The Memphis Grizzlies aren’t the biggest team in the NBA to start with. Jonas Valanciunas is the one true center on their roster - Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke spend time there, but they aren’t true 5-men. Bruno Caboclo plays there because of the system head coach Taylor Jenkins deploys - he’s much more of a power forward. That is, essentially the front court size for the Grizzlies.
So when your #2, #3, and #4-ish (Bruno has fallen out of the rotation of late in favor of Solomon Hill) “bigs” are all out due to either suspension because of a dumb rule (Jackson Jr.) or injury (Clarke and Caboclo), you’re bound to run in to some issues. Sprinkle in some foul trouble for Jonas (Valanciunas had four blocks, but fouled out with eight minutes left to go in the game), and you’ve got the makings of an ass-kicking.
And that is what happened.
The Pelicans have the number of the Grizzlies right now. Two games in 11 days, two blowout victories for NOLA. At least in this game Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and company were “supposed to” win - while the Pelicans are not as good record-wise as Memphis at the moment, on this night New Orleans fielded the superior roster. They took advantage of the Grizzlies in the paint early, and once Memphis tried to adjust there the Pelicans took to beyond the arc. The Grizzlies simply were no match for New Orleans Friday night.
On to grades.
Dillon Brooks: 10 points on 3-14 shooting (1-5 from three), 3 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 assists, -17 +/- in 27 minutes
Not Dillon’s finest hour. He was exposed defensively on multiple occasions, either ball watching and losing his man as he attacked the paint or being too slow on close outs on shooters on the perimeter. Offensively he simply did not have his shot - surely the absence of Jackson Jr. and Clarke did not help, as Jaren’s perimeter shooting and Clarke’s extremely efficient rim-running help create space for Brooks jump shots. But for someone who was white-hot for much of the month, him going out with a whimper to end January did not help much on this night.
Dillon still had a hell of a month. Just not a very good January 31st.
Ja Morant: 16 points on 7-12 shooting (1-3 from three), 3 assists, 2 turnovers, 1 rebound, -25 +/- in 27 minutes
In what wound up being the very first matchup between the #1 and #2 overall picks in the 2019 NBA Draft, the initial victory went to Zion Williamson. Ja had an hit-or-miss night, besides his shooting numbers. His low assist output might have more to do with the lack of his running mates than any particular issues with his game, but Morant simply wasn’t as effective creating offensively for his teammates. He, too, was thrown off by rotation changes and a lack of a true big at times defensively, and it showed. A weird night for the team meant a not-so-good night for Ja.
His scoring numbers get him to an average grade...but barely.
- JONAS VALANCIUNAS DID HIS BEST. 18 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks, and fouling out with 27 minutes played. There’s a lot of talk about the NBA being “positionless”, but tonight showed that legitimate size still matters. Jonas was the best player for Memphis against NOLA. There just wasn’t enough of him in this game. GRADE: B+
- JOSH JACKSON IS AN NBA PLAYER, REMEMBER? Tonight was a solid reminder, in case you forgot. 13 points on 14 shots (1-5 from beyond the arc, not so good), 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and a team leading 29 minutes of play and a +/- of -9, which compared to others (see above and below) isn’t too shabby. Some of the minutes were in mop up duty, and Jackson still has a ways to go to be a reliable contributor. But clearly Josh’s primary reason he wasn’t with the Hustle is because he’s bad at basketball. GRADE: C
- KYLE ANDERSON NEEDS TO PLAY MORE. 14 points on 9 shots, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal, a +/-of -8 in 24 minutes. He can facilitate offense at any position, create mismatches, switch defensively, utilize his length to force poor passes...he’s simply a better option than Jae Crowder (a team-worst -32 in 28 minutes played) at this point. Here’s to hoping that between Anderson, Jackson, and whatever return comes in the likely eventual Andre Iguodala trade makes Jenkins comfortable to reduce Jae’s role on the floor, even if his leadership intangibles lead to the Grizzlies keeping him beyond Thursday’s trade deadline. GRADE: B
Memphis is back in action at home Monday night against the Detroit Pistons. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 PM CT - hopefully a returning Jaren Jackson Jr. makes all the difference.