WHEN: 6:30 PM CT
WHERE: State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Grayson Allen (out, hip), Brandon Clarke (out, quad), Jaren Jackson Jr. (out, knee), Justise Winslow (out, back)
ATLANTA: DeAndre Bembry (out, abdominal), Cline Capela (out, heel), Dewayne Dedmon (out, elbow), Skal Labissiere (out, knee), Cam Reddish (questionable, back)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, DeAnthony Melton, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas
ATLANTA: Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, John Collins
Even when it is completely unnecessary, comparisons are inevitable when it comes to professional sports.
LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan. Tom Brady vs. Joe Montana. Willie Mays vs. Mike Trout. Wayne Gretsky vs. Alexander Ovechkin.
Who is better?
It’s not supposed to bring about the intense emotion that it does. Surely you can appreciate greatness regardless of the era, or without breaking down the film or numbers while looking for a flaw in a legend...but where’s the fun in that? Picking and prodding is part of the entertainment of sports. The history of the game is one thing, though...when you’re able to do it in present day? It can be even more heated.
Marvin Bagley III vs. Jaren Jackson Jr. Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. James Harden.
Ja Morant vs. Trae Young.
Who you got?
Of course, chances are, if you’re reading this right now you’re likely leaning towards Ja. There’s an argument to be made for sure - Ja is going to win Rookie of the Year, barring a catastrophic injury, and has his team in the middle of the playoff hunt. He is doing things that not many rookie point guards are able to do. He was called an All-Star snub by local and national media alike. He is the future of the position in the NBA...
But so is Trae Young.
Luka Doncic looks like a future Hall of Famer if he stays on course, and boy could that trade Atlanta pulled off have made them look very dumb for passing on him. Credit the Hawks, though, because while Luka was an All-Star starter in year two in the NBA, so was Trae. Trae is also doing things rookie point guards his age haven’t done before. He is a living, breathing, offensive juggernaut. He can score (29.8 points per game), he can create for others (9.4 assists per game), he can hurt you in just about every way imaginable on that end of the floor. His defense is...bad...but when you’re asked to be so much for your team (34.8% usage rate, 8.7% higher than Ja’s), it’s understandable to an extent.
Right now? Trae is the superior offensive player. Ja is a better athlete, and likely has the higher ceiling as a two-way player. But the debate will be fun for years to come...and they get their first look at each other tonight.
Morant vs. Young. Grizzlies vs. Hawks.
Who you got? It’ll come down to more than just Ja and Trae.
Pushing the limits of pace
There are only six teams in the NBA that play at a faster pace than the Memphis Grizzlies, and the Atlanta Hawks are one of them. Both young squads run and gun with the best of them, trying to get out in the open floor and run the floor, allowing their young cornerstone point guards to create for themselves and others. With the Grizzlies and the Hawks looking to play an up tempo style, the key is who executes it best. Who can make the most off of the opponent’s turnovers? Who is most able to get open threes to fall off of dribble penetration in transition? Who can best get their bigs to move both in space and around the basket to get easy looks?
In this way, both Memphis and Atlanta are spitting images of each other. Executing their vision of the lightning paced modern NBA will decide this game. Because while their pace is close to the same, how they score is pretty different.
Run them off the three point line
The Memphis Grizzlies, according to basketball-reference.com, have attempted the 24th most three point shots in the NBA (1,851, 30.9 per game) and the 4th most two point shots (3,623, 60.4 per game). Meanwhile, the Atlanta Hawks have attempted 2,216 three pointers (35.7 per game) and 1,776 two point baskets (54.3 a game), good for 8th and 17th in the Association, respectfully. Atlanta is much more interested in launching from beyond the arc than Memphis, and the Grizzlies are more likely to attack the rim than the Hawks.
Memphis is the more efficient offense (109 offensive rating to Atlanta’s 107), largely because the Grizzlies are better at making those twos (53.2% on two point baskets, 8th in the NBA) than the Hawks are at making threes (33.2%, dead last in the NBA). But remember, two of the main reasons Memphis is in the top third in the NBA in scoring inside the arc are out due to injury. Meanwhile, Atlanta is without two centers themselves and will be susceptible at the rim, but could cause small ball problems for Memphis leading to open threes.
Whichever team best imposes their will on the other will win this contest.
This has the potential to be a fun game, and perhaps a preview of the 2025 NBA Finals. Both squads are set up quite nicely for the future, both in terms of current rosters and future cap flexibility/draft pick assets. Between these two, Dallas, and New Orleans, the next generation of NBA title contention likely won’t be from the west coast, but the deep south.
In the here and now? Even with all the injuries Memphis is a better basketball team. But Atlanta is coming along, having won four of their last six games, including wins over current playoff teams like the Heat and Mavericks. If the Grizzlies play the way they did against the Kings? They will lose.
If they play like they did against the Lakers? They’ll win going away.
Look for something in the middle, a competitive game, and a Grizzlies win with flashes of the Ja vs. Trae battles that hopefully will form a friendly rivalry for years to come.
Memphis 124, Atlanta 118