With Monday night’s blow-by win (128-103) over the Atlanta Hawks, the Memphis Grizzlies have completed the first third of the season and are nearly halfway to the All-Star game, where highlight-reel Ja Morant is a “shoe-in” for his second straight appearance.
Sharpshooter Desmond Bane was making a strong case for his first appearance before a nagging toe injury sidelined his chances. And Jaren Jackson Jr., who started the season on the injury list, is now blocking his way into consideration.
Neither Morant nor Bane suited up against Atlanta as Memphis (18-9) easily brushed aside the also-shorthanded Hawks before 16,544 fans, who had plenty to shout about even without the absent star power. Jackson swatted away a career-high and franchise-record eight shots, which he packaged with 15 points, 7 rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes.
It was the sixth consecutive win for Memphis. Through the first third of the 82-game run, the Grizzlies have carved a 12-2 homecourt record and are 4-0 on the current five-game homestand. They are a half-game out of first place in the Western Conference, where the New Orleans Pelicans roost on top
Here are some of the reasons the Grizzlies have continued to match the success of previous seasons:
Core four meets the standard, plus
The Grizzlies’ core four – Morant (27.7 ppg), Bane (24.7), Jackson (18.7) and Brooks (17.7) – have all played up to and/or above their play of last season
Jackson, the self-described Block Panther, has 32 blocked shots through 10 games, with 6.1 rebounds per game.
Hampered by injuries, the four have not played one game together this season. However, with their next-man-up standard, the Grizzlies are in the top 10 of the NBA’s offensive and defensive rankings. They are one of six teams ranked in the top 10 in both categories.
Young players develop, contribute
Santi Aldama filled in well while Jackson was out. He is averaging 9.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. His 32 blocks attest to his marked improvement on the defensive end.
Thrown into the fire because of team injuries, rookies David Roddy and Jake LaRavia have gained valuable game experience, which has resulted in much-needed improvement in their defense.
Reserve point guard Tyus Jones noted the newcomers’ improvement.
“It’s fun for me just to see because I see the work they put in every day. I see how they come in, willing to learn, willing to wait their turn and things of that nature,” he said.
“It’s cool for me and for everyone else to see. You know, them getting their opportunity and having some success.”
Consistent bench production
Led by Jones’ 10-plus points per game, the bench has been rock-solid.
Starting in place of Morant against the Hawks, Jones had 22 points and 11 assists and three steals in 25 minutes, which placed him among a select group of NBA players. Since 1973-74, Jones is the third player with at least 20 points, 10 assists, and three steals in 25 minutes or less. Along with Chris Paul, the other player was Lionel Hollins, a onetime Portland star and former Grizzlies coach.
Against the Hawks, Brandon Clarke scored 11 points and Aldama had 16. Both average just below 10 points per game and each average just above 5 rebounds.
“We always talk about our depth,” said head coach Taylor Jenkins. “Nothing changes from our starting unit to our guys coming off the bench. … Guys we’re playing different rotations. It seems every few games it changes up, but it’s a credit to them that they just have faith in each other, and we keep it really simple.
“We know what we’ve got to do defensively and offensively. If you trust in your teammates, trust in the system, you’re all going to benefit from it, and it’s a credit to them that they’re enjoying it.”
Only three players – Jones, Roddy and Clarke – have appeared in all 27 games.
Defense keys success
No mystery here as the Grizzlies know their success is keyed by the defense. With that defense-first mentality, they score off of the results.
Memphis is ranked sixth in total defensive efficiency, which reflects a strong move up the rankings from the beginning of the season.
In the win over the Hawks and paced by Jackson, the Grizzlies blocked 12 shots.
“Our rotations are on point … we’re moving as one,” said Jones. “It’s not choppy at all. It’s not two people guarding the pick-and-roll and the other three on the backside are just standing … we’re communicating at a high level, and we are just in sync right now. … Obviously having Jaren back, that helps with being more active.”
The Grizzlies end their five-game home stand on Thursday when they face last season’s Eastern Conference champion, the Milwaukee Bucks, at FedExForum. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.