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Memphis Grizzlies’ success: Defensive efficiency, the Ja Morant factor and roster depth | NBA News

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The Memphis Grizzlies are tied atop the Western Conference standings with the Denver Nuggets – a distinction they have never held before. Now riding a nine-game unbeaten run, they possess all the hallmarks of a team capable of dominating the playoff picture. This is how they’ve done it.

The ‘Ja Morant’ factor

Where to begin with a man who can effectively fly? When it comes to leaping and dunking, nobody does it better than the Grizzlies’ Ja Morant.

He has been averaging 27.4 points per game, 5.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists, which seems a little tame for his abilities, but the more enthralling aspect is the pizzazz he brings to proceedings.

None more so evident than in the Grizzlies’ 130-112 win over the Indiana Pacers, where Morant dropped a doozy of a dunk over 6ft 9in Jalen Smith. Don’t take our word for it, just watch:

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Ja Morant continued his sensational recent form with a dazzling slam dunk in the third quarter against Pacers

The fact that the man is 20cm taller than him did not faze Morant, it very rarely does. The speed and agility at which he manoeuvres the pocket and pass lanes is simply absurd. Even from just outside the paint, the Grizzlies guard is, and continues to be, a terrifying prospect to defend against.

Jaren Jackson Jr leading the defensive charge

It is hard to take your eyes off Morant, but it might be useful to do so every now and then otherwise you might miss the valuable contributions of Jaren Jackson Jr.

Before the 23-year-old was introduced to the starting line-up, there were concerns over the Grizzlies’ slow defensive issues. They languished in 18th place when it came to defensive efficiency and were conceding swathes of points despite Morant’s monstrous dunking.

Fast-forward two months and they now rank first, possessing a strong pair of defenders in JJJ and Dillon Brooks who snuff out the potency of even the best point guards and power forwards.

Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. (13) shoots in front of San Antonio Spurs guard Tre Jones (33), Jan. 11, 2023, in Memphis, Tenn.
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Jaren Jackson Jr has made valuable contributions for Memphis Grizzlies

It means we get to simultaneously watch one of the league’s best offences and defences unravel and excel in front of us, while the rest of the Western Conference attempts to match their relentless standards.

Impressive roster depth

You’ve seen it happen all season, across seasons. A team is on a hot, active winning streak, and then one of their star players gets sidelined with injury, effectively derailing their playoff ambitions.

This is what happens when you have a regimented starting five, with no depth to the roster to fill in those gaps. That has not been the case for the Grizzlies this season.

Indeed, they have had fillers across the opening stages of this year’s campaign. When Desmond Bane went down with a sprained big toe, John Konchar stepped into the mix. Rookies David Roddy, Jake LaRavia and Kennedy Chandler have also contributed when called upon, as they did along their team’s ninth consecutive win.

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Ja Morant continued his sensational recent form with a dazzling slam dunk in the third quarter against Pacers

Tyus Jones has been a particularly compelling inclusion, having impressed due to his consistency and development in shooting beyond the arch.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that the teams with the most depth usually find themselves among the title contenders, and this Memphis team are exactly that.

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