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30 Teams in 30 Days

2020-21 NBA Season Preview: Will the up-and-coming Memphis Grizzlies sneak into the playoffs?

The 2020-21 NBA season is set to tip-off on Dec. 22. To get you ready for the year to come, we're dedicating one day between now and the start of the season to each team in the league.

Today, we take a look at the Memphis Grizzlies.

2019-20 season record

34-39, 9th in Western Conference

Notable additions

Desmond Bane, No. 30 pick in 2020 NBA Draft

Xavier Tillman Sr., No. 58 pick in 2020 NBA Draft

Mario Hezonja, Trade (Portland Trail Blazers)

Notable departures

Josh Jackson, Free agency (Detroit Pistons)

Anthony Tolliver, Free agency

Depth chart

Starter 2nd 3rd
PG Ja Morant Tyus Jones De'Anthony Melton
SG Dillon Brooks Grayson Allen Desmond Bane
SF Kyle Anderson Justise Winslow Mario Hezonja
PF Jaren Jackson Jr. Brandon Clarke Xavier Tillman Sr.
C Jonas Valanciunas Gorgui Dieng

3 key storylines

What's next for Ja Morant

Morant is coming off of an impressive rookie season with the Grizzlies.

In 31.0 minutes per game, Morant averaged team-highs of 17.8 points and 7.3 assists, numbers we've only seen from six first-year players before. He led the Grizzlies to a 34-39 record, which was enough for them to force a play-in game against the Portland Trail Blazers.

While the Grizzlies came up short against the Blazers, Morant didn't disappoint, finishing with a career-best 35 points to go along with eight assists.

"That's why he's a star already as a rookie, because of what he's capable of," Blazers star Damian Lillard said of Morant after the game.

Even before his showing in the bubble, our NBA.com Staff saw enough from Morant to believe he'll be the sixth best player in the league in five years behind Joel Embiid, Zion Williamson, Anthony Davis, Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo (the caveat being that future prospects weren't taken into account). It would be unreasonable to expect Morant to take that sort of leap between his rookie and sophomore season, but he's given us no reason to doubt that what we saw last season is only a taste of what's to come.

Jaren Jackson Jr.'s health

Speaking of rising stars, Jackson has proven to be the perfect big man for the modern NBA.

Not only can he stretch the floor at a high rate - Jackson attempted 6.5 3-pointers per game last season and made them at a 39.4 percent clip - he's a versatile defender, a legitimate shot blocker and an improving playmaker.

With both of them being only 21 years old, Morant and Jackson have the potential to develop into one of the league's best one-two punches in the years to come.

One of the biggest obstacles in them actualizing that potential is Jackson's health. Leg injuries sidelined him for 24 games in his rookie season and his sophomore season ended with a meniscus tear.

While Jackson is expected to make a full recovery after undergoing surgery, he might not be ready for the start of the 2020-21 season.

The Grizzlies can only hope Jackson won't miss much time because he figures to be a big part of their success both this season and beyond.

Are the playoffs within reach?

After coming up just short of making the playoffs last season, the Grizzlies will be hungry to return to the playoffs this season.

The problem? They're one of many teams hungry to make the playoffs this season.

The only team that made the playoffs in the Western Conference last season that isn't expected to make it again this season is the Oklahoma City Thunder. Assuming the Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets each make the playoffs again, that leaves one spot up for grabs between the Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns, San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Pelicans, Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves.

Fortunately for those teams, the 2020-21 season will feature a play-in tournament for the playoffs, one that is slightly different from last season's. As a result, the Grizzlies could very well find themselves in a similar position as last season - fighting for a chance to make the playoffs on the final days of the regular season.

5 games to watch

at Brooklyn Nets, Date: Dec. 28

One of Morant's best performances as a rookie came early in the season in a matchup with Kyrie Irving. Irving posted 37 points, seven rebounds and seven assists to Morant's 30 points, nine assists and four rebounds, but Morant's clutch play helped the Grizzlies outlast the Nets in overtime.

vs. Phoenix Suns, Date: Jan. 18

In addition to being an opportunity to see Morant face off against Chris Paul, the Grizzlies and Suns will both be fighting for a spot in the playoffs this season.

at Portland Trail Blazers, Date: Jan. 20

A rematch of last season's thrilling Play-In Game that came down to the wire.

at New Orleans Pelicans, Date: Feb. 6

A battle between the two best players from the 2019 NBA Draft class and two future stars in Morant and Zion Williamson.

Golden State Warriors, Date: TBD (Second half of season)

The present versus the future. This will be the first showdown between Stephen Curry and Morant, as Curry missed all but five games last season with an injury.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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