Grizzlies are beating the Pelicans in a race to take over the Southwest

Memphis Grizzlies

Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies are one of very few teams in the NBA with an extremely bright future despite a lack of success right now. The Grizzlies did make the playoffs in 2021, but they fell to the Utah Jazz in a competitive, but uneven series.

The Grizzlies were never considered a threat to make the NBA Finals.

That said, Memphis has to be considered the NBA’s team of the future right now. Sure, you could throw the Atlanta Hawks, a team that was a couple of games away from the Finals, into that conversation. Maybe you could even throw the Boston Celtics into that conversation.

The Grizzlies, however, are a much younger team than any of those squads. And with that youth comes a mountain of potential that they may or may not reach. So far, they have found a way to exceed expectations.

The Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans are in a dogfight for the future of the Southwest Division

Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, one of their divisional rivals has the former first-overall pick on the roster in Zion Williamson. The former Duke star was the only player drafted before Morant in the 2019 NBA Draft, taking the one-spot to Morant’s two.

Williamson, among other things, is an elite interior scorer. There isn’t a single player in the league who has the same power, speed, and quickness that Williamson does. He’s built like LeBron James with more weight and arguably more athleticism.

While Morant beat out Williamson for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award, Williamson beat Morant to the NBA All-Star game, making an appearance in 2021.

Unfortunately for Williamson, he doesn’t have the same type of team built around him that Morant does. Ja has been lucky to have Zach Kleiman and an elite Grizzlies front office building a young team around him that will be ready to compete in a few years.

In the Ringer’s Young NBA Core Rankings from before the 2020-21 season, the Grizzlies came second to the Celtics, even before the emergence of Dillon Brooks. This team is stacked with young talent, waiting for the right moment to strike.

The Pelicans, on the other hand, have done a terrible job making their team immediately competitive. In 2020-21, New Orleans finished second-to-last in the Southwest Division, only beating a Houston Rockets team that finished with the world record in the league.

Some may deny it, but the Grizzlies and Pelicans are in a frantic race to see who can take over the Southwest Conference. With Luka Doncic seemingly unable to bring the Dallas Mavericks to a competitive level, this division will be in the hands of either Morant or Williamson.

So far, Morant is winning that race.

While Morant’s number’s pale in comparison to Williamson’s, the success that the Grizzlies have seen is undeniable. This past season, they finished 38-34, a record strong enough to earn them a spot in the play-in tournament. From there, they defeated the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors, knocking each of those teams out of the competition.

They did this while Zion and his New Orleans Pelicans sat and watched from their couch.