The Memphis Grizzlies Have Been the Reigning Champions of the Southwest Division for the Past Two Seasons.
However, as we approach the 2023-24 season, their hold on the division could be slipping away. The Western Conference is shaping up to be a formidable battleground, with last year’s second-seeded Grizzlies looking somewhat vulnerable on paper.
The defending champions, the Denver Nuggets, are bringing back their core group, while the Sacramento Kings can rely on their All-Star duo after ending the league’s longest playoff drought. The Phoenix Suns have added Bradley Beal to their already star-studded roster, the Golden State Warriors have acquired the elite playmaker Chris Paul to complement their unrivaled outside perimeter scoring, and the Dallas Mavericks, led by Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, have had a full offseason to gel with their recent acquisitions. In contrast, the Grizzlies find themselves in a challenging situation, relying on a patchwork lineup as Ja Morant serves a 25-game suspension to start the season.
The NBA imposed this suspension on the Grizzlies’ star point guard due to off-court issues following the conclusion of last season. In response, Memphis restructured its roster to cope with Morant’s absence. They acquired Marcus Smart, the 2022 Defensive Player of the Year, but lost valuable role players like Tyus Jones and Dillon Brooks to free agency. Additionally, Brandon Clarke is recovering from an Achilles injury that prematurely ended his last season. The burden of carrying the team through the initial part of the season will fall on the shoulders of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane, but uncertainties linger in other positions.
While Marcus Smart is expected to step in as a defensive anchor and playmaker, the Grizzlies’ lack of depth at the point guard position will be glaring, whether Smart is healthy or not. Derrick Rose is projected to be the backup, but the 34-year-old struggled to secure playing time with the New York Knicks last season, averaging just 5.6 points on 38.6 percent shooting over 27 games. It’s uncertain what Rose can contribute at this stage of his career, and his shoot-first style may not align with the team’s championship aspirations.
Dillon Brooks, although occasionally a shot-chucker, was a second-team All-NBA defender last season, contributing significantly to Memphis’s effective defense. John Konchar or Luke Kennard is likely to replace him, but neither possesses the ability to defend elite small forwards like LeBron James, Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Lauri Markkanen, and Michael Porter Jr. Memphis will face these formidable opponents multiple times this season, exposing their shortcomings against opposing small forwards, even with a premier rim protector like Jaren Jackson Jr.
Memphis managed to weather the storm without Ja Morant during the 2021-22 season, posting an impressive 20-5 record without their starting point guard. However, their magic faded last season as they went 11-10 without him, with only four of those wins coming against teams that made the play-in or playoffs in 2022-23. The Grizzlies’ schedule for the upcoming season is expected to be significantly tougher, with matchups against the improved Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns, along with contests against the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference.
In light of these challenges, it’s evident that the Grizzlies face an uphill battle. Ja Morant will require time to regain his rhythm after missing a substantial portion of high-level competition. Memphis may need to make substantial changes to get back on track, and although they are still favored to win the Southwest Division, the Dallas Mavericks are a strong contender to take the lead.
In conclusion, while the Grizzlies have been dominant in recent years, the 2023-24 season presents them with a unique set of challenges, and their path to continued success is uncertain.