Ladies and gentlemen, it is now time to direct your attention to Memphis, Tennessee.
The Grizzlies, after spending two years buried in mediocrity and bad contracts, have expedited one of the more impressive rebuilds you will see. And unlike other franchises in the NBA, looking at you Knicks, Bulls, and Hornets, they have done so while not completely embarrassing themselves without making the organization look clueless and incompetent.
There has been no shortage of change in Memphis. The Grizzlies are on their third coach in as many years in Taylor Jenkins. Jenkins seems to have a grasp on what works with his team that fields the second youngest roster in the NBA with an average age of 23.8 years old.
This is Jenkins’ first head coaching gig in the NBA and he kicked off his career doing something no other head coaches around the league do. He coached in the Summer League this season. Most coaches spend summers getting in precious rest before the grind of an 82-game regular season, but not Jenkins.
He spent the summer developing some of his younger players for a month in Las Vegas before ultimately going on to win the entire preseason league. Jenkins didn’t have to do that. After all, most of the players on that team are now in the G-League, but that is one way that Jenkins has embraced the Grit and Grind culture that is so strongly rooted in Memphis Grizzlies basketball.
The Grizz have constructed their core of young budding superstars through their last two draft classes. Jaren Jackson Jr. selected out of Michigan State with the fourth overall pick last year now is second on the team in his second season in the NBA with 17.3 ppg to go along with 4.7 rebounds per contest. All while at the ripe age of 20 years old.
JJJ isn’t the only 20-year old in Memphis making waves in the NBA. The second overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft, Ja Morant is running away with the Rookie of the Year award. The self-declared ‘point god’ is dazzling the NBA with his explosive scoring abilities. Morant is averaging team highs of 17.6 ppg and seven assists per game. His court vision is highly advanced for a player of his age which contributes 18,000 jaws in The Fed Ex Forum to be dropped on an almost nightly basis.
In Sunday’s win on the road against the Washington Wizards, Morant went for his first career triple double. He finished with 27 points with 10 rebounds and 10 assists. The only players to post a 25-point triple double at a younger age than Morant are Luka Doncic, LeBron James, and Shareef Abdur-Rahim. That’s some impressive company.
These two budding superstars are the reason why the Grizzlies are above .500 for the first time since December of 2018. The folks down in the desert set Memphis’ season win total at just 27.5 prior to the season. The next time out, the Grizz will have a chance to be the first team in the NBA to surpass their total this year with a win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night.
And it isn’t even the All-Star break!
This team is not going to carry on the defensive legacies of former Memphis legends such as Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Mike Conley, or even Marc Gasol. These Grizzlies rank 10th in the league in scoring in the first year of a newly appointed head coach’s system with four of the five leading scorers all 24-years old, or younger.
Don’t get it twisted though, these young guns are tough and ready to prove all of the doubters wrong. That has been proven over the last week where some of the Grizz challenged veteran and 2015 NBA Finals MVP, Andre Iguodala. Iguodala chose to sit out until Memphis was to trade him because he wanted to play for a title contender in what is most likely one of his last few seasons in the NBA.
Some of the Grizzlies felt insulted by this because they currently find themselves in the playoff picture as the eight seed in the Western Conference. Memphis considers itself to be a contender which should tell you all that you need to know about the mindset of this group that only seems to care about opinions inside of the locker room rather than out.
The Grizzlies have always been a microcosm of the city of Memphis and all of its people. It is the toughness, the extreme work ethic, the stick-to-itiveness of the entire city that the teams that play in Fed Ex Forum always embody. It is becoming apparent that won’t be changing any time soon.