WHEN: 7 PM CT
WHERE: Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/NBA League Pass/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: QUESTIONABLE Ja Morant (LT ankle sprain). OUT Jaren Jackson Jr. (LT knee meniscus surgery recovery) Jontay Porter (RT knee soreness) Killian Tillie (RT hamstring strain) Justise Winslow (LT hip displacement)
MINNESOTA: PROBABLE Josh Okogie – Left Hamstring Strain, Karl-Anthony Towns – Left Perilunate Subluxation. OUT Juancho Hernangómez – Health & Safety Protocols, Jake Layman – Personal Reasons, Ricky Rubio – Health & Safety Protocols
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Tyus Jones, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Brandon Clarke, Jonas Valanciunas
MINNESOTA: D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Josh Okogie, Jarrett Culver, Karl-Anthony Towns
The Grizzlies fan base lit up Thursday evening when the injury report was released and Ja Morant was not listed as “out” for the first time in eight games. Memphis has found ways to work around the margins to survive the absence of Morant (and Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justise Winslow). Great effort and attention to detail on defense. A relentless assault on the paint on offense (to the tune of a team record 80 paint points against these Minnesota TImberwolves Wednesday night). It hasn’t always been easy, or pretty, but somehow the Grizzlies are firmly in the play-in picture in the Western Conference despite being without their best two players and another key rotation piece for much of the campaign.
And the cavalry is coming. First Morant, then Winslow and Jackson in the next couple of weeks (Jackson’s seems especially lofty, but if you listen to Jaren he seems to believe it to be true).
We still have no idea what a team with Morant, Jackson Jr., and Winslow alongside all the currently healthy rotation players will look like. We can dream, though - and that dream will become reality soon enough. Just in time, too - reinforcements should only strengthen a team showing true basketball toughness and tenacity under adverse situations.
The hottest trend in Memphis right now is...Desmond Bane
Part of this selection is an act of rebellion. It has become en vogue among some members of Grizzlies Twitter/media to point out the flaws of the 30th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, pointing out his negative wing span as a reason he will surely struggle to finish at the rim. He does shoot roughly the same percentage from 0-3 feet and he does from beyond the arc - 46.2% and 46.3% respectively - and you of course want him to improve upon that if possible. He is currently shooting a measly 10% from the corner on threes (which tells you how awesome he is outside of the corners), but that’s a statistical anomaly that almost certainly will not stand (career 43.3% three point shooters across 575 attempts would serve as a sample size stating as much.) He’s a rookie who has physical limitations and appears at times to allow for those to either freeze his shooting attempts or leads to mental lapses in defensive sets or on bonehead turnovers.
Yet despite all the obstacles - the physical limitations, the slow start in specific shooting spots, the mistakes of the mind - the fact remains he is one of the top three point shooters in the NBA (20th among shooters that attempt at least three shots from three per game at 46.3%) and he provides a valuable skill that the Grizzlies have not had in some time...if ever. He also is better in the pick and roll than he has shown to this point - his TCU career provides ample evidence of that - and he is a stronger rebounder than originally thought. That holds terrific value on a team whose best big - Jaren Jackson Jr. - struggles on the glass.
But beyond his play on the floor, it is his life story and what got him to the NBA from humble beginnings that makes him a perfect fit alongside the young core of the Memphis Grizzlies. This terrific video, from CloseUp360, tell the tale better than I ever could.
He appreciates the opportunity. He understands how important it is to embrace every moment and learn as much as he can. He provides an elite skill that should make the likes of Ja Morant and others better for the spacing and “gravity” he will provide. He has some flaws...but most players do. Between what he has going on between the ears, and his physical talent on both ends of the floor (especially offensively), it’s time to call it. Desmond Bane is a Memphis Grizzly through and through, a compliment of the highest caliber. He isn’t a tradeable asset. He’s a key contributor moving forward.
If you’re watching this young man play and your first thought is about what he can’t do, you’re missing out on what he can do...and what he is currently doing. Here’s to hoping he sticks in the rotation once Memphis gets healthy.
Others Trending Up
- Xavier Tillman Sr. Has he officially supplanted Gorgui Dieng as the back-up center of the Memphis Grizzlies? It certainly looks that way as of now. X and Bane play extremely well together according to the numbers, and Tillman fits the mold of versatile big man that the Grizzlies seem to value more than Gorgui does. Dieng played quite well when given opportunity, but he isn’t the passer or lateral mover that Tillman is. And he’s the oldest player on the roster. He doesn’t fit the timeline. Tillman does. He should get the reps moving forward.
The Not Quite Downward Spiral: Kyle Anderson
Remember when people were saying Kyle Anderson was a contender for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award? Those were the days.
In Kyle’s first five games of the season, he looked the part. 16.4 points per game on 45.4% shooting (33% shooting from beyond the arc!), two double-doubles, three games with double-digit rebounds. He was flashing the very best of his game and then some. But the last six games have been a fall from that high - 10 points per game on 35% shooting (still 33% from three, though) and no double-doubles or double digit rebound games. Kyle has been playing a lot more on the perimeter lately with the returns of Tillman and Brandon Clarke, and with that move comes some consequence for Anderson. A large enough sample size exists now to suggest that he is better at the traditional “4” position, but as the Grizzlies get healthy there will be fewer minutes in that slot to come by.
Here’s to hoping the versatile Kyle gets more comfortable on the wing soon. Once fully healthy, a return to a reserve role may best utilize Anderson’s skill set if he is to spend most of his time playing on the outside against more traditional/athletic wings. For now, Anderson will continue to play his game. And even when the shot isn’t falling, that game can help Memphis win.
Morant’s impending return, whether it happens tonight or in the coming days, is a sight for sore eyes. But just as Tyus Jones predicted, this stretch of games without Ja has shown that this group of role players is ready to provide value in whatever job they are tasked with. It won’t always be pretty. But the young team that is developing together in Memphis is made up of competitive players who love playing professional basketball - not people who love being professional basketball players. The difference will speak volumes as talent develops and efficiency rounds in to form with health and experience.
From Morant on down, the passion and pride in what is being built with the Grizzlies is evident. That is something to watch come to further fruition, regardless of wins and losses.