WHERE: Madison Square Garden in New York, New York
WHEN: 6:30 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: FOX Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
Memphis- Mike Conley (Out, Achilles), Wayne Selden Jr. (Out, Quad), Brandan Wright (Out, Groin)
New York- Tim Hardaway Jr. (Out, Leg), Kristaps Porzingis (Probable, Ankle)
MEMPHIS- Tyreke Evans, Ben McLemore, Dillon Brooks, JaMychal Green, Marc Gasol
NEW YORK- Jarrett Jack, Courtney Lee, Damyean Dodson, Kristaps Porzingis, Enes Kanter
Ding dong, the 11-game losing streak is dead.
What comes next?
The Memphis Grizzlies begin to answer that question this evening in the Big Apple as they take on the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. One win does not a turnaround make- while it is nice for the pressure to be relieved and for the downward spiral to pause, the large sample size of this season since the 5-1 start of the season suggests that the Grizzlies are a bad basketball team right now. Memphis is 3-14 in their last 17 games. They are dead last in pace in the NBA, 26th in offensive rating, and 28th in 3 point field goal percentage.
That is the offense of a lottery team...maybe a top-5 pick team. And that is close to what these Grizzlies still are. Don’t let one win distract you from that.
But the process of getting out of this massive hole and back in to the light of potential playoff contention (3.5 games/3 losses behind the current 8 seed in the west) can now march forward without the cloud of a losing streak hanging over you, and that of course has value. Memphis should feel much less weight on their proverbial shoulders and hopefully that will shine through in New York against a below-average Knicks team who actually plays pretty well at home and has a better overall net rating (-.3) than Memphis (-3)
How can Memphis take another step towards the right kind of streak?
Don’t underestimate Enes Kanter...
Kristaps Porzingis gets a lot of attention as the unicorn of these Knicks and the NBA at large, and for good reason- he is 7’3” and has a lot of the same skill sets an elite NBA guard would have. He is a freak. But his front court running mate, Enes Kanter, is quietly having a career year.
Who on the Knicks, among players who have played at least 500 minutes, has the best offensive rating?
Enes Kanter. A whopping 127- that is really good.
Who on the Knicks, among players who have played at least 500 minutes, has the best defensive rating?
Enes Kanter. 105. The same as Marc Gasol.
Who on the Knicks, among players who have played at least 500 minutes, has the best win shares per 48 minutes (.232), and net rating (+22), and true shooting percentage (66.7%)?
You guessed it. Enes Kanter. And Kristaps Porzingis has played more minutes than Kanter so far this season, so he is on this list as well.
Kanter has a rep around the league for being a good offensive player who can’t defend and is on a not-so-team friendly deal. But much like Victor Oladipo in Indiana, Kanter is making the most of his new life post-trade from Russell Westbrook’s Thunder. He is a force on offense (he is currently shooting- not a typo - 63% from the field), improved on defense, and could make life quite hard for the Grizzlies in the paint this evening.
Enes Kanter can play. Marc better be ready.
...or Courtney Lee
This one stings a little bit.
Because you reading this likely know that Courtney Lee was once a Memphis Grizzly. And like Kanter, Lee developed a reputation. “He won’t shoot it enough”, “he’s not aggressive enough”, and he clearly wasn’t in the Grizzlies long-term plans as they traded him away in 2016 to Charlotte for P.J. Hairston and some 2nd round picks.
Lee has been one of the most dependable Knicks, and players in the NBA period, so far this season. He isn’t a superstar, but on the wing he has made New York that much better as he has taken on more responsibility for offensive production and leadership with this Knicks team. Career highs to this point in PER (15.3), win shares per 48 minutes (.133), and net rating (+11) point to Lee being an ok defender (109 defensive rating, but he often draws the toughest offensive matchups to go against), a very efficient scorer (120 offensive rating, 2nd on New York behind Kanter), and an all-around valuable wing player.
He was well worth the roughly $48 million contract the Knicks signed him to. And he would be perfect for the Grizzlies right now...but alas, Chandler Parsons (who is better than Lee “when healthy”) and Ben McLemore (sigh) are here instead. Look for Courtney to show out tonight as he brings his 45% three point shooting to the floor against his former team.
This preview is a little different than previous ones. Usually the call is to focus on yourself, to control what you can control and not worry so much about the opposition. But this game has the distinct feel of one Memphis would lose because they overlook, or underestimate, their adversary. Yes, the Grizzlies just beat a “better” Minnesota Timberwolves team, and yes, Memphis has Chandler Parsons back tonight, which should help Memphis’ bench a good bit.
But with Porzingis probably back in the fold, and the Knicks at home (10-5 at the Garden), this will not be an easy game. New York will miss Tim Hardaway Jr., and his absence makes a Grizzlies win more likely. But this New York team can, and probably will, beat Memphis if the Grizzlies cannot be consistent with their defensive play and get transition opportunities to score easy baskets.
The numbers say the Knicks are better than the Grizzlies. Combine that with that history of a letdown in these types of games, and a Memphis loss is the prediction.
New York 104, Memphis 101
Stats provided by basketball-reference.com