It’s not a great sign that the most valuable Grizzly on the 2020-21 roster (Jonas Valanciunas, the 31st best player in fantasy on a per-game basis last year) is now playing for another team. The news gets worse when the second-best (Jaren Jackson Jr. at 62) only played eleven games, and worse still when you have to click Next Page to find franchise cornerstone, Ja Morant, at 206 overall. Despite these drawbacks, there is value to be cultivated in Memphis — a team that played at the league’s ninth-fastest pace last year and, after securing two play-in wins, arrived at the 8-seed in the Western Conference well ahead of schedule. Slo-Mo Kyle Anderson turned in sixth-round value for the first time since 17-18, Brandon Clarke proved his rookie year was no fluke by returning value just outside the top-100, and Dillon Brooks took another step forward in his fourth season as a pro. Backup guard and per-36 darling De’Anthony Melton is a trendy breakout pick headed into this year, especially on the heels of Grayson Allen’s departure and the allotment of minutes that have come available. If only that Morant fella were as valuable in our game as he is to the fortunes of basketball in the Home of the Blues. 

Arrivals/Departures

In: Kris Dunn, Steven Adams, Jarrett Culver, Ziaire Williams, Santi Aldama

Out: Jonas Valanciunas, Grayson Allen

The cost of the Pelicans swapping the longer and more expensive contract of Steven Adams (and dumping Eric Bledsoe) for the last remaining year for Memphis’ stud center Jonas Valancuinas was 18 combined spots in the 2021 NBA Draft and a future Lakers first-round pick. This deal allowed the Grizzlies to snag their guys Ziaire Williams at 10 and Jared Butler at 40, and more or less officially turn the keys over Jaren Jackson Jr. as the go-to big. Sure, Steven Adams will still draw a substantial workload and help backstop the oft-injured and slight Jackson, but the offensive slack left behind in the wake of JV’s departure will largely be picked up by in-house solutions like JJJ or Brandon Clarke. The same logic should be applied to De’Anthony Melton, who’s in line for a bump after the champion Bucks poached Memphis’ scoring guard Grayson Allen for future seconds and Sam Merrill. Kris Dunn — now on his third team in three years — washed ashore in Memphis to provide depth at the point and should not be looked at as a contributor in anything but the deepest league. 

Depth Chart

PG Ja Morant Tyus Jones Kris Dunn
SG Dillon Brooks De’Anthony Melton Desmond Bane John Konchar Sam Merrill
SF Kyle Anderson Jarrett Culver Ziaire Williams
PF Jaren Jackson Jr. Brandon Clarke Santi Aldama
C Steven Adams Xavier Tillman Killian Tillie

Backcourt

There might not be a bigger discrepancy between real-life and fantasy value than Memphis’ star point guard Ja Morant. An electric watch, the just-turned 22-year-old is an absolute dynamo on the hardwood, and his electric blend of speed, athleticism, and audacity produces no shortage of jaw-dropping plays. I’m not saying that you need to spend the next 10 minutes watching his highlight package, but I do think you should ask yourself if you’ve really got that much going on anyway. 

Morant is a guy that’s easy to fall in love with except when viewed through the lens of fantasy basketball. A high usage player, Ja serves up a solid helping of points and dimes (19.1 and 7.4) and almost-good steals (0.9) but not much else in the category format. He doesn’t block shots (0.2), take especially good care of the rock (3.2 TO) or get busy from deep (1.2 3PM), and the efficiency is down right ugly. Morant shot 44% from the floor last season, 30% from 3, and only 72% from the stripe. That’s a lot of negatives for a future star. Still incredibly young and super talented, there’s plenty of room to grow for Morant, but be sure to come into drafting him with your eyes open. He’ll help in points and assists, but you’ll need to take care to balance out those percentages elsewhere. 

Joining Morant in the backcourt is the differently flawed Dillon Brooks, who will knock down triples (1.9) and rack up steals (1.2) at better rates than Ja, but his primary contribution comes in the form of getting buckets (a career-best 17.2 PPG last year). Brooks saw his usage spike above 25% last year (26.1, second-best on the team), and I like him as the last guy on your roster in shallower or more standard league sizes. It’s unclear if there’s another big step ahead of Brooks, as his shooting percentages seem more or less stuck where they are and the rebound and assist numbers are just okay, but there’s floor here in scoring, steals, triples, FT%, and he doesn’t kill you with turnovers. You could do worse. 

There are no two ways about it: De’Anthony Melton’s per-36 minutes are drop-dead gorgeous — 16.3/5.5/4.5/2.1/1.1 with 3 3PM and just 2.3 TO. Coming into his fourth professional season, the question doesn’t seem to be Can he? but Will he get the shot? As mentioned above, the Grayson Allen trade should shake loose some minutes for Melton, who was limited to 20 MPG last year. The defensive stats and triples alone have made Melton a streaming option in the past, and given the potential for growth here, the pre-season hype seems to be well-founded. Cracking into the top-100 seems like a good bet, with room for much more. 

After drawing 17 starts last year, it’s not outrageous to think that Desmond Bane could again sneak into some starts at the 3 if the Grizzlies commit to JJJ at the 5 and Kyle Anderson at the 4. As a rookie, Bane was a dead-eye shooter — particularly from distance. Of his 7.1 FGA, 4 of them were triples and he connected a scorching 43.2% of his tries. There’s a sprinkling of rebounds in the mix, but at this stage, Bane is a three-point specialist. He almost never gets to the rim or gets fouled, and dearth of production in other cats leaves him as a dynasty guy rather than someone appropriate in redraft leagues. 

Tyus Jones is an emergency option for assists without a turnover ding, but there isn’t a whole lot here for the career backup. Given the logjam for minutes in the backcourt anyway, there aren’t many minutes to go around for Kris Dunn, John Konchar, or Sam Merrill. The chimera of Jones, Konchar, Merrill, and Dunn can safely be ignored until further notice. 

Wings and Forwards

Kyle Anderson’s fantasy value enjoyed a bit of a renaissance during the 2020-21 campaign, fueled mostly by a jump in field goal attempts and scoring. A low-usage, low-turnover, defensive playmaker, Anderson effectively tripled his 3PA last year, leading to his first season with 10+ PPG (12.4). At 36% from downtown, being a league-average shooter took some of the sting out of his negatives and helped his sparkling defensive stats (2.0 steals+blocks) pop. He’s not going to handle the pill enough to ever be a useful contributor in scoring, but he does most everything else well and is on the cusp of being a 1/1/1 player. His versatility and defense should keep his MPG near 30 despite a roster loaded with capable players. Assuming his trigger happy ways are here to stay, there’s a good floor here with Mr. Anderson. 

There are ways to spin Brandon Clarke’s regression in year two, namely injuries and the emergence of viable competition in the person of Xavier Tillman, but some of the numbers look a bit icky on their own. Scoring (from 12.1 to 10.3), rebounding (5.9 to 5.6) and all of his shooting numbers (61.8/35.9/75.9 to 51.7/26.0/69.0) took a hit in his second year. Despite this, there are some silver linings. The first is that, even with the offensive woes, Clarke nearly doubled his steal rate and finished the year just shy of being a 1/1/1 player. The full portfolio of stats meant that his overall drop in per-game value was more gradual than might be expected (from 80 to 109). Tillman’s presence doesn’t buoy the appeal for Clarke by any means, but assuming he can get his shooting form back, Clarke could be due for a bounce-back year. The marked-down Clarke could slip farther than he should on draft day. I wouldn’t let him fall too far outside of the first 100 picks. 

As mentioned above, Bane seems likely to figure in at the 3, pushing new addition Jarrett Culver further down the pecking order on the wing. A lottery pick in 2019, Culver turned in two lackluster seasons in Minneapolis before coming over for Patrick Beverley this offseason. After starting 36 games as a rookie, he actually saw less time on the floor as a sophomore (Timberwolves development strikes again), but there are some signs of life as a defender. Maybe the staff in Memphis can coach him up a bit, and after being picked sixth overall, there’s reason to think there’s raw talent here to be cultivated. It’s hard to see him making an impact barring injury, especially with the promise flashed in Bane’s rookie season, but giving up on him entirely seems premature.

Ziaire Williams was the guy that Memphis moved up to get at pick number 10 in this year’s draft, but the move strikes me as a little curious. A 6’10” wing who left Stanford after a single season, the path to playing time here is anything but clear. Perhaps a G-league stint is ahead of Williams? There’s some logic to that, but moving into the lottery to stash a guy in the lower level is a bit odd. Williams turned in a solid if unspectacular season at Stanford, averaging 10.7 points and 4.6 boards to go with a smattering of defensive stats. He also turned in the first triple-double since NBA Champion Brook Lopez messed around on campus in 2007, so there’s definitely something here. If he can crack into Taylor Jenkins’ top 10 (?) is an open question though. It’s a tough spot for the rook.  

Centers

Jaren Jackson Jr. is one of the most intriguing players coming into draft season, and with good reason. JJJ has never turned in a season outside of the top-90 on a per-game basis in his three-year career. The key phrase there is per game. Despite tantalizing career averages — 15.4/4.7/1.2/0.8/1.5 with 1.5 triples and 1.7 turnovers — Jackson Jr. has never played more than 60 games in any season. Last year, Y! drafters selected JJJ in the 6th round and got eleven games of admittedly high-value games out of the big man, as the Grizzlies handled his rehab from a torn meniscus with extreme caution. The injury/load management risk here is real, but the potential is through the roof. If fully empowered, Jackson could turn in 2+ stocks, 1.5+ triples, 15+ points, and 5+ boards without nuking percentages. If you’re an upside drafter, Jackson should be starred, bulleted, and highlighted in your queue.  

By this point in Steven Adams’ career, he’s more or less a known quantity. A physical presence in the middle, the Big Kiwi is a boost in FG% (career 59.1%) and boards (8.9+ REB in each of the last four seasons) but a negative contributor elsewhere. Blocks dipped below 1 last season in New Orleans and the steals have been on the decline since the high-water mark (1.5) in 2018-19. If the defensive stats can be revived in Memphis, Adams could get back in the ballpark of being a top 100 player after turning in his worst statistical finish last season (192 in per-game value last year.) 

At this point, Xavier Tillman is off the radar for standard-sized leagues, but I love him as insurance for JJJ in deeper formats and dynasty leagues. Given the bevy of big man options available, it’s hard to find a path to 20+ MPG for Tillman barring an injury or a deal. Still, there are reasons to be excited about Tillman following his rookie campaign, particularly in the FG% department (55.9%). The per-36 numbers push Xavier into the territory of 13 and 9 with 2+ stocks. He’ll need a break or two to get the time, but he’s a name to remember if there are some injuries in the frontcourt.