The Grit ‘n Grind Grizzlies Live On
By: Devin Zanskas
The Memphis Grizzlies were simultaneously one of the most overlooked, yet beloved successful teams from the last decade. They were possibly overlooked because those Grizzlies never had a true offensive superstar and resided in a one of the smallest markets in the NBA. However, they were beloved for just the same. One can respect their ability to band together as a unit, and stifle formidable western conference opponents with incredible fight and determination on defense. Teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, the LA Clippers, and the San Antonio Spurs may come to mind first when considering winning teams of the 2010s. However, the Grizzlies defeated all of them at least once in a playoff series between 2011 and 2013. Unfortunately, heroes can’t live to fight another day forever, and the natural life cycle of a professional team demands that they move swiftly once their competitive window has closed. This ensures they receive a material return for a star’s fleeting trade value. The Grizzlies executed this by trading Marc Gasol to the Toronto Raptors for Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, CJ Miles, and a 2024 second round pick at the 2019 trade deadline. Then they moved Mike Conley to the Utah Jazz for Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, and a 2020 first round pick.
Since those two transactions, Gasol has gone on to win a championship, and Conley was named to his first all-star team. Grizzlies fans were thrilled for their franchise legends, but they’re not hard-pressed for good fortune since these stars’ departures. They came incredibly close to winning the Zion sweepstakes during the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery. Despite not winning it completely, then were still extremely lucky to have gotten the number two spot in this two-player draft. With the number two pick, they selected eventual rookie of the year, Ja Morant. Ironically, Jaren Jackson Jr., their number four overall pick from the previous draft, is one of the best big man shooters already, and would’ve been a perfect fit next to Zion. Jackson Jr. would fit on any NBA team though. That’s the beauty of the rare 3-and-D big man. He and Ja are already one of the most promising young cores in the league, but they also have plenty of talent around them.
The ideal Grizzlies starting lineup is rounded out by Dillon Brooks and Justice Winslow next to Ja and Jackson Jr. Brooks was selected midway through the second round of the 2017 Draft, and like Jackson Jr., was able to play alongside Conley and Gasol before they moved on. Even though he wasn’t the hottest commodity coming out of the Draft, he averaged 11 points per game in his first season, and started each of the last 104 games for the Grizzlies. Justice Winslow is a recent acquisition from the last trade deadline. He was the crown jewel of a trade that sent Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala to the reigning eastern conference champion Miami Heat on their playoff run. Winslow is quite the tantalizing prospect. He can handle the ball like a guard on offense, but has the size to defend larger forwards. Unfortunately, Winslow has suffered from a number of injuries throughout his career. According to espn.com, he hasn’t played for the Grizzlies until this season due to hurting his hip during a July 1st practice, and a prior injury he had with the Heat. If he can maintain a cleaner medical bill, he’ll be a great, versatile fit next to Ja, Jaren, and other recent successful draft picks in Brandon Clarke and Desmond Bane.