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Outsider’s Perspective: Could NBA’s next rivalry involve the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans?

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Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, both cities on the Mississippi, and plenty more apt comparisons

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Whether the resumption of the 2019-20 season comes together as planned or not, what we witnessed from October through March makes for good discussion as several fascinating NBA seeds were planted.

No two teams fit the mold of the future better than the Memphis Grizzlies and the New Orleans Pelicans. In addition to carrying the first two overall picks from the 2019 Draft in Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson Jr. are young players with bright careers ahead.

If the proximity in roster structures wasn’t close enough, the battle for the Western Conference’s eight seed surely takes the cake. Throw in some playful jabs from writers defending both sides of the spectrum, and fans defending their home turf, the makings of a longterm rivalry are staring us in the face.

The best rivalries don’t always come pre-packaged and tailor-made. Sometimes they require additional external factors to fuel the fire. Fortunately for New Orleans and Memphis, proximity and commonality are in play, which should only help grow the animosity.

Parker Fleming and Nathan Chester of Grizzly Bear Blues invited me for a recording of “The Core 4 Podcast” and we talked about some of these potential rivalry elements along with other enlightening facets. You can follow them both respectfully @PAKA_FLOCKA & @NathanChester24 and listen to our episode here.

To garner a further perspective on the Grizzlies side of things, I linked up with Parker afterwards to bring you our latest installment of Outsider’s Perspective.

The Grizzlies appear to be way ahead of schedule as they currently occupy the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Everyone has talked about Ja Morant, but other players have received credit as well. What we don’t hear enough about is the work done by head coach Taylor Jenkins. What has he contributed to their team’s success?

Taylor Jenkins is the one that instills confidence in this team. From the beginning, he’s preached the “let it fly” mantra, allowing his team to play fast and through mistakes. Though it wasn’t pretty to start the season, the team found a rhythm and it paved the way for a huge run into the 8th seed.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Each game, the offense looks crisp, and the defense has been sharp as well. Jenkins has also done a great job with adjustments, mainly with his rotations. I bought into him when I saw he came from the Budenholzer tree (they never fail!), so I’m excited to see how he grows with this young team.

Which player would fit best alongside the “Grit and Grind” era of the Grizzlies: De’Anthony Melton, Brandon Clarke or Josh Jackson?

Alongside the “Grit and Grind” era? De’Anthony Melton. He was a godsend for the Grizzlies this year as they went 27-20 once he saw consistent minutes. Per Cleaning the Glass, Memphis has the efficiency differential of a 57-win team, with Melton posting a +8.7 efficiency differential. So, he’s awesome, but it’s his game that elicits notions of GNG.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Grizzlies commentary and social media call him “Mr. Do Something.” Melton always makes something happen, whether it’s a deflection or steal, a fastbreak hoop, or a timely assist. His calling card is defense, and his shooting is his biggest area of improvement - the most telling traits of a GNG Grizzly.

We’re slowly seeing faithful Pelican and Grizzly followers attempt to plant the seeds of discord. What makes these cities and franchises so fitting for a rivalry that we could see play out for years to come?

The easiest one is the proximity. They are down I-55, and it’s a 5-6 hour drive. That makes things fun.

Honestly, they’re so fit for a rivalry because they’re so similar. Sure, the Pelicans roster will get more shine than the Grizzlies, as Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram still ride that pre-draft and Laker clout, while Zion is … well… Zion. However, their best similarities lie within its history and situation. Both teams haven’t experienced legitimate success in the WCF or Finals.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The national media always lists them as franchises that could move to Seattle or Las Vegas. Hell, Stephen A. thought Zion would go back to Duke to avoid the Pelicans! Given all that, plus the hometown connection with the two teams’ biggest stars, this rivalry could rule the NBA for the next decade-and-a-half.

What’s the biggest misconception about this years’ Memphis Grizzlies team?

That they’re only the eight seed because of an easy schedule. Truth be told, no one expected this team to be this good. I thought a 37-45 season would be best-case. Yes, the projections will look at SOS. They’ll say, “oh this team had an easy schedule.” They still weren’t supposed to win many of those games.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

They were pegged as a bottom-5 team. Regardless of it being an “easy part of the schedule,” they were still largely an underdog in most of those matchups. Instead, they emerged as a good team that boasted a borderline-elite offense over a four-month stretch. This wasn’t just a flukey part of the schedule. They are a legitimately good team.

Outsider’s perspective of the New Orleans Pelicans.

It’s an unpopular opinion in Memphis right now, but I really like this team. Zion Williamson is awesome, even though the hype train is a bit much. I’ve always been a huge fan of Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, and JJ Redick. Having Brandon Ingram and Jrue Holiday as the team’s 1/2 scoring options — yes, I have them ahead of Zion, and yes it’s a good thing for the Pelicans.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The thing I’m intrigued with the most — and it could be the biggest key for the Zion era — is the coach after Gentry. Eventually, he’ll retire or be let go, and this hire will probably be one of the most impactful, for better or for worse, in recent memory.

I’m thrilled that these teams are going to prove everyone wrong by building a winner with legitimate stars in a small market.