Ja Morant Isn’t the Only Reason the Grizzlies Are 1 of the Best Young Teams in the NBA

The Memphis Grizzlies have proven to be among the most exciting young teams in the NBA. A testament to the power of good, consistent drafting along with top-notch player development, the Grizzlies went from cellar-dwelling lottery team last year to playoff contender this year. Much of this praise has been given to Ja Morant, and rightfully so. However, the Grizzlies’ success and potential stretches far beyond one player. 

The Grizzlies fall and rise 

It wasn’t that long ago that the Grizzlies were a perennial playoff team and a contender in the eyes of money. While the team never came close to a championship, they enjoyed several good playoff runs and remained in the picture from 2010 to 2017. With Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph leading the team with grit and grind, the Grizzlies were a force to be reckoned with. 

Unfortunately, the Grizzlies core came to be when Randolph and Gasol were already on the wrong end of their primes. While the duo put up a good fight and remained valuable until each of their departures, the Grizzlies went from playoff team to lottery team swiftly, and by 2017, Randolph was gone, and the playoff-berths were replaced with a 22-win season. 

The team slowly offloaded Gasol and Mike Conley over the next two years and focused their energy on a new young core. That core would excite many NBA fans, and it continues to impress

How did Memphis rebuild so quickly?

Drafting potential Rookie of the Year Ja Morant helped, but he was the piece that accelerated the Memphis Grizzlies' impressive rebuild.
Jaren Jackson Jr. (left) and Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies. | Brandon Dill/Getty Images

There’s no definitive way to rebuild, and just because a team attempts a rebuild, it doesn’t mean they will do so successfully. The Sacramento Kings, for example, have initiated several rebuilds since 2006, yet they don’t have even a single playoff berth out of any of those projects. The Grizzlies, however, wasted no time bringing in new talent. 

The team’s first piece in its new young core came when the team traded for Dillon Brooks. Brooks was the 45th pick in the draft and didn’t come with much hype, but he immediately showed his place in the NBA and worked himself into the Grizzlies’ starting rotation, averaging 11 points, an assist, and three rebounds. With a draft steal in 2017, it was 2018 where the team made waves. 

After winning just 22 games, the Grizzlies ended up with Jaren Jackson Jr., a star player out of Michigan State who landed on the Grizzlies with the fourth pick. A 6-foot-11 big man, Jackson immediately showed his place in the NBA as a viable presence down low, as well as a lights-out shooter from behind the 3-point line. After another losing season, however, the team struck gold yet again with the 2019 draft. 

While many people focused only on Zion Williamson, picked right after him was a young guard out of Murray State named Ja Morant. Morant was many people’s favorite player behind Williamson, and he came with hefty expectations. When the season started, however, he showed that he could meet, if not exceed, those expectations. On top of that, the team landed Brandon Clarke, the 21st pick, in a trade with Oklahoma City. He, too, has exceeded expectations, and the team hasn’t looked back since.

How good are Ja Morant and the Grizzlies?

The Grizzlies have a lot going for them. Not only do they have that deep young core they built through drafts and draft-night trades, but they also landed Tyus Jones, Kyle Anderson, Grayson Allen, and several other players with fewer than five years of NBA experience. The Grizzlies may or may not make the playoffs this year, but the team is built to win soon and for a prolonged amount of time. 

Adding to the youthful look is Taylor Jenkins, the first-year head coach who spent several years as an assistant across the league before flourishing in the new role. The Grizzlies handled their rebuild about as perfectly as they could have hoped to. They drafted well, traded well, and found a coach who met the team’s vision. Now, we just have to see how good the results look.