The Ja Morant Era has begun in Memphis, and the foundation for the Grizzlies' future will be set this season.
Rumblings of an impending Grizzlies rebuild started in earnest last season when the team traded Marc Gasol to the Toronto Raptors and reportedly considered dealing Mike Conley as well prior to the league's February trade deadline.
Conley and Gasol were Memphis' pillars for 11 years together and led the franchise to the postseason in seven consecutive seasons—making it as far as the Western Conference Finals in 2012-13.
However, the Grizzlies haven't made the playoffs since 2016-17, and a changing of the guard became inevitable when the team stumbled on their way to a 33-49 record.
Now, the weight has fallen on Morant and 2018 fourth overall pick Jaren Jackson Jr.'s shoulders to do what the Conley-Gasol duo couldn't and win the franchise's first NBA title.
Below is an overview of what could transpire in Memphis during the 2019-20 season with an outline of top matchups and predictions.
Season Opener: Oct. 23 at Miami Heat
Championship Odds: 1000-1 (via Caesars)
Full Schedule: Visit Memphis Commercial Appeal
New York Knicks (Home Game: April 1)
Morant will presumably be linked to New York Knicks rookie guard RJ Barrett for as long as they both play in the NBA. So, naturally, watching their teams compete during their rookie seasons will be appointment viewing.
Barrett was selected out of Duke by the Knicks at third overall, one spot after Morant went off the board.
Prior to the draft, ESPN's Jay Bilas broke down the differences between Barrett and Morant—noting that Morant is a superior shooter and passer while Barrett gets the edge in transition, rebounding and defense:
Barrett has been on the national radar for much longer than Morant, as the 19-year-old was pegged as the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2019 back in 2017, while Morant sprung into the national consciousness with his performance in the 2019 NCAA tournament that included the first March Madness triple-double since 2012.
Now that each is a lottery pick with keys to two NBA franchises, however, the slate is clean.
Outside of individual performances, it will be interesting to see how Barrett and Morant play alongside their new teammates in order to elevate the Knicks and Grizzlies respectively out of the cellar. In a Grizzlies-Knicks matchup specifically, the duos to watch will be Barrett with Kevin Knox and Morant with Jackson.
Knox, like Jackson, is a forward who was selected in the top 10 of the 2018 NBA draft.
Utah Jazz (First Home Game: Nov. 15)
The obvious through-line between the Grizzlies and Jazz is Conley playing against the only franchise he has ever known prior to Utah.
The Grizzlies traded in Conley for a newer model, so it's only natural for comparisons between the two to be rampant.
At 31 years old, Conley averaged a career-high 21.1 points. What's more relevant as Memphis moves on to Morant, who has been lauded for his ability to be unselfish and facilitate an offense, is Conley's assist output last season.
From Forbes' Ben Dowsett:
"Consider two simple metrics that help illustrate the values of a lead ball-handler: Assist percentage (rate of team baskets the player assisted on while on the floor) and turnover percentage (an estimate of player turnovers per 100 plays).
"Last season, Conley's output in these two categories: 33.4 assist percentage, 9.1 turnover percentage. Doesn't sound impressive? It is. Just three other players in NBA history have even topped 30 percent assists with under a 10 percent turnover ratio in a season, most recently a young Tracy McGrady in 2003. No one has ever matched Conley's precise 2018-19 thresholds in the same year."
Morant is cognizant of all that Conley has left behind, and the 20-year-old spoke on the role he has found himself in during his introductory press conference.
"Obviously, I have some big shoes to fill from Mike Conley," the Murray State product said, according to ESPN. "He's a great player. I wish him the best. I just want to thank [the] Memphis Grizzlies as a whole for believing in me and having that trust in me to pick me and put me in the position that I'm in."
The Grizzlies went 3-1 against the Jazz last season, and Conley was the leading scorer in all four games.
This season will go a long way in establishing consistency for a franchise that has hired five head coaches since 2010. How first-year head coach Taylor Jenkins brings along the Grizzlies' young talent will serve as a more important benchmark for Memphis in 2019-20 than the team's record.
Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman projected the 22-year-old Gonzaga product to be "an impact rookie" with the potential to develop into a key piece in Memphis' rebuild.
"The best-case projection for Clarke shows him developing into one of the game's most valued energizers," he wrote. "Worst case, he's a defensive specialist."
All of which is to say, the Grizzlies are playing the long-game.
Predicted Record: 30-52