For this edition of Scouting the Enemy, I decided to reach out to Dave King of Bright Side of the Sun (SB Nation’s Phoenix Suns blog) and break down both rosters/who has the advantage between them and the Memphis Grizzlies heading in to the 2019-2020 season.
Suns: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Tyler Johnson, Ty Jerome (R), Elie Okobo, Jevon Carter
Grizzlies: Ja Morant (R), Tyus Jones, De’Anthony Melton
GBB Site Manager Joe Mullinax: In the here and now, I think the tip of the cap goes to the Suns. Ricky Rubio is an established entity at the point, and of course Devin Booker is Devin Booker. I am high on the potential of Morant especially, but also Jones and Melton (sorry, Jevon Carter is bad). Ty Jerome should be a decent player long-term, but he doesn’t have the ceiling of Morant or Jones. The gap is pretty largely in favor of the Suns right now, but that gap should close the next few years.
DAVE KING: That’s okay if Jevon is bad, given he’s sixth on the depth chart at players handling the ball. I don’t think he’ll play if he even makes the team. Rubio, Booker and Tyler Johnson will get almost all the playmaking duties as long as they’re healthy. Ty Jerome will get the leftovers. I’m excited for you guys to get to watch Ja Morant every night next year, and I think it was an excellent move to acquire Tyus Jones to share playmaking duties to allow Morant to do as much or as little as he’d ready for.
I wish the Suns had backed up some of their youth in recent years this same way. You’re higher on Melton than I am - he just doesn’t have the offensive chops to play on the wing in more than a smaller Andre Roberson (Thunder) type of role.
Suns: Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson (R)
Grizzlies: Jae Crowder, Dillon Brooks, Solomon Hill, Kyle Anderson, Andre Iguodala, Josh Jackson, Marco Guduric
JM: I see what you did there, counting Booker twice but not Melton (who I think may eventually be a starter on the wing for the Grizzlies). This is a Suns blog, after all - I will play by your rules. Again, here, the nod goes to the Suns. Who is the best Grizzlies wing - Iguodala? He almost surely will not be in Memphis beyond this coming trade deadline.
Meanwhile, Phoenix is three deep in terms of stars (Booker) and potential (Oubre Jr. and Bridges). Could the Grizzlies eventually surpass Phoenix here? Yeah, I think so - the Grizzlies are playing the long game, and I could see them making major swings at RFA wings in 2020 and 2021. But now? Phoenix is better.
DK: Yeah, sorry about that listing of Booker twice but that’s the way it is for the Suns. Booker is the second playmaker, but even moreso he’s the top wing. Using that same logic, I wonder if you’d call Morant a wing for the times he shares the court with Tyus Jones. When they play together -- which I’d think is going to be common -- then one of them is your best shooting guard.
At small forward, you’re just rotating in whoever can hit the threes to keep the defenses honest and give Morant/Jones room to work. I agree the Suns are ahead on the wing right now. I think while Oubre has likely reached his ceiling, I’m praying Mikal Bridges takes a huge leap and becomes a difference maker on both ends of the court in coming years.
Suns: Deandre Ayton, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes, Frank Kaminsky, Cheick Diallo
Grizzlies: Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valencuinas, Brandon Clarke (R), Miles Plumlee, Dwight Howard
JM: Ah yes, here is where I piss off your entire community.
Jaren Jackson Jr. > Deandre Ayton...and it isn’t close.
Don’t get me wrong - Ayton is a STUD. I love his game, as a fan of bigs who dominate in and around the post and on the glass. Ayton is an athletic freak for his size, and I don’t think the Suns were “wrong” to take him.
I just think Jaren is better.
Jaren has legitimate unicorn tendencies - he’s working on guard skills this summer - and his youth (he’s younger than the rookie Morant) suggests he will only continue to develop both in terms of skill set and physical size. He’s already elite as a defender, and can defend every position on the floor if asked to. His ceiling is, at least at this moment, limitless.
Ayton’s is limited to being a great big. But in this “positionless” era, Jackson fits the moment more. Throw in Jonas as the 3rd best big on this overall list, and the win goes to Memphis here.
DK: I actually don’t think you’re going to piss of my community much with this take. They’re just different players, and I’m guessing neither fanbase watched much of the other guy last year.
It’s quite possible Jaren becomes the unicorn he could be and it would be a fun team to watch if he does. Just needs to cut down fouls, improve his rebounding and become more of an alpha scorer to become the unicorn people see him as. Ayton is just a different player. Jackson’s strengths (defensive effort and instincts) are the things Ayton needs work at, and vice versa. But both have shown flashes to indicate potential on those problem areas. Ayton’s ceiling is not far off of Karl-Anthony Towns -- he’s closer to Towns than the 90s centers his skeptics harp on. I agree with you that Jonas > Dario, and that rookie Brandon Clarke has a high enough floor that the Grizzlies win this battle.