The Memphis Grizzlies failed to start off this new and unprecedented season with a bang. While the Spurs are a talented young bunch who are obviously well-coached, they don’t stack up with Memphis’ talent on paper. The Spurs undeniably looked like the superior team on Wednesday though - San Antonio’s wings and guards tore up the Grizzlies in the painted area. Keldon Jonhson, Dejounte Murray, DeMar DeRozan, and Lonnie Walker attacked the rim at will all night long with little to no resistance - Memphis’ rim protection was practically non-existent, especially after the first quarter.
San Antonio’s success at the rim can be attributed to the fact that they made it a point of emphasis to attack the Grizzlies in the open court. The Spurs beat Memphis at their own game, as they outscored the Grizzlies 22-19 in fastbreak points. To boot, Gregg Poppovich’s club shot a efficient 10-for-25 from three-point territory. If the Grizzlies aren’t protecting the paint or the arc and lose the fastbreak points battle, they can’t expect to come away with the win. Although, not all went awry for Memphis.
Without further delay, let’s hand out some grades for the Grizzlies’ first outing of the 2020-21 regular season.
Ja Morant- 44 points, 18-for-27 shooting from the field, nine assists, two steals in 35 minutes (A+)
Memphis Grizzlies fans and brass alike should thank their lucky stars that this kid is playing for their team.
To say Morant put on a show is not doing his performance enough justice. Ja did what he wanted, when he wanted - all while being harassed by a stout defender in Dejounte Murray. The Grizzlies set Ja up to score in the high screen-and-roll early and often, and the young man more than capitalized on his opportunities. The Spurs had no answer for the speedster, who was blowing by the team’s bigs play after play. Also, Morant characteristically made a number of breath-taking dimes via dribble-penetration and was able to thread the needle of the Spurs’ defense - he was one dime away from reaching the double-digit mark in assists despite committing only one turnover.
All in all, Ja was masterful as the conductor and head of the snake of the Grizzlies’ offense. The 21-year-old looked like an all-star tonight, and if he continues to stuff the stat sheet in this manner, he’ll make a great case to receive the honor this season.
Jonas Valanciunas- 15 points, 6-for-11 shooting from the field, 13 rebounds in 30 minutes (B)
At first glance, it may seem as if Valanciunas is deserving of a higher grade. After all, he notched a double-double. Jonas was his usual, productive self on the glass, pulling down 10 defensive rebounds and three offensive boards. Not to mention he served as an adequate interior scorer, accumulating a handful of finishes around the rim and he even nailed a three-pointer in the process. But Valanciunas was a flat-out liability on the defensive end. He often found himself in no man’s land when guarding LaMarcus Aldridge in the screen-and-roll, and as a result Aldridge torched him and the Grizzlies from the mid-range area.
Unfortunately, Jonas’ defensive woes extended beyond the perimeter. He fared poorly as a rim protector throughout - the expeditious and crafty wings of the Spurs took turns finishing around and through him. Valanciunas spent a significant chunk of the season-opener either out of position or ineffective defensively. Jonas was a non-factor in deterring the Spurs from weaving inside, and as a result the team had a field day and dropped 60 points in the paint.
Jonas by no means had a bad outing, but he put together a one-dimensional performance. Memphis needs Valanciunas to be impactful on both ends of the floor, not just one.
It goes without saying that the defensive effort and energy of the Grizzlies needs to improve. Giving up 131 points to the opponent is not conducive to winning. The team also must prioritize fluid and continuous ball movement - particularly when Ja Morant is on the bench. Memphis’ offense became stagnant without their floor general, and players seemed to be forcing the issue as opposed to seeking out high-percentage looks.
Morant had an incredible game. But there are a number of areas of improvement for Memphis as they look ahead to their next game versus the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.