In front of a...sparse...home crowd on a Sunday afternoon, the Memphis Grizzlies tipped off their preseason against Maccabi Haifa from Israel. It was a successful outing - 123-88 is a good start, regardless of opponent or crowd size. Yet perspective is necessary - when James Young, a former NBA player who last played in the NBA in March of 2018 (ironically against the Grizzlies) and is fighting to get back in the Association, is your best player you are probably going to lose most preseason games against NBA teams.
The Grizzlies themselves were not at full strength. Jonas Valanciunas, who figures to be a starter at center, and Kyle Anderson/De’Anthony Melton, two potential rotation players, were all out for Memphis. That didn’t matter in this contest, though - the Grizzlies were up 10 at the end of the first quarter, led by 24 at the end of the first half, and never really had much to worry about in terms of victory.
That, of course, is meaningless this time of year anyway. What matters is usage of players, early rotations, and the way players are executing the schemes being installed by new head coach Taylor Jenkins.
How did all of that look early on? Five quick takeaways.
The Starting Lineup was as Expected
Given the players out due to injury, the starting five of Ja Morant/Dillon Brooks/Jae Crowder/Brandon Clarke/Jaren Jackson Jr. was not too surprising. Ja and Jaren will definitely start, and the front runners for the two wing positions are likely Dillon and Jae given the fact they both provide spacing as shooters (at least in theory), they both can defend multiple positions, and they both are key cogs to the Grizzlies in the short (Crowder as a veteran leader who may or may not be around past the trade deadline) and long term (Brooks is young and should be relatively inexpensive to retain in free agency).
The mix of veterans and youth, scoring and defense, makes for a group that both stabilizes the beginnings of games and allows for development in terms of your two biggest franchise cornerstones. Sub out Clarke for Valanciunas, and as long as no long-term injury befall Memphis the starters may be set, despite the questions we had this time last week.
Taking a long, hard look at Bruno
The player who played the most on Sunday afternoon was Bruno Caboclo, and perhaps the 29 minutes he logged should not be that surprising. Jenkins and his staff surely need to be figuring out just what they have in the unique Caboclo, and they are utilizing his talents in a variety of ways...including at the center position. For a player listed at 6’9”, 218 pounds (with an admittedly much longer wing span for his height) to be lining up at the traditional “five” spot could create a lot of reasons to pause. Yet in the modern NBA, where traditional bigs are becoming either more rare or less utilized, Caboclo makes sense given his ability to space the floor and defense all sorts of wings and stretch bigs.
Rebounding is a concern of course, regardless of the nine boards he gathered against Maccabi Haifa, as is his durability and capacity to play bigger than his frame on a consistent basis. Coach Jenkins was roughly quoted as saying we may be reading too much in to Caboclo at the five - Valanciunas was out, after all, meaning Clarke will likely be filling that first big off the bench role. The fact they’re trying different things for Bruno is good for him long-term, however.
They see value in his unique size and skill set. They’re trying to find ways for it to fit. You don’t play guys 29 minutes you’re looking to cut. A good night for Bruno, regardless of stats.
Miles Plumlee and Ivan Rabb should be nervous...
When your team is experimenting with career wings at positions that you are more “built” for, in a traditional sense, it probably means you may not be in the plans of the team long-term. Memphis has two players they have to move on from before the season begins, and they’ve already shown (at least initially) a willingness to let Andre Iguodala stay home as trades are explored and also let Josh Jackson progress at his own pace starting with their G-League affiliate the Memphis Hustle.
It becomes a numbers game. The most likely causalities to be moved on from are one of Miles Plumlee or Solomon Hill, who came to Memphis in the Chandler Parsons trade and are easier to buy out or waive than the massive Parsons contract, or Ivan Rabb, whose contract is non-guaranteed until closer to the end of preseason. Given the versatility of Hill, who can play both forward positions and is more of a perimeter threat than both Rabb and Plumlee, he is the front runner to be safe.
Plumlee looked pretty bad in just nine minutes of play, posting the only negative +/- on the night for the Grizzlies at -6. Rabb, too, only played nine minutes, and while he played better than Plumlee he should be a bit nervous moving forward. Both need better performances both in practice and games, or else their time in Memphis will be ending.
Two Quick Takes
- Ja Morant may well be a star. He showed explosion and elite court vision in his 19 minutes of play. As the competition gets tougher, don’t expect such efficiency shooting (5-8 from the floor) or as a passer (7 assists, only 1 turnover). The great news is everything Grizzlies fans were excited about was on display, and Morant looks healthy and ready for his rookie campaign after knee surgery.
- Sixth man Grayson Allen may be a thing. Of course it is obscenely early, and Allen may well get a shot at the starting lineup. Same with Kyle Anderson and Marko Guduric, who figure to be rotation wings even if they’re not starters. But Grayson had a much better preseason beginning as a Grizzly than he did in Summer League. 18 points, 4-6 from beyond the arc, 3 assists...he displayed a lot of offensive fire power that the second unit will almost certainly need, considering Tyus Jones and Brandon Clarke figure to be key contributors to that group. Reserve scorer would allow for his deficiencies defensively to be negated some while maximizing his offensive potential against lesser wings.
The Grizzlies are back in action Tuesday night as they welcome former Memphis Tigers target RJ Hampton and the New Zealand Breakers to FedExForum.