WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (27-21, 11-12 away) vs. Utah Jazz (30-18, 17-8 home)
WHERE: Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, UT
WHEN: 8:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS - Brandan Wright (Out, because he’s Brandan Wright — fine, fine, and also because he’s still recovering from ankle surgery); Troy Daniels (Questionable, sore MCL); Chandler Parsons (Questionable, because he’s Chandler Parsons and it’s the second night of a back-to-back)
UTAH - None
MEMPHIS - Mike Conley, Tony Allen, James Ennis III, JaMychal Green, Marc Gasol
HOUSTON - Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Rodney Hood, George Hill
Let’s talk about the most frustrating X-factor in last night’s game, the player whose promise made this season so exciting and whose actual performance has made it so vexing. It was the guy who missed a potential game-tying triple in the waning seconds of a disappointing loss, to the Western Conference’s current 9-seed. The guy who, you know, might not play tonight because, well, he’s too big an injury risk to play on the second night of every back-to-back, or to average more than 18 minutes of action when he does suit up — at the advanced age of 28.
That guy would be Chandler Parsons, victim of a cutting and totally accurate Twitter troll job by Portland Trailblazers shooting guard C.J. McCollum. Let’s talk a little bit more about Chandler Parsons for a second. My GBB compatriot galvarezar recently flashed a spotlight on Memphis’s frustrating $94 million man (not to be confused with their $153 million man, a Grizzlies untouchable who should have been an All-Star this year). There’s a reason Chandler Parsons made a killing on the free agent market last year, beyond just the fact that good two-way swingmen are so hard to come by these days: Parsons was actually really, really good when he was healthy (I may or may not have discussed this myself earlier this season). But he’s not healthy anymore.
Among the more troubling stats in the galvarezar peice, concerning Parsons’s season thus far: Parsons is having the worst year of his career across a variety of statistical categories, averaging 6.6 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 1.4 assists in just 18.1 minutes a night. He’s also shooting an awful 36.6% from the field, a wretched 24.6% from 3, and a pretty-good 84.2% from the free throw line. The on-off numbers were pretty grisly (and not very Grizzly): last week, the Grizzlies’ net rating was -3.1 with Parsons on the court — and +0.9 when the team played without him. The team’s scoring output increases with Parsons on the floor (in part, you’ve got to think, because of the player Parsons was — not the player who missed a game-winning triple so badly it became the stuff of Twitter legend...at least, until the next hilarious basketball gaffe, anyway).
But Parsons is such bad news on defense in these limited minutes that at the end of the day, his presence hurts his team more than it helps. Perhaps it’s for the best that James Ennis — a reserve on the first year of a two-year, $6 million deal — likely will be starting in Utah tonight. Ennis has been a better, younger Parsons than Parsons has for Memphis this year, averaging 7.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.1 assists over 26.1 minutes per game, with a stellar shooting slash line of 44.6% from the field, 38.8% from beyond the arc, and a solid-if-unspectacular 77.9% from the charity stripe. Ennis more or less is what he is, which is something Memphis always seems to need: a serviceable back-up wing, which itself is not a phrase anyone would call Chandler Parsons right now.
Let’s talk, now, about Parsons’s (and, tonight, Ennis’s) counterpart on the Jazz. Fellow pasty starting small forward Gordon Hayward, a year and a half Parsons’s junior, is a newly-minted All-Star on the cusp of being tendered an eye-popping contract far beyond the Parsons deal. Though a broken finger kept Hayward out of the Utah Jazz’s first few games this season, Hayward hasn’t had any injury with lingering, chronic risks, injuries altogether unlike the debilitating back and leg issues that seem doomed to prevent Parsons from justifying his own price tag. Hayward is averaging 21.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 3.4 assists across 34.8 minutes a night, shooting 45.8% from the field, 87.5% from the free-throw line, and 39.2% from deep.
The 6’8” Hayward, 7’1” French center Rudy “The Stifle Tower” Gobert and 6’3” three-and-D point guard George Hill are the fulcrum that make Quin Snyder’s new-and-improved Jazz (currently the 5th seed in the West) unit go. They are a defense-first unit, with a lengthy, sharpshooting (aside from, you know, Gobert) line-up who can switch all over the place. The Jazz rank first in opponent points allowed per game, at just 95.4, and are second in defensive rating, at 104.1 points allowed per 100 possessions.
They are 7th in points per shot, a measurement of scoring efficiency, at 1.27 (Golden State, Houston, and San Antonio are the top of the crop here, unsurprisingly — Memphis is 23rd at 1.18). The Jazz are 8th in true shooting percentage thus far this year (a stat created by, yes, current Grizzlies exec John Hollinger), testament to the fact that theirs is a well-rounded game. Beyond Gobert’s efficient finishes and Hayward’s sweet shooting, Hill is pouring in the buckets too, connecting on 47.4% of his field goals, 40.7% of his triples, and 79.8% of his free throws; he’s averaging 17.7 points, 3.8 boards, and 4.1 dimes a night, in a fairly conservative 31.6 minutes.
Starting power forward Derrick Favors can score from a lot of spots but is not in Gobert’s universe as a defender. Starting two-guard Rodney Hood (shooting a solid 35.6% from deep this year and 41.7% from the floor, and averaging 13.8 points and 3.7 boards), meanwhile, should be a sore spot for Memphis’s draft wonks.
The Grizzlies, who drafted one spot before Utah in 2014, elected to pick up...Jordan Adams instead of Hood. Adams played 32 games for Memphis during two injury-plagued seasons before being waived. He’ll never play in the NBA again. Who else did Memphis whiff on that year in the draft? Clint Capela was taken 25th by Houston and K.J. McDaniels was snagged 32nd by Philadelphia. Beyond that, there were actually a few other players left on the board who would be top-20 or even lottery-level selections if there were a re-draft today, but those guys were too unheralded at the time to be considered draft misses by Memphis. If they had really been on people’s radars, they wouldn’t have gone so late, so it’s a bit more acceptable.
You’re going to hate me when I tell you who the 42nd pick was in that draft. Prepare yourself. Okay...it was Nikola Jokic. Dwight Powell and Jordan Clarkson were also there for the taking in the 40s. Again, Jordan Adams is out of the league. Anyway, I digress. The Jazz’s roster is rounded out by crafty, oversized vets with shooting touch like Joe Johnson (shooting 43.1% from the field and an awesome 37.3% from deep) and Boris Diaw (only shooting 30% from three, but compensating with plenty of traditional French Baguette post scoring, for a 46.5% overall field goal mark)...and by Joe Ingles, who’s just kind of there.
The Grizzlies, coming off that hard-fought loss last night, will struggle to deal with Utah’s relentless defensive pressure, and on the other side, the less mobile folks (read: Zach Randolph) will have trouble following young buck Derrick Favors (25 years old to Randolph’s 35), especially on switches. I don’t think it will be enough, but here’s hoping.
Though both the Jazz and Grizz would pose fun threats to the and Warriors and Spurs in a playoff battle, neither team is flawless on its own, and the Jazz are a better match-up against the Grizzlies. Here’s some food for thought, though: what would happen to both teams’ records if they just did a straight-up, Gobert-for-Gasol swap (kind of like this, but the beards would be real and not yak fur)? Exactly. We may lose the battle tomorrow, but there’s plenty of war left to be fought.
Utah 104, Memphis 99
And if you live in Memphis, make sure you stop by Memphis Made Brewery for the Grizzlies-Jazz watch party hosted by GBB, I Love Memphis, and Fan Essentials! GBB will be giving away three pairs of Grizzlies game tickets and there will be gear giveaways, a food truck, and the party is family-friendly! Party starts when the game starts, at 8:00 PM CT.