Charlotte and Memphis are two young and rebuilding teams undergoing a metamorphosis as they lost their star PGs during the summer. Charlotte let Kemba Walker leave in free agency to become a Boston Celtic, while Memphis traded Mike Conley to the Utah Jazz to kickstart their rebuild.
What followed was what you’d expect from two such teams. An incredibly fast game with lots of points and not a lot of defense. In that type of game, who would shine the most but the athletic rookie tasked with replacing one of those point guards of yesteryear: Ja Morant.
His buzzer-beater, his control of the ball and the pace of the game, you wouldn’t have been crazy for thinking Ja was in his fourth year in the league instead of in his first 11 games as a pro. He continues to amaze fans and frustrate defenses. He’s had plenty of highlights announcing himself to the league this season, but it doesn’t look like he’s done making his presence felt yet.
The emergence of Ja is extremely exciting long-term, but how did last night’s performance by him play into Memphis’ win? Let’s look at what went right for Memphis and what went wrong in the contest.
What Went Right
Ja Morant is on the Memphis Grizzlies. That alone is going to be enough for the Grizzlies to pull out a win on occasion. From wire-to-wire Ja constantly dazzled and darted all over the floor in a spectacular display. His court vision and ability to maneuver around a defense created so many offensive opportunities for Memphis. He finished with 23 pts, 11 asts, and infinite highlights (including the game-winner).
JA MORANT’S FIRST GAME WINNER OF MANY. LEGEND IN THE MAKING pic.twitter.com/dYWm5PqIDw— Made in Memphis (@MadeinMemphis1) November 14, 2019
There were lots of great individual games for the Grizzlies, but most of the positive contributions came on the offensive end of the floor. The usual suspects like Ja, Jaren Jackson (16 pts) , and Jonas Valanciunas (18 pts) got their numbers. But the contributions from Solomon Hill (9 pts) and Marko Gudurić (17 pts!) were unexpected, but extremely helpful when the offense got stagnant in the third quarter.
What helped Memphis even more was that they won the rebounding battle, too, meaning Memphis was grabbing the select few shots that were missed. An incredible offensive game by the Grizzlies and the blueprint Taylor Jenkins will try to follow the rest of the season. The blueprint may not include waiting until the last possible second to win, but I’m no coach.
What Went Wrong
Terry Rozier looked like the untouchable asset Danny Ainge refused to trade all those years. He played well in his own right and clearly is talented, but Memphis allowed him to thrive too easily.
As great as Memphis’ offense was most of the game, those benefits were erased with a leaky defense. Charlotte shot 43.2% on three-pointers, 52.9% on twos, both higher than their season averages in those categories. It was one of Memphis’ best offensive performances of the season and it felt wasted by a defense that couldn’t scrape together multiple stops in a row at times.
To the Grizzlies’ credit, they did a much better job than usual contesting and defending shots at the rim. But the Hornets (and most teams who have played Memphis this year) could get into the paint without much scheme or strategy: just driving towards the rim with occasionally a high screen for help. Memphis’ backcourt defense and lack of size gets exposed far too often and it did again Wednesday night. What saved Memphis in the end was the timeliness of their rare defensive successes.
What I’m sure won’t go over the Grizzlies’ heads is that they just shot 6/9 (NOT nice) from the free-throw line. Only having attempted nine free throws on the surface shows a lack of aggressiveness of driving towards the rim, but Charlotte did a good job of denying those opportunities as well.
The Grizzlies’ next contest comes at home as they host the Utah Jazz and Mike Conley Jr.’s triumphant return to Memphis.
Utah will present a more challenging and talented opponent for Memphis than Charlotte. But the lessons from this Hornets game can still be used. Memphis did a much better job of consistently finding three-point opportunities and desperately need to keep that up to improve their offense. While much tougher to do, it would be quite an impressive test for Memphis to pass if they can do it against a stingy Jazz defense.
For now, Memphis can enjoy the win and their first winning streak of the year.