The Memphis Grizzlies have had a few rivals over the last decade as the team competed for playoff births. The Golden State Warriors and “Lob City” Los Angeles Clippers come to mind, but only one squad combines playoff series showdowns with divisional familiarity.
The San Antonio Spurs.
There have been plenty of battles between these two over the years, and while the Spurs more often than not got the best of the Grizzlies there was always a respect between the two franchises. San Antonio is arguably the best run organization over the last 20 years in all of sports, and Memphis - like many other teams - was both wise to try to emulate their success at times and understood in their shortcomings in trying to do so.
But now, in the last preseason contest for the Grizzlies before the games start to count next week, Memphis heads to San Antonio looking quite different from what they were the last time these two squads played one another. Gone is Mike Conley, as well as multiple other players from the previous regime, and in the place of the old guard there’s a new era that will surely take its lumps.
Meanwhile, the Spurs are still the Spurs - a contender not just for playoff positioning, but beyond.
To break down this Spurs team and get some perspective on the new-look Grizzlies from outside the Memphis bubble, I reached out to Bruno Passos, Editor at SB Nation’s terrific Spurs team blog Pounding the Rock.
The Spurs has a relatively quiet offseason compared to many other NBA teams. Which new acquisition are you most intrigued by?
If we’re excluding returns from injury (Murray) or expected promotions from G-League to the varsity team (Walker), then it’s probably Luka Samanic, the 19th overall pick from this year’s draft. Like most rookies in San Antonio he won’t get many looks this season, but the Spurs clearly saw something in him to pass on other guys who’d fallen to their slot (including new Grizzly Brandon Clarke), and I think it has something to do with the type of big man they want to play with in the future. The actualized version of Samanic is someone who can shoot, score off the dribble and make plays on the perimeter, and completely invert an offense. I like the long-term fit alongside other future pieces like Murray, White and Walker.
DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge remains the two “stars” of the Spurs. Who is in line to be the “third star”?
The team’s put Dejounte Murray in a great position to be that next guy, reinserting him as the starting point guard after a year off and giving him all the breathing room he needs to grow as a leader on and off the floor. He’s responded extremely well early on by looking healthy and showing improvement as a floor general and, even more exciting, as a shooter. The smart money would most certainly be on him to become that third star.
The returning Dejounte Murray surely has Spurs fans excited. Will he and Derrick White, who had a breakout season in 2018-2019, be able to co-exist?
As many are aware, one of the storylines of the Spurs’ preseason has been that, at least through the first four games, Murray and White have not played a second together, and that won’t be a coincidence. It’s possible that Pop sees the two players’ current strengths (defense, off-the-dribble creation) as more redundant than complementary right now, and that their weaknesses (namely, shooting) make it better to keep them anchoring separate units that feature more balance on the perimeter. With the way Murray’s shooting the ball in preseason, however, that concern may go by the wayside sooner rather than later.
In the long run, the team should certainly aspire to be able to play them together, especially to close games out. While current starter Bryn Forbes has exceeded expectations as an undersized two-guard, the ceiling of this team goes up significantly with two big, All-Defense-caliber guards playing alongside each other.
The Grizzlies look a lot different than they did the last time these two teams faced off. What is your perception of the “new” Memphis team and direction?
While I haven’t been able to catch them this preseason, I actually watched Memphis quite a bit last year, so I don’t need any convincing on Jaren Jackson’s potential -- he’s going to be great. Ja Morant obviously makes for a nice fit to pick and roll teams to death, and I think that’s all you need as building blocks in Year 1 or Year 0, however you want to look at this season. If that pair lives up to at least part of its upside and Memphis hits on another lottery ticket (and the front office is doing a good job at amassing those), then it should be back in business in no time.
Which Grizzlies player are you most excited to watch play for Memphis this season?
Setting aside my Spurs bias (I’ve always enjoyed watching Kyle Anderson play) and my pro-Bruno bias, it’s probably Clarke, who kind of plays as if you put Flubber on the soles of Malik Rose’s shoes, which is all I ever wanted to see growing up. On a team like this that isn’t trying to win many games, he should have the opportunity and freedom to make things happen on both ends of the floor.
Thanks again to Bruno and be sure to follow Pounding the Rock for great Spurs coverage all season long.