It’s opening night for both the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs! Though it’s not the same without fans in the arenas, and more importantly while we’re in the middle of a pandemic, it’s still refreshing to have something to be excited about to close out 2020.
So, let’s rejoice there!
The last time these two faced off was in the Orlando bubble where the Grizzlies lost in heart-breaking fashion — thanks to DeMar DeRozan pulling a vet move on elite fouler Dillon Brooks to get to the charity stripe to ice the game.
However, it’s a new game, a new season, and the Grizzlies are looking to prove that last year’s surprise was no fluke. Meanwhile, the Spurs are in a different direction, as this is a rebuild with an inevitable blow-up to further commence it.
Ahead of today’s matchup, I chatted with Bruno Passos of SB Nation’s Pounding the Rock.
1) What are your early thoughts on Devin Vassell?
I’ve been really impressed. He was the best Spur in the preseason, and I’m not sure it was close. I know he came billed as a relatively NBA-ready 3 and D wing, but he’s looked so comfortable making quick decisions on offense, hitting shots, and taking smart but impactful gambles on defense. I hope he gets minutes from day one.
2) What do you think of the Dejounte Murray and Derrick White extensions? Are they long-term pieces, or trade assets?
The Murray extension — 4 years at $64 million — kicks in this year and most would say it doesn’t look great so far. Murray’s improvement as a three-point shooter has been offset by his decisionmaking and playmaking, and those were the keys to him growing into the point guard of the future. As he appears to be panning out more as an off-ball guy, on a team chockfull of them, it would make sense for the Spurs to see if he has any market, in my opinion. They may have different thoughts, though.
Given White has outperformed Murray it made sense for his deal — 4 years, $73 million — to be a little sweeter. He’s a bit more of a natural creator than Murray, albeit seemingly still with a ceiling, but his point-of-attack defense and well-rounded offensive game make him a safer bet to see as a building block. Hopefully he can stay healthy after a handful of foot injuries the past few years.
3) Which matchup are you looking forward to the most in this game?
Can I choose the entire Spurs defense trying to slow down Ja? I feel like I gave this answer last year in a similar post. Still, San Antonio was very bad on D last year and that reputation will continue until disproven. For a backup answer, I’ll say LaMarcus Aldridge versus Jonas Valanciunas. Aldridge is more glacial than ever on D and could be exposed more on Morant-Jonas pick and rolls, but his greater commitment to the three ball could help even things out on the other end.
4) What’s the ideal trade return for DeMar DeRozan or LaMarcus Aldridge?
That’s definitely one of the things to keep an eye on as the team approaches the trade deadline. Between Aldridge, DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills all going off the books, the Spurs may have more cap space than they’ll know what to do with next summer. Could either guy net a late first-rounder from a team trying to break into contention? Maybe, but the front office could also look at sending them to a team wanting 2021 cap relief in return for decent players on longer term deals who fit around the young core.
5) Final score predictions
The Spurs look good for parts of the second and third quarters, thanks to some hot shooting from deep, but are unable to keep it up. The Grizzlies take this one, 115-102.
Thanks, Bruno! Follow him on Twitter (@bouncepassos, @poundingtherock) for the best San Antonio Spurs coverage. Tune in tonight at 7:00 PM CST to watch these two Southwest division rivals battle it out for the first game of the season.