WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (1-3, 1-1 at home) vs. Phoenix Suns (3-2, 1-1 on road)
WHEN: 7:00PM Central
WHERE: FedEx Forum, Memphis, Tennessee
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Brandon Clarke (Questionable, Back)
Phoenix Suns: Ty Jerome (Out, Ankle)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Jae Crowder, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
PHOENIX: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr,, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes
Four Games and more than a full week into the season, the Memphis Grizzlies seem to be right where they have been expected to be.
This is a highly variable team, one that has been surprisingly competitive in the first half of each game and then experiences hard-to-witness collapses (minus the Sunday Spectacular against the Nets) in the third quarter. The Lakers game was a perfect microcosm of this characteristic. Within the first three minutes of the game Tuesday night, the Grizzlies exploded out of the gate for a 15-2 lead. Memphis would hold as much as a six point lead into the middle of the third quarter, but in the end, they lost 120-91, which included being outscored 118-76 the final 45 minutes of the game.
Fortunately, the Grizzlies have had a three day layoff, which likely was needed as a young roster had its first full taste of NBA life together. As a result, they should be well rested as they welcome another exciting young team, the Phoenix Suns, to Memphis Saturday night. Beyond the players having received plenty of rest and restored mindsets, the hope also must be that Taylor Jenkins and his staff have made necessary adjustments to make the team more consistent.
One logical way to do that is ensuring the starting lineup is able to play together more than they have. Due to foul trouble and minutes restrictions, the Grizzlies starters have only played 37 minutes together through four games. That ranks 24th in the NBA among five man lineups, with 20 other teams having played their “featured” lineup more than the Grizzlies. For a team that already is one of the youngest in the NBA, issues keeping their best players on the court is not ideal.
Beyond the issues of keeping the starting lineup on the court in general is the fact that the Grizzlies starters have been quite good when they do play together, especially in the first half. The Grizzlies’ starters have played together for 21 minutes in the first half this year. Among lineups that have played at least 21 or more first half minutes together, Memphis’s starting lineup ranks in the top ten in OFF RATING (119.6), DEF RATING (95.7), NET RATING (23.9), ASST RATIO (20.3), REB % (55.6%),TS% (62.9%), PIE RATING (63.7). This shows that the starting lineup has been a clear advantage for the Grizzlies so far this season.
As unexpected as Memphis’s early success may be, the success of Phoenix’s starters could be even more surprising. The Suns’ starting lineup arguably has been the best in the NBA so far this season, as they rank above Memphis in each of the aforementioned statistical categories. Ricky Rubio and Aron Baynes have brought effective and complementary skill sets to support and stabilize the starting lineup behind Devin Booker. The amazing thing is that Phoenix has not regressed much at all since Deandre Ayton was lost to a 25 game suspension last week. Overall, Monty Williams and his staff have made the Suns a formidable adversary for any opponent on both ends of the court. While regression may be likely in the future, the Suns have become a team that no one should look past.
It seems clear that Saturday night’s match up will feature two teams that are very close in overall talent. Here a few ways the Grizzlies can create advantages in their favor to achieve the win.
Prioritize the Post- In my opinion, the one clear area where Memphis should have an advantage tonight is in the post. Any combination of Jonas Valanciunas, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Brandon Clarke should have some degree of success against Aron Baynes, Dario Saric, and Frank Kaminsky. The Suns trio of bigs have been playing well, but the Grizzlies have the clear advantage in athleticism and skill to be able to find success in the paint. If the Grizzlies can move Jackson Jr. and Clarke around, it could make things even more difficult for the Suns to defend.
Memphis is currently sixth in second chance points and tied for third in points in the paint per game. While the efforts of Ja Morant support these rankings, it also proves when the offense flows through Jackson Jr. and Valanciunas, success will be found. As a result, the Grizzlies must not only make a commitment to feature Jackson Jr. and Valanciunas, they have to remain consistent with those efforts. Memphis should make it a priority that both bigs finish the night among the top three Grizzlies in shot attempts. That is likely one of the best avenues the Grizzlies can take to win the game.
Limit the Supporting Cast- Simply put, it is very unlikely that the Grizzlies will be able to shut down Devin Booker tonight. He has become one of the best automatic scorers in the game, and the Grizzlies have struggled with their perimeter defense. He will likely get his 20 or 30 points. While the Grizzlies need to ensure he does have one of his 40 to 50 point outbursts, Memphis must also ensure it does not allow one of his teammates to have a big night.
They primary supporters have been Kelly Oubre Jr. and Frank Kaminsky, as both players are off to a fabulous start to the season. As noted before the Lakers game, the Grizzlies allowed multiple 20 point games to guards in their contests against the Heat, Bulls, and Nets. If Booker, Oubre Jr., and Kaminsky/Baynes combine for 55 or more points, the Grizzlies may be in for a long night. The best way to prevent that from happening is for Memphis to communicate and play smart team defense, especially when trying to prevent open looks.
Taking care of the basketball- The Grizzlies are averaging 18.8 turnovers per game this season, which ranks 15th in the NBA. However, they allow the fourth most points off of turnovers in the league per game, and will be facing a team in the Suns who force the 4th highest amount of opponent turnovers. Ja Morant, Tyus Jones, and the rest of the Grizzlies back court have to be decisive and safe with each pass they make tonight.
The addition of Ricky Rubio and the continued improved playmaking ability of Devin Booker has resulted in the Suns being second in the league in assists. They are also currently sixth in fast break points as a team, two indications that the Suns are minimizing mistakes and maximizing opportunities. In other words, Memphis has very little room for error if it commits turnovers at a high rate tonight.
This game has a few intriguing narratives off the court that many may follow along with as well. Jevon Carter returns to Memphis, thriving in his role as part of Monty Williams’s perimeter rotation. Furthermore, Dillon Brooks has the chance to remove any doubt as to which Brooks was truly being valued correctly in last year’s botched effort by the Grizzlies to land Kelly Oubre Jr.
While the Suns have had plenty of success so far this year, they remain a team that the Grizzlies match up decently against. The Grizzlies skill level in the post is the biggest advantage they can feature, and they must rely on Jackson Jr. and Valanciunas early and often. I feel Memphis will do that, and will also make a commitment to taking care of the ball and finding high percentage shots. If they can execute as they have in the first half throughout the whole game, the Grizzlies have a good chance of pulling off the win.
Score- Grizzlies 117 Suns 112