By Lee Eric Smith
A summer of speculation about the Memphis Grizzlies has come to a close. Now we’re close to finding out what kind of team the Grizzlies will be this season.
After meeting media on Monday, the Grizzlies kicked off training camp on Tuesday morning – a camp full of fresh, young faces all eager to hit the court.
“It was good to get the first practice in the books,” said rookie head coach Taylor Jenkins. “But I’m really proud of the guys. Their mentality from the jump set a tone about how we want to work.”
Fans will get their first look on Saturday when the team hosts an open practice at 1:30 p.m. at Memphis University School (MUS). Preseason exhibitions against Israel’s Maccabi Haifa and the New Zealand Breakers follow on Sunday, Oct. 6 and Tuesday, Oct. 8.
And while fans are itching to see highlight dunks from rising stars Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant, they’ll also be delighted to know what Jenkins dialed in on first.
“The first thing we tackled was our transition defense,” Jenkins said. “I really talked about how that’s the core of what we want to do – to establish ourselves as a really, really good defensive team.”
It was a day of notable firsts – perhaps none bigger than Morant and Jackson finally getting on the court together. The future franchise cornerstones became fast friends during the Las Vegas Summer League, though neither played while recovering from injuries.
“That’s my brother, man,” Jackson said Monday. “We were around each other so much that we just organically grew that chemistry. You learn each other’s tendencies, you learn more about each other.
“Everyone on the team is very close,” Jackson said. “You’ll find out.”
Morant said he’s 100 percent healthy now. I asked about his first day hooping with Jackson.
“Oh, he makes me look good,” Morant said with a smile. “Jaren is a special talent. No matter where he is on the floor, you know he’s there and he can score the ball as well. Very excited to play with him for the first time.”
Meanwhile, multiple teammates confirmed that Morant was spectacular, even dunking on a couple of his teammates.
“He looked good,” said veteran forward Jae Crowder, who came to Memphis in the Mike Conley trade. “We all know he’s very athletic, but he made good decisions as well. It was a good first day for him.”
An indicator of how Jenkins wants to play can be found on the practice court. There are now five blue squares spread out beyond the three-point line. Jenkins mentioned a “5-out” style of play, which essentially places all five players out at the perimeter in a free-flowing motion-based offense.
“With the randomness our offense is going to create, we want to make sure we’re filling those (practice) boxes,” Jenkins said. “Ultimately (that’s) where we hope we’re going to get a lot of our threes from, as well as create the driving angles with the appropriate spacing behind those five boxes. It just gives them a good guide of where the spacing needs to be.”
So who are these Grizzlies? What kind of team will they be? We’ll start to get answers on Sunday vs. Maccabi Haifa.
Until then . . . GRIND ON!
This article originally appeared in the New Tri-State Defender