The Memphis Grizzlies are riding a 5-game winning streak heading into a Friday afternoon matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers. In each victory, they’ve had a different star shine from the trio of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Jaren Jackson Jr. This winning streak has also propelled them to the top of the Western Conference, and everyone is starting to take notice of this Grizzlies team.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Clippers aren’t far behind them, as they have a 11-6 record and are 3rd in the Western Conference. Though both stars of the “Lob City” duo are out of LaLa Land, they’ve experienced success with excellent play from combo forwards (Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari), their guards (Pat Beverley and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander), and deep bench (Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell).
Though it’s not the same GNG vs. Lob City rivalry we’re used to, it’ll surely be a good game. To prepare us for this contest, I caught up with Robert Flom, the Managing Editor for SB Nation’s Clips Nation, to talk about their depth, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and more.
1. The Clippers have built a nice squad full of excellent role players. Do you think it’s enough to compete in a wild Western Conference?
Before the season, I thought they would be competitive (wins in the low 40s) but miss the playoffs. Now, 16 games in, this team looks very good. They’ve gotten a bit lucky with some injuries in their schedule, yet they’ve also dealt with injuries of their own, and their schedule has still been quite challenging. Coming through it with a well-above .500 record is just incredibly impressive. More than anything, the fight and grittiness of this team means they will be in just about every single game this season, and teams like that tend to win a lot of regular season games. I’m still just a tad skeptical they can keep this up all season, but now I think a low playoff berth is not unlikely. If you mean “compete” as in “win a playoff series and threaten a top team”, then no, I don’t think they’re quite there.
2. With the abundance of these type of players and assets, do you think the Clippers should pull the trigger on a star? Maybe Bradley Beal?
If they have the opportunity to get a star without giving up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Tobias Harris, they should. Those are the only two guys who are close to untouchable on the roster (unless it’s for a transcendent superstar like Anthony Davis). I just don’t know if a combination of solid vets on decent deals, just “ok” prospects, and probably middling picks is enough to get a star like Beal. But if they can swing something like Danilo Gallinari, Jerome Robinson, and a future 1st for Beal, that would be incredible.
3. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been impressive so far. What are your thoughts on him? What’s his potential ceiling?
Shai has been incredible so far this season. I was high on him in the pre-draft process, and really liked what he showed in Summer League, but I’ve been blown away by his play through 16 games. He’s mature beyond his years on both ends of the court. On offense, he calmly navigates pick and rolls, and is not afraid to attack the basket even with big men lurking at the rim. He’s always able to get to his spots, and rarely looks flustered or out of sorts. On defense, he’s the rare rookie who is a legitimate positive on that end, using his height and length to great effect in getting steals, blocks, and contesting shots.
Before the season, I thought his ceiling was a very good starter, with maybe a random All Star or All-Defense nod in his prime. Now, I think he could be an All-NBA player if his shot ever comes around. He’s legit.
4. What matchup are you looking forward to the most in this game?
I’d be very curious to see Jaren Jackson Jr. matched up on Montrezl Harrell. JJJ was my 2nd ranked prospect in the draft, and he’s lived up to my expectations and then some. He’s just an incredible defensive player, and has shown the ability to be a force on offense as well. On the other hand, Montrezl Harrell has been nothing less than a force of nature this season. His brute strength and power might be tough for Jackson to handle, though Jackson’s height and length could certainly give Harrell some trouble. I think it would be really fun to watch those two guys go at it.
5. With the “Lob City” Big 3, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen gone, is the Grizzlies vs. Clippers rivalry dead?
Yeah, I think so. It’s kind of sad, because that rivalry was so fun, but the only two guys left from it are Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, with Doc Rivers being involved only in the aftermath of the playoff series in 2012 and 2013. I’m sure the game will be gritty and hard-fought, but I don’t think there’s a real rivalry anymore.
Bonus: Do you think the Clippers should’ve risked it with Michael Porter Jr. at 13?
Not really, no. I wasn’t a fan of the Jerome Robinson pick, but Porter scared me for a lot of reasons. First, his medical history is really grim. He was red-flagged by a ton of teams as a guy who might never play in an NBA game because of his injuries, and that’s just a massive risk, even at 13. Second, his personality was red-flagged as well. I’d hesitate to put any strong judgments on him without personal experience, but a lot of people who have dealt with him have been less than impressed with his personality. Finally, I think he was overrated as a prospect. He was great in high school, but I think he has a tendency towards ball-hogging that’s not great in the modern NBA.