The Memphis Grizzlies had the NBA's second best record in the regular season and one of the best seasons in franchise history.
They easily surpassed preseason expectations, but the franchise's end-of-season goal wasn’t met.
Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins, his staff and the front office will spend the summer finding ways to improve the roster, and the Western Conference finals series between the Golden State Warriors — who eliminated the Grizzlies in the conference semifinals — and Dallas Mavericks has showcased key areas Memphis can improve to reach its championship expectation.
Here are three improvable areas that have stood out in the Western Conference finals:
More complementary shooting
A team can never have too much shooting, and the Grizzlies could use more of it. When watching the Warriors and Mavericks, each team has a set of shooters who make it hard to focus on one player. In Memphis’ case, better shooting around All-Star point guard Ja Morant could create mismatches. Morant’s speed and agility allows him to blow by most one-on-one matchups, so having at least three shooters above league average around him could create the ultimate pick-your-poison situation. The Mavs made the Western Conference finals by surrounding Luka Doncic with elite shooting and forcing teams to hold up against him in 1-on-1 situations.
Among the Grizzlies starters, Desmond Bane was the perfect complement to Morant’s attacking style, but Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson Jr. each shot below 33% on 3-pointers, and big man Steven Adams wasn’t a threat.
Taking care of stars
Golden State limped into the postseason and prioritized getting healthy over playoff standings. The regular season is a long grind, and the Warriors, who earned the No. 3 seed behind Memphis, knew how to pace itself with a veteran roster.
For Memphis, Jackson held up after playing the most games (78) in one season of his career, but that wasn’t the case for the star backcourt. Morant missed nine consecutive games due to right knee soreness before playing in the penultimate regular season game. He returned for the first-round series against the Minnesota Timberwolves but admitted to not being 100%. Bane was one of the Grizzlies’ top players during the first round, but back soreness limited him against Golden State. He averaged 23.5 points against the Timberwolves and 14 versus Golden State. Bane played in 76 of the Grizzlies’ 82 games.
“I pride myself on being healthy, and getting hurt, kind of tweaking my back at a time like this kind of shows me that I probably got to do more in the off-season to be able to withstand the long minutes and long season,” Bane said after the Game 6 loss to the Warriors eliminated Memphis.
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Develop a second closer
After Morant suffered a bone bruise injury in his right knee and missed the final three games of the Golden State series, Memphis struggled to close games. The Grizzlies didn't trail in their Game 4 loss until the final 45.7 seconds, and they were down 78-77 before losing 110-96 in Game 6. The Mavericks were in similar situations the last two seasons when they failed to make it past the first round. However, the emergence of Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie has given them players capable of closing games when teams prioritize Doncic, or when he isn’t available.
The Grizzlies have in-house options like Bane and Jackson who could become secondary closers. Bane said ball handling is an offseason goal for him, and if he takes a similar jump as he did in his first two seasons, then he’ll be more than capable. Jackson became the No. 1 option with Morant out versus Golden State, and he showed signs of being able to handle that load.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis Grizzlies can learn from Mavericks-Warriors NBA playoff series