With Ja Morant playing at a MVP level, and depth like no other, Memphis has put the NBA on notice

Ja Morant and the Grizzlies are no longer a team on the rise. No, they have ascended and want all the smoke. Just ask your favorite player.

Two days removed from taking apart the Lakers(again), the Grizzlies defeated the Warriors, 116-108, on Tuesday to extend their franchise-record win streak to 10 games. They haven’t lost since before Christmas, and have won — double-take — 20 of their last 24 games. They’re No. 4 in the West at 29-14, 3.5 games out of the No. 1 seed and just two wins short of Phoenix’s NBA-best 31 victories.

On pace for a whopping 55 wins, even after missing Morant for 13 games during their hot streak, there is one thing clear; the Grizzlies are here.

Morant’s gravity-defying athleticism is a callback to prime Derrick Rose in all its herky-jerky, forceful glory. This guy brings you out of your seat multiple times every game.

But the story of the Grizzlies isn’t as much about Morant as it is about all the weapons they have besides Morant. To wit: LeBron James shot 14-of-19 with 35 points, nine rebounds and seven assists Sunday night, while Morant, with that one notable exception above, finished a pretty quiet night with just 16 points and seven assists.

Yet Morant’s team won easily because the other Grizzlies were just massively better than L.A.’s supporting cast. In a year where protocol absences have gutted rotations across the league, Memphis’ superior depth has proven a massive advantage.

But the other, more prominent advantage is that the core is just significantly better than a year ago, with two players in particular figuring prominently in that.

We know Morant has ascended to MVP candidate this season but have you recognized Desmond Bane? Bane scored 23 points in 26 minutes on Sunday night, which was his latest impressive game from a long list this season. Bane is shooting 42.8 percent from 3 this year, a key component for anyone running alongside Morant who attacks the rim at any given moment.

The other key player in Memphis’ run of late has been Jaren Jackson Jr. He struggled early on this season but has found his footing of late as the Grizzlies found their stride.

Starting at center this weekend (in place of the protocoled Steven Adams) seemed to unleash him. Jackson erupted for 26 points, eight boards, five blocks, three steals and three assists in Saturday’s win over the Clippers, leaving him two assists and two steals shy of the league’s first “five-by-five” since 2019. He followed it up with 21 points, 12 boards and six blocks against the Lakers.

Bigger picture, what I’m saying is that the Grizzlies have three-fifths of a killer starting five figured out with the Morant-Bane-Jackson trio … which likely becomes four-fifths once you add Brooks back in the mix. They also have the best bench in the league and are sitting on a pile of assets that includes three first-round picks in 2022.

This makes you wonder … is it time for Memphis to push its chips in? The Grizzlies have focused on the future since the middle of the 2018-19 season, and that focus has paid off handsomely. The team is still extremely young, and the cap sheet is clean.

As a result, the Grizzlies are comfortably ensconced in fourth in the West … but challenging the conference’s three kingpins (Golden State, Phoenix and Utah) still looks like an uphill fight. Longer-term, they need at least one more player to match Morant’s ascent to a top-20 talent in the league to realistically contend at the highest levels.

The fact we’re even talking about this is in itself a giant victory for Memphis, but this burst of success only increases the focus on what the team might do at the trade deadline. You can’t play a 13-man rotation in the playoffs, and you can’t keep picks and young guys around for cheap indefinitely.

At some point you have to pick your true core and trade those other valuable assets for that one big piece that takes you from “oh that’s a nice team” to “oh they’re winning the whole damn thing.”

May I propose this.

Memphis’ ever-elusive hunt for a big wing to fill the positional space between Jackson and Brooks likely is the piece that takes center stage, but who is the player out there who can make a difference? Memphis should be calling Boston about Jaylen Brown every half hour or so, but he’s likely not available.

Does a Miles Bridges from Charlotte move the needle enough?

That is for the Grizzlies to figure out in the coming year. But for now enjoy the insane high this team is running on. it is not everyday you see a team build naturally in the NBA. This teams success is soul rooted in drafting and that is special.

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