With the NBA regular season only weeks away and preseason ramping up, NBA fans are eager to sink their teeth back into basketball. As the Memphis Grizzlies begin their exhibition outings, these are five things to watch for this preseason before the Grizzlies travel to Indiana to take on the Pacers in the season opener on October 17.
1) How significant of a role will Jaren Jackson, Jr., play right away?
After selecting Jaren Jackson Jr. with the fourth overall pick in this summer’s NBA draft, Grizz nation is eager to see what the Michigan State product can do. During the summer league, Jackson showed off the diverse skill set that warranted the team using such a prime draft-spot on him. The way he combines his defensive prowess and three-point shooting has fans and analysts alike salivating over what he could become. In his summer league debut, Jackson scored 29 points and went 8-13 from deep, including a buzzer-beating half-court heave that put the Grizzlies ahead by six going into the half. Overall, he became the first player ever to average 3 or more blocks per game while also shooting 40 percent from three, and some analysts believe Jackson could end up as the best player from the entire draft class.
Jaren Jackson Jr Went CRAZY in his summer league Debut | 29 Pts and 9 Treys pic.twitter.com/hoAVahPcqy
— Frankie Vision (@FrankieVision) July 3, 2018
2) Can Mike Conley and Marc Gasol both stay healthy?
When Mike Conley went down with an Achilles injury last season, the Grizzlies season nosedived. While Mario Chalmers and Andrew Harrison both performed admirably in extended roles, neither brings quite the two-way impact of Conley. In the last three campaigns, Conley has played in an average of 45 games per year. Although he is consistently viewed as one of the more underrated guards in the league, Conley’s absence from this team in 2017 severely limited their capabilities.
Similarly, Marc Gasol has also had struggles with staying on the floor. After his 2013 Defensive Player of the Year campaign in which he played 80 contests, Gasol has played an average of 68 games per season. While Big Spain’s injury struggles are not as apparent as Conley’s, his defensive instincts and patience on offense remain critical for this team’s success despite a slight dip in production in recent seasons.
If the Grizzlies plan on competing for a playoff spot this year – which all signs indicate that they do – the sustained health of the two longtime franchise anchors will be pivotal in achieving that goal.
3) How will the notable off-season acquisitions fit on the roster?
In a bit of a surprising move, the Grizzlies inked Spurs restricted free-agent Kyle Anderson to four-year deal. While Anderson isn’t known for being the volume scorer that has forever eluded this franchise, he fits the grit-n-grind mold about as well as a player could. Anderson plays tough defense and doesn’t take any plays off, and his methodical offensive pace matches the play-style that the Grizzlies rely on most. While he may never lead a team in scoring, Anderson is exactly the type of high-IQ player this team lost when it cut ties with Tony Allen and Zach Randolph before the start of last season.
When the Grizzlies traded for the draft-night rights to Deyonta Davis in 2016, he was deemed as the possible heir-apparent to Gasol as the team’s center. However, after two seasons bouncing back-and-forth from the G League, the Grizzlies cut bait and traded Davis and 2017 free-agent signee Ben McLemore to Sacramento for Garrett Temple, a veteran wing who does a little bit of everything on the floor. A plus three-point shooter, Temple projects as a valuable piece off the bench and his size allows him to guard multiple positions, a trait that is ever-so valuable in today’s NBA.
While it is unclear what role Anderson and Temple will play, both additions will be critical components of the team’s results this season, and fans can expect at least one of the two to be penciled in to the starting lineup sooner rather than later.
4) How will J.B. Bickerstaff fare after being named the team’s head coach?
When David Fizdale was fired after only 19 games last season, fans and media outlets were confused with the overall direction the team was trying to take. After finishing with an abysmal 22-60 record in J.B. Bickerstaff’s shortened, interim stint, the team decided to promote Bickerstaff to head coach and give him a chance to run the team his way through an entire off-season and preseason.
In his time in the NBA, Bickerstaff has served on staffs as an assistant with the Charlotte Bobcats, Minnesota Timberwolves and the Houston Rockets, where he also served as interim head coach during the 2015-2016 season. While Bickerstaff is well respected by his peers for his work as an assistant for many years, time will only tell if the front office made the right move by removing the interim tag from Bickerstaff’s title.
5) Will Chandler Parsons ever live up to his contract?
When the Grizzlies gave out $94 million over four years to secure the services of Chandler Parsons, it was seen as move to put the team over the hump and finally legitimize their stake as contenders in the western conference. Two years later, the contract seems to have done the exact opposite. Parsons has struggled to stay healthy, and when he has been active he has looked like a shell of the player that once averaged 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4 assists per game for the Houston Rockets in his third season in the league. Although he did increase his shooting percentage from 33.8% in 2016 to 46.2% in 2017, Parsons only averaged 7.9 points per game last season in 19.2 minutes per game, respectively.
So far, his Memphis tenure has been plagued by nagging injury and discontent from the fans stemming from his performance on the court. In a recent article published in The Players Tribune, Parsons vowed to the city that he loves being here, and that he feels as good as he ever has physically since arriving in Memphis two summers ago. He went on to say that he knows he has a lot to prove, and he’s motivated to make the city proud.
Coming into this season, if Parsons can become a regular contributor on a new-look roster, the idea of making the playoffs doesn’t seem too far-fetched. For Grizzlies fans, all there is to do is hope Chandler can walk it like he talks it.
[banner image: Joe Murphy/Getty Images]