WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (5-13, 2-4 away) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (10-8, 3-6 home )
WHERE: Target Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota
WHEN: 2:30 PM Central
HOW TO WATCH: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS- Kyle Anderson (Out, Heel), Ja Morant (Out, Back), Brandon Clarke (Questionable, Hip)
Minnesota- Treveon Graham (Probable, Forearm), Shabazz Napier (Questionable, Hamstring) Jake Layman (Out, Toe), Josh Okogie (Probable, Knee)
MEMPHIS- Tyus Jones, Dillon Brooks, Jae Crowder, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
Minnesota- Treveon Graham, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Robert Covington, Jarrett Culver
Between the return of Mike Conley, the (re)introduction of iconic threads, and better than expected play against some of the NBA’s best competition, the past few weeks have been quite exciting for Grizzlies fans. Unfortunately, that excitement took a significant (yet not surprising) hit on Saturday, as Memphis announced star rookie point guard Ja Morant would miss time with a back injury suffered last Monday in Indiana. This news obviously is not something anyone wanted to hear, but there is no denying that the franchise should take every measure of caution with one of its new found cornerstones.
The absence of Morant will impact the Grizzlies on every level. He arguably has been the top scoring option. especially late in close games. He also has been one of the best sources of highlights across the entire NBA so far this season. Overall, his injury is not an ideal development. However, Morant’s injury does provide the opportunity for other members of the Grizzlies roster to show what they can do in expanded roles.
Morant’s minutes will likely initially be split between Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen, and De’Anthony Melton. While the calls for Josh Jackson will only grow louder, his timeline may not be impacted by this development. Since coming back from injury, Allen has found his way back into the Grizzlies’ rotation, often used as one of the first substitutions off the bench. However, he has struggled mightily when he has been on the court, as for any Grizzlies player with 100 or more minutes, Allen has the lowest Offensive Rating, worst Defensive Rating, and lowest PER.
As a result of Morant’s ailment and Allen’s poor play, Melton could see a significant increase in his playing time, and hopefully in his usage. Though he has only played 57 minutes this year, Melton’s per-36 numbers stand at 13.3 points, 5.7 assists, 5.1 rebounds, and 3.8 steals. In other words, Melton has been active and productive when on the court. Memphis needs playmakers without Morant, and Melton has the potential to fill that role.
Of course, the main individual who will prevent the Grizzlies recent level of play from significantly declining will be Jones. It is no secret that Jones has struggled this season. Jones is experiencing the worst offensive output of his career, as well as a decline in his well-known efficiency handling the basketball. A likely factor in his early season struggles is a new system and style of play. Memphis needs for Jones to find immediate improvement in his production as he shifts into a starting role.
There is not better time for Jones to experience a revival of sorts than now as he and the Grizzlies head to Minnesota to face his former team. The Timberwolves currently stand at 10-8, but have been one of the stories to follow in the NBA this season due to the long awaited breakout of Andrew Wiggins. While Wiggins has had some of the best potential of any wing in the NBA for years, he has finally backed it up with his production.
Karl-Anthony Towns and Wiggins are two of only ten players averaging 25 or more points, five or more rebounds, and three or more assists per game this season (min. 15 starts). The only other team to feature two players on that list are the Lakers with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. After an offseason that will be remembered by all of the superstar duos that were formed, Towns and Wiggins have surprised many by emerging as one of the best pairings in the league.
As a result, the Grizzlies have a tall task on their hands this afternoon. Though they may be the underdog, here a few ways the Grizzlies could achieve an upset:
Keep it Simple - With the injuries to Morant and Kyle Anderson, several Grizzlies will be relied upon to improve their offensive games. However, the focus should remain on Dillon Brooks, Jonas Valanciunas, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Brandon Clarke. Memphis averages 91 shots a game, with 15 coming from Morant. Ideally, the Grizzlies should aim for 45 or more shots to come from this quartet of players, as they provide the best chance for the offense to stay productive without Morant.
Pick your Poison- It is going to be no easy task stopping Wiggins and Towns. However, a key for the Grizzlies should be preventing both from having standout games. Minnesota is 5-1 when Wiggins scores more than 25 points in a game, and 5-3 when Towns scores more than 28. Combined, the duo averages around 52 points a game. If Memphis can prevent at least one of them from surpassing their PPG average on the season, the Grizzlies’ chances to win improves.
Win the Battle of the Boards- Just like last year, Minnesota has success when Towns is successful on the boards. The Timberwolves are 6-4 when KAT gets 13 or more rebounds. However, Minnesota also is 27th in the league in total rebounds allowed to opponents per game. If Clarke can play, the Grizzlies do have a potential edge in the post. Hopefully, they can use that advantage to prevent additional scoring chances for Minnesota, while also creating a few for themselves.
The Grizzlies arguably had their best offensive game of the season so far when Minnesota visited the Bluff City earlier this year, winning 137-121. A big reason for that outburst was 31 points from Dillon Brooks. Brooks will likely need a similar performance for the Grizzlies to have a chance to win. Another 20 plus points/15 plus rebounds night from Valanciunas would certainly help as well. Overall, multiple Grizzlies will need to have one of their best offensive nights of the season to win. Without Morant, that likely will be a hard goal to achieve.
Timberwolves 115 Grizzlies 106