WHERE: ESPN Wide World of Sports - The Arena in Orlando, Florida
WHEN: 2:30 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH: Streaming on Grizzlies.com/NBA League Pass
FOR THE SIXERS PERSPECTIVE: Visit Liberty Ballers
MEMPHIS: Justise Winslow (Out, hip)
PHILADELPHIA: Zhaire Smith (Out, knee), Ryan Broekhoff (Out, personal)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
PHILADELPHIA: Shake Melton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid
The Memphis Grizzlies begin their sprint to the postseason today against the Philadelphia 76ers. The fact that this preview is even being written is a basketball miracle - the amount of planning, spending, and discipline on display in the NBA’s bubble campus is truly a sight to behold. The grand scheme is operating as it was designed to so far, and because of the work of so many we have actual Grizzlies hoops to watch - something that we haven’t had in a very, very long time.
And in July, no less - and it isn’t summer league! 2020 has been an awful year, but today is a good one if you’re a Grizzlies fan.
Taylor Jenkins is about to get his first look at his young team against a squad in a different colored uniform in The Arena at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports. Memphis takes the floor today against a 76ers team that may currently be the six seed in the Eastern Conference, but make no mistake - they are a contender in the NBA title picture. They will unleash for the first time Ben Simmons as a power forward against the Grizzlies, with Shake Milton taking over point guard duties. This will be fascinating to watch play out - when it isn’t against Memphis.
For this team, however, the opponent is far less relevant than the growth internally that the Grizzlies have hopefully experienced over the layoff and long training camp. With that in mind, here are three things to watch for as play resumes for Memphis.
How’s the half court offense?
Before the season was suspended, the Grizzlies offense was at its best when it was on the run. Led by the lightning fast Ja Morant and supplemented by fellow athletes Brandon Clarke, De’Anthony Melton, and Josh Jackson, Memphis made the most of transition opportunities. Even players like Jaren Jackson Jr. and Tyus Jones, not your typical above the rim runners and full court sprinters, have played with consistent speed, ranking among the top-5 on the team in average offensive speed according to nba.com/stats. Yet when teams with solid defenses are able to force the Grizzlies to play a half court style, the offense often collapsed.
When your best option is Jonas Valanciunas in and around the rim or a base pick and roll set, and the likes of the best defensive teams in the NBA have the length and athleticism to take those scoring chances away, how will you produce points? Will you allow Ja Morant to play off the ball more and attack the basket as a slasher? Can Dillon Brooks get off ball screens to get looks from beyond the arc? What other wrinkles can Jenkins and company add to counter the limiting factors ahead of them?
The answers to such questions start today.
Insert obvious rotation question here
Coach Jenkins and the Grizzlies must be tired of all the questions regarding what Memphis plans on doing with Justise Winslow once again out due to injury. It’s a fair query of course - just because Winslow hasn’t played a minute for the Grizzlies yet doesn’t mean they weren’t trying to integrate him during these training camp sessions. With that opportunity gone, it isn’t as simple as “go back to the way things were”. There are options - but beyond who starts (it appears it will be Kyle Anderson to begin, at least) the way the rotation is implemented is still up in the air to an extent.
In a scrimmage scenario, opportunity should come for just about everyone. How Melton, Jackson, and even the likes of John Konchar and Grayson Allen are utilized will be fascinating to watch unfold. It will be our first glimpse in to what Jenkins plans on doing to keep an elite reserve unit clicking with a now (almost) healthy roster. Allen and Konchar both did some good things in limited run for Memphis. Between that and these practices/5 on 5 sessions, have they earned further chances to show what they can do? And will they make the most of those moments when they come their way?
Coach Jenkins needs to start making decisions. This scrimmage is a big step toward those choices coming to fruition.
Maintaining composure despite their youth
These young Grizzlies are excited to play meaningful basketball again. You can feel their energy in the daily media availability sessions the team conducts - they truly love being on the floor together. Between the new faces opposing them and the new look of the arena floor that the NBA debuted this week, there are plenty of things available that could serve as distractions from the group’s stated common goals for this scrimmage. Those include playing unselfish “Grizzlies” basketball, executing on both ends of the floor, and maintaining that level of play consistently throughout the entire game.
That will be a bit easier today, since this first scrimmage for Philly and Memphis will only be 40 minutes long - four ten-minute quarters. But with so much inexperience in high-stakes NBA situations, there is a lot of room for the youth of this squad to not be served - especially given the uniqueness of this situation overall. Thankfully the results of this scrimmage are meaningless - win or lose, the progress made from day one of camp to now is what matters most. That will be hard to measure if silly mistakes are a dominant storyline throughout the game, outside of the expected sloppiness at times since they haven’t played together like this since March.
Keep that “dog chasing a car” energy The Joker talks about in The Dark Knight without catching the tail - or harming yourself in the chase. The real race begins next week. Stay the course.
No prediction here. The end result doesn’t matter. What carries the most weight is how the Grizzlies look both individually and alongside one another, and maintaining health. Finalizing rotations, granting opportunity for end of lineup contenders to state their case on the floor, and knocking off the rust are where the value of these scrimmages starting today have the most value. A date with Portland looms on the horizon - being as ready for Damian Lillard and company is the priority.
That journey starts today.
The Grizzlies are back, Memphis. Try to enjoy it - it’s OK to find joy in such things, even in these tough times.