It has been almost four months to the day, but last night the Memphis Grizzlies returned to the hardwood against the Minnesota Timberwolves. In their first action since March, it understandably took a little bit for the Timberwolves to get going, but once they woke up, they gave the Grizzlies a relatively competitive game in their first preseason action of the year. The Grizzlies carried an 8-point lead into halftime before pulling away in the third quarter as we saw the last of most of the starters. The young Grizzlies did enough in the fourth to not blow the lead, finishing the job and securing a 107-105 opening night win.
In absence of Jaren Jackson Jr., Justise Winslow, and Brandon Clarke, three players who will be prominent members of the rotation, Taylor Jenkins was able to showcase different lineups including variations of four guard lineups. While the high volume of guard play was not conducive to great perimeter shooting, as the teams shot 11-40 (27.5%) from behind the arc, there were a lot of positives to take away from last night. The Grizzlies produced a ton of open looks offensively by driving and kicking the ball out to the perimeter or generating open looks in the paint leading to the team’s 30 assists. They also showed a ton of effort defensively finishing with 10 blocked shots.
The Grizzlies looked good in their first showing and went to the locker room with a win and good health.
That being said grade time.
Ja Morant - 25 minutes played, 8-12 shooting (2-3 3PT), 20 points, 11 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 turnover, +10 +/-
Sophomore slump? Never heard of him.
While he sat out the fourth quarter, Ja Morant took advantage of his 25 minutes through the first three quarters. Morant established himself early, starting the game 5-5 from the floor making a living in the paint. As aggressive as he was throughout the game, the best development was the meticulous playmaking he made for himself and others weaving through Timberwolves defenders as the game as he seemingly started to slow down for him. This showed in the one turnover to 11 assist ratio from last night.
Strength and jump shooting were a large focus of Ja Morant’s offseason work, as he could be seen working with IMG coach Trey Draper and Grizzlies staff throughout the offseason at IMG Academy in Florida. The 5 pounds he gained over the offseason showed, as you could see Morant fight through screens a lot better than he did in his rookie season as well as how he took contact on both ends. Then in a beautiful sequence, we witnessed Morant take and make not one, but two transition threes including the first half ending buzzer beater. Ja Morant consistently making jump shots is a great way to start the sophomore campaign and could lead to great things going forward.
Shooting the ball well. Playing aggressive but smart basketball while making others around him better. If this is the Ja Morant the league is getting in year two, call the coroner, because its going to be a scary sight for the rest of the league.
Grade - A
John Konchar – 21 minutes played, 3-6 shooting (0-2 3PT), 8 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 turnovers
We Jitty Again.
While the three ball didn’t fall for him in the preseason opener, John Konchar’s performance is one that jumped off the screen. As soon as he checked in Saturday night, he made an impact, whether it be his fast break assist to Desmond Bane, or the chase down block in the 2nd quarter. He was all over the floor making the right plays at the right time on both ends. Konchar even showed a flair in his game that I’d never seen from him attempting some flashy passes in transition. The bad part about these flashy passes that all of them led to turnovers. He played in multiple positions, and if these performances continue, it will be hard for him not to crack the rotation.
Grade - B
Dillon Brooks - 22 minutes played, 2-12 shooting (0-3 3PT), 4 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 turnover, 4 fouls
Save the think pieces.
It’s the first game of the preseason.
In the Grizzlies first action, Dillon Brooks did not play well...statistically speaking. He picked up a number of ticky tack fouls. He struggled from behind the arc, he struggled with his floater, simply put he couldn’t buy a basket but there were positives. We witnessed a Dillon Brooks, who although he struggled from the field, who did not force shots. He missed shots but outside of one questionable one legged, mid-range fadeaway, his shots were open looks. We saw for possibly the first time ever Dillon Brooks the facilitator, someone who did not hesitate to swing the ball to teammates instead of embracing his inner Maple Mamba Mentality.
Dillon Brooks is making winning plays & not taking bad shots idc what y’all are talking about.— Bryce Hayes (@nxtprodigy) December 13, 2020
Last night, Dillon Brooks played winning basketball. It was game one, the jump shot will come, but if he sticks to taking open shots within the offense and passing the ball to open teammates instead of getting tunnel vision on offense, that’s a plus for everyone involved. Hopefully, that style of play continues with a jump shot and less fouls defensively.
Grade - C+
While the performances of Morant, Konchar and Brooks stood out, they were not the only noteworthy ones. “Mr. Do Something” De’Anthony Melton was back to his pre-bubble form making things happen and looking a lot more comfortable in his role with Tyus Jones back to handle the point guard duties. Desmond Bane made a great first impression in his Grizzlies debut scoring 12 points, including two threes, to go along with 4 rebounds in his first action.
Grizzlies basketball is back. The Grizzlies played well, got a win, and nobody got hurt. In 2020, you can’t ask for more than that as they have three more tuneups before things get real.
GRIZZLIES GRADE - A-