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Grizzlies mostly relying on internal improvement, which is quite alright

NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Grizzlies were way ahead of schedule last season. Picked to finish last in the Western Conference, Memphis was eighth when play got suspended for coronavirus. The Grizzlies narrowly missed the playoffs, losing a dramatic play-in game to the Trail Blazers.

“I can smile on my face, go home and know that these guys – the first words they said when we got in the locker room was, ‘We have a lot of work to do,’” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said after the game. “And that was through their mouths before I even spoke. So, that’s why I love this group.”

There’s plenty to love.

The Grizzlies’ combination of youth (average age of 24.1*) and success (34-39 record) has been matched by just four other teams in NBA history:

  • 1977-78 Bucks
  • 2008-09 Trail Blazers
  • 2009-10 Thunder
  • 2010-11 Thunder

*Weighted for playing time, using a player’s age on Feb. 1

Memphis will mostly count on its young players showing the dedication Taylor spoke of. The Grizzlies followed their surprisingly strong and swaggering season with a quiet offseason.

They re-signed De’Anthony Melton (four years, $35 million), John Konchar (four years, $9 million) and Jontay Porter (three years, $6 million). That’s a lot of team control over a few interesting young players.

Memphis also showed savvy in the draft. The Grizzlies got No. 30 pick Desmond Bane for two future second-rounders and taking Mario Hezonja’s negative-value contract. Then, Memphis surrendered another future second-rounder to trade up from No. 40 for No. 35 pick Xavier Tillman.

With the Nos. 30 and 35 picks, the Grizzlies got the Nos. 21 and 23 players on my board. That’s strong value. Bane and Tillman – tough, physical, smart – should fit right in with Memphis’ collection of young players.

Ja Morant is the headliner, and Jaren Jackson Jr. draws plenty of attention. But this is a deep group. Keeping Melton especially and adding Bane and Tillman only adds to the depth.

Acquired just before the last trade deadline, Justise Winslow was supposed to be the big acquisition once he got healthy. But he and Jackson are both still out. The bar for making the playoffs in the Western Conference almost certainly won’t be so low next season. The Grizzlies could easily take a step back.

But that’s not so bad ahead of a draft that appears strong at the top. Memphis already has a good and growing young base. Another high pick would raise the Grizzlies’ ceiling into the stratosphere.

Or maybe they’ll once again defy expectations and compete for the playoffs until the very end this season. As Taylor said, these players have winning attitudes.

Memphis’ future, one way or another, is bright. Of course, we knew that even before this offseason.

Offseason grade: C+