WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Kyle Anderson (Questionable, heel), Ja Morant (Questionable, back)
L.A. CLIPPERS: Landry Shamet (Out, ankle)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Jae Crowder, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
L.A. CLIPPERS: Patrick Beverley, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Maurice Harkless, Ivica Zubac
Happy Thanksgiving Eve, everyone.
The Memphis Grizzlies have a lot to be thankful for, despite their current losing skid and 5-11 overall record. Ja Morant looks to be the frontrunner for the Rookie of the Year award, and teammate Brandon Clarke appears likely to be an early favorite to join him on the All-Rookie Team. Jaren Jackson Jr. has been on a tear offensively of late, shooting the three ball at an elite level. While the Grizzlies of today are not particularly good, you would be hard pressed to find too many teams with brighter futures - at least at this moment in time - than Memphis.
Meanwhile, it’s difficult to find more than a handful of squads with a brighter present than the L.A. Clippers. With Paul George and Kawhi Leonard together and a darn good supporting cast around them, it seems almost certain that the road to the NBA Finals out west will go through Los Angeles and the Clippers (or Lakers, who the Grizzlies saw just five days ago). With that larger goal in mind, and the fact that this is the 2nd night of a back to back for L.A. after playing in Dallas last night, this game probably isn’t a stand out priority on the schedule for The Klaw and his crew.
Memphis will likely be ready, though, if their energy and execution for much of the Lakers game is any indication. Here are some things to keep an eye on tonight as the Grizzlies take on the Clippers.
Jonas Valanciunas’ time to shine
Jonas hasn’t been “bad”, per se, but with Jackson Jr. and Clarke playing as well as they have more and more scrutiny is coming Valanciunas’ way. His size and ability to rebound are welcome additions to a front court that struggle in both areas - at least in the traditional sense - yet his style of play would not necessarily lend itself to being a seamless fit in the schemes of Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins. Jonas isn’t a three point marksman, and he isn’t a run and gun big who moves like a gazelle - he is more of a bull dozer that thrives off contact both on the perimeter and in the lane.
As Jenkins continues to find rotations and lineups that maximize one another’s talents, his use of Jonas will continue to be fun to watch develop. Valanciunas is an excellent screener, which should make him a wonderful partner with Morant, but his size and lack of speed perhaps limits Ja where he theoretically thrives in the open floor...where a Clarke would make a lot more sense next to Morant.
The Brandon/Jaren pairing hasn’t been as successful as one would hope, but it’s still early and part of the reason Jonas is here is to be the bridge between now (where Clarke and Jackson Jr. aren’t both ready to be full-time “bigs”) and three years from now, when they’re physically and mentally more prepared for the size and strength of NBA centers. Valanciunas still has a place here in Memphis - but where that is exactly should be a focus of coaches and fans alike over the weeks ahead.
End of the Rotation Blues
Between healthy players returning like Grayson Allen and the calls to #FreeJoshJackson, the Grizzlies rotation is becoming more and more tight. Beyond the obvious (Morant/Clarke/Jackson Jr./Valanciunas/Crowder/Brooks/Anderson), there are direct competitors for minutes to round out the rest of the team’s night to night contributors. At point guard, Tyus Jones has yet to fully display the efficiency and high-IQ play that was hyped when he signed with the Grizzlies over the summer, and there’s a perfectly good DeAnthony Melton on the roster that could compete for time there potentially. On the wing, Marko Guduric/Allen/Solomon Hill/Bruno Caboclo are all theoretical contenders for looks in games, and that’s without Jackson in the fold (which will change sooner rather than later).
There are plenty of options, and early in the 2019-2020 campaign Hill/Jones/Guduric/Allen appear to be the guys Jenkins trusts most in these end of rotation spots. But those spots shouldn’t be in stone by any stretch, and perhaps further exploration and tweaking to the roster will be coming soon to give more (or less) opportunity to certain players. Perhaps those adaptations begin tonight against a Clippers team that may not be at full strength (darn you, load management).
Obviously Leonard and George’s status matters. But to be honest, whether one or both of them sit or play, the real difference may be in terms of margin of victory for the Clippers. L.A. is the superior team, even if neither of them take the floor in Memphis, and the Grizzlies likely will not have the fire power to hang with the mighty Clippers and their depth, especially on the bench.
L.A. Clippers 112, Memphis 105