WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Jaren Jackson Jr. (Out, knee), Justise Winslow (Out, hip), Killian Tillie (Out, hamstring), Brandon Clarke (Doubtful, hamstring), Jontay Porter (Doubtful, knee)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS- Ja Morant, Grayson Allen, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas
MINNESOTA- D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Josh Okogie, Jake Layman, Karl-Anthony Towns
Your eyes don’t deceive you. This sure does look like a Game Preview. But it’s not - it is something new called Trending in Memphis. The Grizzlies are playing multiple two-game series this season as the NBA tries to limit travel where it can in the era of COVID-19. The preseason is the introduction to this idea for many teams, including the Memphis Grizzlies - Memphis is playing the Minnesota Timberwolves again in Minneapolis after defeating them Saturday night by the score of 107-105. The team knows it will take some getting used to - Gorgui Dieng said it feels similar to a playoff series, while Coach Jenkins feels like his G-League schedule experience will help him lead Memphis through this unique (maybe - this kind of makes sense as a long-time tweak post-COVID) season’s travel stops with two straight games against the same team in spots.
With that in mind, we at GBB are adding a layer to our game coverage. This article will run every 2nd game of these mini-series, and will focus on players whose stock is rising (or falling) entering the encore of the previous game. At times it will be individual players, at others it will be general team trends. All the time, it will be a lot of fun.
We begin with the easiest possible choice...because it is the correct one.
The hottest trend in Minneapolis right now is...Ja Morant
He was utterly dominant in his preseason opening showing against the Timberwolves. 20 points, 11 assists, 4 rebounds, multiple made threes, a masterful orchestration of the offense, improved defensive movement...all while seemingly not breaking a sweat. He was pretty clearly the best player on the floor on this night - a meaningless one in the long run, to be fair - but the relative ease at which he paced the play on the floor was dramatically noticeable. Folks will prioritize speaking highly of Ja’s impressive three point shooting, and that is understandable because if he can improve a couple percentage points on what he was from beyond the arc last season (roughly 33.5%) it would make a world of difference for this Grizzlies team. That should continue to be monitored.
But my main takeaway was the defensive attention to detail. Ja was trying his hand at rim protection, using the law of verticality on drives at the basket. He was noticeably working through rotations with gusto, moving and being active on that end of the floor in ways that weren’t always there in the past. That’s not to say Ja was a bad defender last year - he wasn’t. But the “student of the game” moniker gets overused. Morant showing a noticeable attempt to be a better team defender while being such a vital part of the team’s offensive scheme was a welcome sight.
It showed he gets it. And the Memphis Grizzlies are in good hands with him as their leader.
OTHERS TRENDING UP
- Desmond Bane. He was a force offensively, creating off the dribble and hitting threes while being active on the glass in particular (4 rebounds). Of the two drafted rookies that played (more on the other guy in a moment) he performed the best. Of course you want trends, not flashes in the pan. His lack of wingspan is well-documented, and he does give off a Dillon Brooks-esque lack of athleticism. But he has an offensive skill set that simply fits the Grizzlies like a glove. It’s not too soon to say that.
- Taylor Jenkins’ coaching creativity. Four guard/perimeter player lineups? Using a coaches’ challenge? BE STILL MY BEATING HEART. Coach is using the opportunity in front of him to throw a lot of potential rotation players at the wall and see what sticks. Part of that is utilizing lots of playmaking/creating lineups where at times the likes of Dillon Brooks and Desmond Bane are playing the traditional “4” position. This can’t always be utilized - the Lakers would rip Memphis apart doing this - but as an overall thought exercise/process? It shows a willingness to experiment and address perceived weaknesses. Hopefully more of that comes tonight.
The Not Quite Downward Spiral: Grayson Allen
Yes, it has been one game. And yes, Grayson Allen deserves another crack at the TImberwolves - one that comes this evening. But for a player who is in the lineup currently because of his ability to space the floor and make scoring chances for himself offensively, he...looked out of place doing that Saturday night. 1-8 from the floor with one made three (meaning no made two point buckets) isn’t going to cut it - especially if in 22 minutes of play you’re not going to contribute in other areas (1 rebound, 1 assist, zero attempted free throws).
Yes, Dillon Brooks shot poorly as well. But Dillon Brooks clearly showed attempts at growth as a player through his facilitation, and Brooks’ capacity as a hard working and willing defender is known. It’s why he starts - he impacts the game beyond his streaky shooting. If Allen can’t do the same, the likes of Bane and others will start creeping up in to the starting picture. Jenkins choosing Allen to begin the preseason alongside Anderson makes sense - you need the threat of scoring from range to help make the offense work.
But others - especially Bane - may prove capable earlier than most folks gave him credit for. And Grayson could go from a preseason starter to an end of the bench roster member relatively quickly given the depth of the Grizzlies rotation. It’s a big night for Allen to show he can hang.
OTHERS TRENDING DOWN
- Xavier Tillman Sr. Before you yell, yes, it was just one preseason game. And yes, X does things that don’t show up in box scores - Coach Jenkins said as much after the game Saturday night. Tillman is a good screener, a good team defender...if his shot isn’t falling, he can help the team win in other ways. But the problem is, Tillman (more so than Bane) appeared to struggle with the speed and length of the NBA game as he got blocked and out-positioned semi-regularly against Minnesota. The best part of this all is that Tillman essentially predicted these issues - he said in a media availability session before the game that the biggest difference between college and the NBA was the size and speed of the opposition. He will become more accustomed to that as he gets live reps. Expect X to play a lot better in game two...and beyond.
Will these trends hold? Will Morant cool down? Will Allen heat up? Get up, Memphis - it’s Grizzlies gameday!