The Memphis Grizzlies have let the rest of the NBA know that they are more than just the Ja Morant show.
When Morant went down with a left knee sprain in their 132-100 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, it was widely expected that this deflating blowout was a sign of what was to come for the team without their star guard. Instead, they responded with a five-game winning streak and have now won six of their last seven games.
What makes their streak even more impressive is the manner by which they have outclassed their opponents.
The Grizzlies kicked off their run with a 128-101 drubbing of the Sacramento Kings and set an NBA record for the biggest winning margin in history with a 73-point win over the hapless Oklahoma City Thunder. They also managed to beat the Toronto Raptors, Dallas Mavericks, and the Miami Heat.
Memphis literally led throughout the entire course of that five-game streak, from tip-off to the final buzzer of each and every contest, which further underscores their dominance.
Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane have stepped up the most in Morant’s absence and have led the charge for the Grizzlies.
Jackson has recently rediscovered his form following an injury-riddled ‘20-’21 campaign and a slow start to this season. He has scored over 25 points in four of their last six games and is now averaging 16.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and a career-best 1.9 blocks per game this season.
The 6’11 forward’s mobility and shooting ability make him unique even among the present crop of NBA players which makes his development even more important for the future of this team. He has particularly found a rhythm playing center in certain line-ups alongside their hard-hustling power forward Brandon Clarke.
Beyond complementing each other well, these two young and athletic big men also fit in excellently with Morant and the rest of the Grizzlies’ young core, which Bane is a prominent part of as well.
The sophomore guard Bane has made the most of his promotion into the starting line-up this year and took it up a notch further in the absence of Morant, putting up over 21 points in four of their last six outings. His statistics have seen an incremental rise from his rookie season–16.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and a steal–and he has been a major factor behind their success this year.
In their most recent win, an impressive 108-95 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, Jackson and Bane once again were the catalysts for Memphis. Jackson, who scored 25 points on nine-of-18 shooting, was a surprisingly tough match-up for Anthony Davis and the rest of the Lakers’ front court.
Meanwhile, Bane added 23 points, five threes, three rebounds, three assists, two steals, and a block. His energetic and hard-nosed brand of play overwhelmed the older Lakers team who struggled to keep in step versus this spry Grizzlies roster.
Tyus Jones and De’Anthony Melton were also solid once again filling in for Morant in the backcourt. The veteran pair interestingly had identical statlines–12 points, two threes, six assists, four rebounds, and two steals–and their grit has made them a perfect fit for the identity and culture that they are trying to cultivate.
This iteration of Memphis’ team is still in the honeymoon phase, with most of their players still playing under their rookie contracts, but the foundation that they have set is one of the most promising in the league. If they can manage their contract situation and their prospects continue on the trajectory that they are on, they might not even have to enlist the services of an All-Star for them to take the next step into serious postseason contention.
Morant, Jackson, and now Bane are three talented pieces who fit seamlessly next to one another and the rest of their team seems to know their role which is already half the battle in the tricky world of NBA team building.
The future is bright for these young Grizzlies and while they may play a more exciting brand of basketball than their previous generation’s “Grit and Grind” style, those fundamental concepts remain the North Star of this team which makes them all the more dangerous.