If the playoffs began today, the Memphis Grizzlies would make the cut as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. That is not something many expected at the start of this season. This team was going through a rebuild after trading away Mike Conley in the offseason and drafting Ja Morant with the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. However, this young team has surprised everyone and is 3 1/2 games ahead of the Trail Blazers for the West's final playoff spot.
Memphis has gotten here on the strength of its young tandem and top two scorers in rookie of the Year front-runner Morant and second-year forward Jaren Jackson Jr. However, it looks like Morant will have to shoulder a bigger bulk of the scoring load for at least the next couple weeks. After Jackson exiting Friday night's game against the Lakers with a knee injury, the Grizzlies team confirmed Sunday that he will be sidelined for the next two weeks with a sprained left knee.
This is a tremendous blow to Memphis, which is by no means a lock for the playoffs. It also doesn't help that the Grizzlies have to play the Clippers, Rockets, Lakers and Mavericks in their next eight games during Jackson's absence. Those games were already going to be tough draws, but without their emerging power forward, it becomes significantly harder to pick up wins against those teams.
Jackson has been incredibly durable this season after missing the final 22 games of his rookie year a season ago with a quad injury. He started the season slow, but began to establish great chemistry with Morant, which was leading to wins for Memphis. There's also no guarantee that Jackson will return after the initial two-week absence, as the team stated he will just be re-evaluated after that time.
With Jackson sidelined, though, that could push rookie Brandon Clarke into the starting lineup for Memphis. Clarke hasn't received nearly as much attention as Morant has in the "best rookies" conversation, but Clarke is arguably one of the most efficient players in the league already and he hasn't even played a full season yet. He's shooting a ridiculous 62.3 percent from the field, with a floater that is practically automatic at this point. The rookie forward has also been the Grizzlies' best 3-point shooter this season, knocking them down at a 40.4 percent clip. He's averaging 12.3 points per game and has been a reliable player off the bench. Now, Clarke may get the chance to see how much he can provide inserted into the starting lineup.