WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: NBATV/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Jonas Valanciunas (Out, foot soreness), De’Anthony Melton (Out, back)
CHARLOTTE: Cody Martin (Out, ankle sprain), Nicolas Batum (Out, Achilles soreness)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Jae Crowder, Brandon Clarke, Jaren Jackson Jr.
CHARLOTTE: Terry Rozier, Dwayne Bacon, Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington, Cody Zeller
Whoever scheduled these preseason games for the Memphis Grizzlies deserves a raise.
Memphis has started their 2019-2020 campaign exclusively at home, and against two international squads in Maccabi Haifa and the New Zealand Breakers. After defeating those two teams, they had almost a week off to rest and adjust scheme as necessary. Practice time is vital for a team as young as the Grizzlies, and they have had plenty of it.
Here’s to you, preseason schedule maker. You did a good job.
Now, after about two weeks in Memphis to prep, the Grizzlies finally begin their NBA portion of the preseason against the Charlotte Hornets, a team also in transition. Kemba Walker, their best player of the last few years, is now with the Boston Celtics, and in his place is Terry Rozier...which is not ideal for any team. The Hornets may very well be the worst team in the NBA this season, which again makes easing in to the 2019-2020 season that much easier for Memphis to do.
Seriously, Grizzlies preseason scheduler, great work.
Here are some keys to tonight’s first televised preseason for Memphis.
Let Ja Attack
At least early on in this contest Ja Morant will get his first taste of actual starting NBA competition at the point guard position. While Terry Rozier is not elite by any stretch, he will easily be the best opposing guard Morant has seen to this point. It will be fun to see Morant in this setting - the Hornets will be even worse than the Grizzlies this year, but there’s a difference between playing an international side with 2-4 NBA-ish type players and a squad with, you know, 15 actual NBA players on it. The athleticism and length will be more imposing, and the lateral foot speed will be more on pace with what Ja will see on average in an NBA game.
This season, as has been stated on multiple occasions, is about the development of Ja and Jaren Jackson Jr. We’ve seen Jaren against NBA-level talent before. It hasn’t been seen yet for Morant. Tonight will be a first, albeit brief, sign of where Ja is relative to his NBA peers.
Early and often Morant should be allowed to play off picks and screens with the ball in his hands as a creator for both himself and others. Nothing replaces live reps, and as Morant acclimates to the NBA game he needs all of them he can get within his 20-ish minutes we can expect him to play.
The roster “battle” continues
So far it appears there is already a clear loser in this conversation, and it is Ivan Rabb. It’d be almost shocking at this stage to see Rabb, a throwback NBA big that can’t stretch the floor the way Head Coach Taylor Jenkins probably wants him to, have his contract fully guaranteed later this week. Here’s to wishing Ivan the best in his future endeavors - at another place and time, his game would have fit what Memphis wants to be better. That time isn’t now, unfortunately.
Beyond Rabb and Matt Mooney, who after signing an Exhibit 10 contract was brought in specifically to be waived and eventually likely become a starting wing for the Memphis Hustle, the question becomes which of the Chandler Parsons Trade players gets waived. Early on it appears Jenkins values the versatility of Solomon Hill more than the size and rebounding acumen of Miles Plumlee, which given the direction they supposedly want to be heading in scheme wise makes sense. You usually don’t think “pace and space” when Miles Plumlee is involved.
Hill has played more than Plumlee in the preseason, and while that isn’t everything, it is something regarding the thought process of the Grizzlies coaching staff and front office. Hill isn’t longed for Memphis either, but he may at least get a full season on Beale Street. That should definitely come in to clearer focus this week.
Remember, preseason games are literally meaningless in terms of outcomes. Implementation of scheme, rotations, movement and communication matter far more. And this preseason is just a microcosm of the 2019-2020 Grizzlies at large. This entire year is about experimentation and actively searching for strengths and weaknesses, long-term roster members and tradeable assets, and the ceilings of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant. They will be able to find most of these answers whether they win 20, 30, or 40 games this season.
So tonight’s step up to NBA talent is welcome - another brick in the wall as the Grizzlies build their future. It’s a random preseason game in October...but they all matter in terms of the process moving forward.
Just not in the same way they used to.