I write, teams are strategizing ways to slow down Morant, and bait Jackson into more fouls.

So yeah, there’s time for other veteran teams to gel and improve. There’s still time for opponents to study film and remind the young cubs just how young they are.

But there’s also time for internal improvement. Time for Jenkins’ team to become more cohesive. Time for the Grizzlies to learn how not to turn the ball over. There’s time for Jaren Jackson to figure out how to defend without fouling and for former No. 4 overall pick Josh Jackson to graduate from the Memphis Hustle and into the Grizzlies rotation. There’s time for an Andre Iguodala trade that enhances the team even further.

In other words, there’s time for the Grizzlies to learn how to do the things winning teams do – without a long “process.” If the current trajectory holds or improves, Memphis could be back in the playoff hunt sooner than anyone expected.

And that’s a flavor of Kool-Aid that I like.

GRIND ON!