With the first month of the 2020-21 NBA season in the rearview mirror, the Memphis Grizzlies have played the fewest games of any club at 13. The dreaded covid-19 virus has kept Memphis sidelined for nearly a fortnight. Let’s not forget the Grizzlies were on a roll before the hiatus — they are winners of their last five and hold a 7-6 record. Memphis is in for an arduous test in their long-awaited return to action, as they are taking on the surging San Antonio Spurs, who boast recent victories against the Boston Celtics and Portland Trail Blazers.
Seeking a black and silver perspective, I reached out to Noah Magaro-George of Pounding the Rock, SB Nation’s Spurs blog. He fills you in on all you need to know about Memphis’ adversary.
DeMar DeRozan, a player with a score-first reputation, is dishing out a career-high in assists per game this season with a better than 3:1 assist to turnover ratio. Is DeRozan the Spurs’ finest playmaker?
Honestly, DeMar DeRozan has probably been their best playmaker since he arrived in San Antonio as part of the Kawhi Leonard trade. He’s led the Spurs in assists per game every season, and this year he’s setting the table at a career-high rate. Coach Popovich started emphasized small-ball lineups and getting the young guys more involved during their stint in the NBA bubble, and DeMar has thrived in his new role. He helps teammates get into a good rhythm early on, and the four-time All-Star is still San Antonio’s best go-to option in the clutch. Though he may not be the ideal engine of a championship offense, his leadership will probably prove instrumental to this organization’s future success, even if he isn’t there to see it come to fruition.
LaMarcus Aldridge’s counting stats have sunk to levels not witnessed since his rookie campaign. How plausible is it that San Antonio explores shipping him off before the trade deadline?
LaMarcus Aldridge hasn’t been a net-positive for San Antonio this season. That said, it’s hard to be disappointed in a soon-to-be 36-year-old a few months removed from season-ending shoulder surgery. I think the Spurs should explore trading him to a desperate fringe-contender for whatever assets they can squeeze out of them. However, PATFO values continuity more than just about anything I can think of, so I doubt they pull the trigger unless they feel they’re improving this squad enough to improve their playoff chances.
The Spurs are in the thick of the Western Conference playoff hunt thus far. Is a postseason appearance for this group (as currently constructed) realistic?
Coming into the season, I said the Spurs were lottery-bound. While San Antonio had undoubtedly improved over the offseason, I felt the Western Conference was too deep for them to hope for anything more than a shot at the play-in game barring any movement around the league. There’s been a ton of variability with COVID and the James Harden blockbuster, and one could argue San Antonio has been one of the teams least impacted by the safety protocols thus far. If the Spurs can keep a clean bill of health and continue building chemistry once Derrick White returns, a playoff appearance isn’t out of the question.
Which head-to-head matchup are you most looking forward to?
Ja Morant versus Dejounte Murray. Morant tore up San Antonio and kept a shorthanded Grizzlies group within striking distance in the first meeting, and I expect him to put on another show. Murray is trending in the right direction, and I think these two could have some classic head-to-head battles for years to come. Their frames are nearly identical, yet they play almost nothing alike. I’m excited to see how this matchup pans out.
What are your general thoughts on the Grizzlies’ 2020-21 season?
With all the injuries, the Grizzlies have exceeded my expectations. Once they bring Jaren Jackson Jr. back into the mix, I think Memphis could be a darkhorse candidate for a deep playoff run. Head coach Taylor Jenkins had his young core playing some phenomenal basketball before the NBA Restart. And their rookie additions of Xabier Tillman and Desmond Bane were two guys who sat relatively high on my Big Board on draft night. Killian Tillie is another guy who could end up being an undrafted steal, and I love what Memphis has going for them right now.
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