After a pair of heart-wrenching losses to the Spurs and Hawks, the Memphis Grizzlies earned their first victory of the 2020-21 campaign against the Nets on Monday. The Bears of Beale Street squeaked by with a 116-111 win in overtime behind 28 points from Kyle Anderson and 24 from Dillon Brooks. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant both sat this one out with the game being the second night of a back-to-back for Brooklyn - although the Memphis win felt immaterial for a completely unrelated reason.
Ja Morant, a franchise centerpiece in Memphis as well as a dynamic, game-changing talent at the floor general spot, injured his foot in the second quarter after contesting a Timothe Luwawu-Cabarott jumper. Grizzlies faithful collectively held their breaths in the ensuing hours after what appeared to be a serious, perhaps even season-altering impingement for Morant.
Thankfully, encouraging news pertaining to Ja’s injury was revealed Tuesday via the team’s PR department. Morant suffered a Grade 2 ankle sprain and is expected to return to the hardwood in 3-5 weeks. Ja will be carving up defenses again in no time. But with Memphis’ primary offensive weapon sidelined for the near future, the Grizzlies will need to rely on the likes of Kyle Anderson, Dillon Brooks, and Jonas Valanciunas more so than ever before if the team wants to remain afloat in the uber-competitive Western Conference.
Standing in the path of a two-game win streak for Memphis are the Boston Celtics, a defensive-minded crew spearheaded by tantalizing wings Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart. I caught up with the talented and hard-working Adam Taylor of CelticsBlog to pick his brain ahead of the matchup between the two teams.
1. Jaylen Brown has had a tremendous start to this new season. Which components of his all-around game appear new-and-improved compared to the year prior?
Jaylen has been the Celtics best player over the opening three games of the season, displaying a new found aggression when driving the lane, and a willingness to pull-up off the dribble which we hadn’t seen before. Previously, Brown was more of a spot-up shooter, capable of knocking down shots off the catch, but now, he’s capable of scoring off the dribble or when curling off screens.
Additionally, the fifth-year wing has been provided with some playmaking responsibilities in Kemba Walker’s absence, and while these still fell somewhat forced, Brown is begging to figure out how to create shots for both himself and others from these situations.
2. What are your first impressions of Boston’s neophytes (Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith), and do you believe they’ll both be part of the Celtics rotation by season’s end?
Payton Pritchard is staking a claim to be the new darling of Celtics fans across the world, playing with high intensity and showing a seemingly limitless range. His braggadocios style when on-ball is enjoyable, while his handle has the ability to develop into something rather captivating.
Unfortunately, Pritchard’s size and frame mean he will never be anything more than an average NBA defender – and even that’s a stretch, while there’s also some concerns around his ability to create his own shot out of isolation situations. But yes, there is certainly a world where the rookie point-guard carves out a role in the Celtics long-term rotations.
In terms of Aaron Nesmith, it’s hard to quantify his transferable skills, as he’s seldom seen the floor in the opening three games of the season. His shot making and ability as a play-finisher do speak towards some form of shooting gravity early in his career, which could open the floor for the Celtics more athletic wings. However, there must be a reason he’s struggling for game time right now, which indicates he may be more of a project, rather than an immediate contributor.
3. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have already established themselves as one of the NBA’s premiere dynamic duos. Will both Tatum and Brown earn an all-star nod this season?
Yes. Anything less than a second All-Star appearance for Jayson Tatum, and a debut All-Star season for Jaylen Brown is nothing short of an aberration. There’s also a case to be made for Brown to end the season in the Most Improved Player conversation, which will only continue to grow stronger as the season progresses.
4. Which Grizzlies player are you most excited to watch compete against the Celtics, and why?
The Ja Morant injury is a tough pill to swallow for Grizzlies fans everywhere, further deepening their injury woes due to Jaren Jackson Jr’s absence until January at the earliest. Something that will be noted in the debut episode of The Bear Necessities podcast this Friday (with a break down in the new newsletter (same name) late next month), will be how impressive Kyle Anderson has played to start the season, notching very respectable numbers on efficient percentages along with a respectable usage rate.
Furthermore, Jonas Valanciunas is one of the most underrated big-men in the league, if not the most underrated. With Boston’s struggles to guard strong post presences, Valanciunas has an opportunity for a big night in this game – especially due to the higher usage he will have in Morant’s absence.
5. With their roster as currently constructed, can the Celtics vanquish the likes of Brooklyn or Milwaukee in a seven-game series, or are they one move away from legitimate title contention?
It’s too early to tell in all honesty. There’s a very real argument to be made, that the Celtics were one lucky bank-shot away from starting the season 0-3, and with All-Star Kemba Walker yet to feature, and Romeo Langford still recovering from surgery, there’s a lot of questions that still need to be answered before discerning any hypothetical 7-game series outcome.
Huge thank you to Adam for providing thoughtful responses. Check out his work, and follow him (@AdamTaylorNBA) as well as CelticsBlog (@celticsblog) on Twitter for the most comprehensive Celtics coverage on the web!