On Grizzly Bear Blues, I’m going to scout the enemy and look into the teams chasing the Memphis Grizzlies for the 8th and final playoffs spot.
The Sacramento Kings have been underdogs in this whole bubble talk.
They don’t have a rookie phenom (Ja Morant or Zion Williamson) or a perennial All-Star (Damian Lillard). However, after the All-Star break, they were the best team of the 6 teams competing for the final playoff spot. They were 7-3 and ranked in the top 10 in Offensive Rating (8th, 113.2), 3-point Percentage (6th, 38.4), Field Goal Percentage (7th, 47.8), and Turnovers (T-4th, 12.7).
De’Aaron Fox is the driving force for this team, as he’s a blur in transition and is one of the most underrated young players in basketball. He also has potent 3-point weapons to kick out to in Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Harrison Barnes. Not to mention they’ll be getting back Marvin Bagley III, and though guys drafted behind him have outperformed him, he could still go off for a big double-double. Surely, having Bagley as your 6th or 7th man off the bench isn’t the best outcome for the 2nd pick right now, but it’d be an upgrade over Alex Len — and it may be better for him.
A simple yet compelling case for not starting Bagley when the Kings resume play later this month:— Richard Ivanowski (@ivanowskinba) July 6, 2020
The Sacramento Kings have NEVER won a game with Marvin Bagley in the starting lineup.
Though they aren’t often discussed as a potential 8th seed, they should be in the conversation. Defeating the Pelicans once or twice in their two matchups with them in the bubble could make this a legitimate possibility. Can the Grizzlies outlast the Kings for the final playoff spot, despite losing the series 3-1?
Where the Kings Have the Advantage
De’Aaron Fox took this matchup personally.
Last season, he was the darling young point guard that was a blur in transition and overall exciting to watch. Then, Ja Morant stole the spotlight from him in a sense, and Fox wants to prove he’s the superior player every time they step the floor. He’s done a great job convincing people of that, as he’s averaged 25 points, 5.5 assists, and 2.8 steals on 54.5% shooting from the field (16.5 attempts per game) and 52.6% from deep (4.8 attempts) in the 4-game series.
It’s not necessarily an advantage from a skill point, because they’re arguably in the same tier in the point guard hierarchy. However, Fox’s dominance in this matchup makes it a strength here for Sacramento.
Another small note, Harrison Barnes and Kent Bazemore each shot 48% or better from 3 in the series against Memphis. That won’t fly if Memphis wants to win a possible play-in matchup against them.
Where the Grizzlies Have the Advantage
This matchup is one where Jonas Valanciunas can be maximized. His percentages were off in this one, as he shot 43.8% from the field against them — well below his 58.6 percentage for the season. Despite that, he was a dominant force on the glass, averaging 16 rebounds a game, including a monster 25-rebound performance.
It’s going to be imperative for Jonas to play a big role in a potential play-in matchup with them, since he’s the primary rebounder for this team. The Kings are a great matchup for him, as they don’t have a stretch-5. Richaun Holmes, Alex Len, and Harry Giles never shot a 3-pointer this season, and they all can’t contend with Valanciunas’ size and physicality down low.
If the Grizzlies come away with the 8-seed against the Kings, it’s likely going to be because of Jonas Valanciunas’ post presence.
A contest between these two teams would be an exciting play-in, as they feature two of the most dynamic young point guards in basketball. In addition, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Marvin Bagley’s battle would be fun, as they were two top-4 picks in 2018 NBA Draft. There’s also some exciting perimeter play between Dillon Brooks, Justise Winslow, Buddy Hield, and Bogdan Bogdanovic.
It has the makings of a future rivalry in the Western Conference, and this year would be a sweet preview of things to come.
Stats found on basketball-reference and NBA.com/stats