The crowd for Friday’s home opener was electric. You could sense the excitement in the air.
For the first time since April, (real) Memphis Grizzlies basketball is back with a new sense of flair and optimism. The fans got their first in-person look at number two pick Ja Morant, head coach Taylor Jenkins, and their plethora of new players.
The first half started out great, as they were playing with phenomenal pace while moving the ball extremely well. As a result, they jumped out to a 13-point halftime lead, scoring 60 points before the half for the second straight game — that’s got to be some sort of record, right.
However, second half struggles hit again. They came out of the gates flat in the third. Luckily, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke had strong second half’s to never let the game out of hand.
Ultimately, Zach LaVine and Coby White were too much for the Grizzlies’ perimeter defense, leading to a Bulls comeback win.
This season’s assessment will based more on development and eyeball test rather than wins and losses. Last night’s game brought lots of positives — as well as negatives — despite the loss.
What were some likable and unlikeable aspects of the Grizzlies’ home opener?
Like: Jaren Jackson Jr.’s Flashing His Potential as a Go-To Scorer
Over the course of the preseason, you could tell that Jaren Jackson Jr. was finding his footing in this new system. At times, it’d cause him to struggle trying to create for himself within the offense.
As is the case with most 20 year-old players, his ball-handling was shaky at times, leading to a few turnovers. Throughout the game though, Jackson found lots of success taking defenders off the dribble and finishing at the rim.
There’s been some debate over Jaren’s usage in the offense. Jenkins has been implementing a “pace-and-space” system, which may cause Jaren to play more on the perimeter in the post. With his footwork and efficiency in the post, some argued that he should be used more as a traditional big.
In this game, Jaren got to work as both a traditional big and an off-the-dribble creator. One area of his offensive game that I’ve been wanting him to tap into his transitioning into a post move off the dribble from the perimeter, and he found success doing so in this game.
Jaren finished with 23 points on 9-17 shooting (1-3) and 11 rebounds, looking the part of a legitimate go-to scorer.
Dislike: Shooting Woes from Wing
The Grizzlies shot 5-32 from 3 in the season opener against Miami, and the shooting woes necessarily didn’t turn around in this game, primarily from the wings.
Dillon Brooks received the start and suffered through an off shooting night. He only connected on 2 of his 12 field goal attempts, shooting 2-4 from 3. He took far too many contested long 2’s, and his short wingspan hurts his finishing ability at the rim. Brooks should focus more on catch-and-shoot 3’s, as it’d open up both his and the Grizzlies’ offenses.
Marko Guduric and Grayson Allen haven’t necessarily found their shots from deep yet, only connecting on 1 three-pointer a piece. Both players have contributed in non-scoring ways, primarily putting the ball on the floor and creating for others.
Shooting woes happen. We literally saw Troy Daniels shoot 24.1% from 3-point range in the first two months of the season before connecting over 40% of his downtown attempts for the remainder of the season. These guys can find their rhythm, but if not, they have two guys in De’Anthony Melton and Josh Jackson that will look to prove themselves worthy of minutes.
Like: Secondary Bigs
Jaren Jackson Jr. was the star for the Grizzlies of this game, and his frontcourt compadres also did their part.
Kyle Anderson looked the most comfortable he has in this new system. There were more opportunities for him to create on the perimeter, while taking the initiative to initiate the offense off a rebound. For a player whose nickname is “Slo Mo,” he did well finishing in transition. Also, he hit a 3! This is a great development for Anderson, as he could fit in this system as a secondary playmaker that can guard multiple positions.
The Grizzlies are easing Jonas Valanciunas back into game speed, and he made the most of his minutes. In 18 minutes, Valanciunas finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds, doing an excellent job of clearing space on the glass for rebounds and in the paint for easy scoring opportunities.
Brandon Clarke was the other bright spot in this game, as he was really all over the place on both ends of the court. He finished with 16 points on 7-9 shooting, 5 rebounds, and 3 blocks. If he continues this activity and production, it’s going to be hard to not play him at least 30 minutes.
Dislike: Perimeter Defense
The Memphis Grizzlies got burned on the perimeter, as Zach LaVine and Coby White scored 37 and 25 points respectively.
They did a lot of their damage in the paint and off the dribble, primarily in the pick-and-roll. The Grizzlies’ guards would die on screens, leaving the defending big in no-man’s land
They have to tweak something here, especially with a Kyrie Irving — and Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie — matchup looming tomorrow. If the defensive struggles continue, it’s going to be a long Sunday afternoon on Beale Street.
Ultimately, this game had a fun atmosphere that never wavered into “boring” territory at all. Ja Morant generated some exciting buckets early, but he struggled to really get anything going for the remainder of the game. After a hot start at Wednesday’s season opener, Tyus Jones couldn’t find his rhythm — though he does an excellent job orchestrating the offense.
It’ll be fun to see how these young Memphis Grizzlies respond on Sunday, as they take on the Brooklyn Nets. It should be interesting to see how Morant fares in his first matchup against an elite point guard.