It was always going to be a tough task for the Memphis Grizzlies to carry on without All-Star guard Ja Morant to start this season, but being winless through three games is still pretty surprising. Morant’s currently serving a 25-game suspension, resulting in the Grizzlies having to fill the void left behind by their franchise centerpiece for the time being.
Morant’s production is difficult to replace, but given Memphis went 11-10 without him last season, the overarching thought was that this team could weather the storm until he returned. But through the first three games of the season, Memphis has been paddling upstream, especially on offense. Memphis ranks 26th on offense, and while the defense is keeping them in games, it hasn’t mattered much when the team can’t score.
In the Grizzlies’ season-opening loss to the Pelicans, they were manhandled on the glass, losing the rebounding battle 52-37. That’s a far cry from the that ranked fourth in rebounds a season ago. In their second loss, a 108-104 defeat at the hands of the defending champion Denver Nuggets, turnovers — 21 of them to be exact — were an issue. In their third loss to the Wizards, a 25-point deficit early proved to be too much to overcome down the stretch. Each loss showed a different issue facing Memphis to start the season, some of which is due to injuries.
However, the Grizzlies’ upcoming schedule doesn’t suggest that this team can fully climb out of the early hold they’ve dug themselves in. Over the next 10 games, the Grizzlies have matchups against the Mavericks, Heat, Clippers, Lakers and Celtics.
Even the “easier” games on the schedule against rebuilding teams aren’t guaranteed wins. San Antonio has looked better out of the gates than many might’ve expected with No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama. The Trail Blazers and Scoot Henderson are winless right now, but back-to-back road games always yield weird results. The Jazz were competitive all last season and could be a play-in contender. None of these games are easy wins, especially when considering how the Grizzlies have been playing.
Some help could be on the horizon for Memphis, as the team is reportedly signing center Bismack Biyombo to add depth to its frontcourt after losing Steven Adams to a season-ending knee injury. The veteran big man will help in the rebounding department, an area where the Grizzlies could use some help in Adams’ absence. Biyombo may be listed at 6-foot-8 but he’s garnered a reputation for being a solid shot blocker, ensuring that the Grizzlies have another rim protector outside of Jaren Jackson Jr.
But adding Biyombo isn’t going to solve every issue. Though Jackson Jr. has maintained his status as an elite shot blocker, his efficiency on offense has taken a dip to start the season, so too has his scoring. He’s also still struggling with fouling, averaging 4.7 a game so far.
That aside, the absence of Morant has just been a bigger issue than expected. One of the hallmarks of Memphis’ offense last season was scoring in the paint, ranking first in the league with 58.4 points a game. That was because of Morant’s elite ability to get to the rim at will and finish at a high clip. So far this season, the Grizzlies rank 25th, something that’s likely not going to change until Morant gets back.
With Morant’s return still far down the line, the Grizzlies have to figure out how to turn this early season setback around. Getting injured players like Luke Kennard and Santi Aldama will help Memphis with its depth issue, as will the addition of Biyombo. It’s also still incredibly early in the season, so it’s not time to hit the panic button just yet. But when you take a look at the Western Conference, losses like the ones Memphis has already racked up could mean a great deal down the line when playoff seeding is getting figured out.