The Memphis Grizzlies rested Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams, Kyle Anderson, Desmond Bane, De’Anthony Melton, and Tyus Jones. What do all those players have in common? They’re likely in the rotation with sharpie.
As the Grizzlies’ preseason starts to wind down, last night’s game was a good chance for players competing for rotation or roster spots to make a solid impression upon the decision. Though some of these players may not be in their optimal roles going forward — whether it’s as starters, go-to scorers, or lead ball-handlers — any player on the floor had the opportunity to get in their bag and make their case to Taylor Jenkins and Zach Kleiman.
Memphis might have lost but there was still plenty to like in this game, considering the circumstances. So now, grades.
Sam Merrill: 30 points on 11-17 shooting (8-13 from 3), +11 in 33 minutes (Grade: A+)
With the sure-fire rotation players out of the mix, this was going to be a chance for someone to make a good impression for coach. The case was the largest for Sam Merrill, who’s been in the discussions over the final roster spot.
And man... did he seize that opportunity or what?
Merrill got the start in this game and was given the keys to the offense as well. He embodied Taylor Jenkins’ philosophy of letting it fly, and he had his best professional performance thus far.
Merrill connected on 8 three-pointers, displaying good poise and lacking any hesitation on his attempts. He also made some good off-ball movements when the Indiana defense started to key in on him. Though becoming a bench point guard probably isn’t in his NBA forecast, he looked comfortable running the offense and operating as the lead ball-handler, but also was a bit outmatched sometimes against Indiana’s defense at times too.
This doesn’t feel like a preseason overreaction or anything, but last night’s performance makes it tough to build a case to have Merrill as the odd man out. He’s outplayed Jarrett Culver this preseason, another player in these roster decision discussions, and we don’t know where the inactive Kris Dunn fits into the plans either. There are worse options as the 15th guy on the roster; and with Merrill, they’d get someone that could fill spot minutes as an emergency 3-point marksman.
Players fighting for their NBA careers making the most out of their opportunities — that’s what preseason is all about, bay bay.
John Konchar: 16 points (7-11 shooting, 2-4 from 3), 8 rebounds, 6 assists, +/- of 0 in 27 minutes (Grade: A)
John Konchar got to co-pilot the offense alongside Merrill, and he did his best De’Anthony Melton “do something” impersonation.
His performance last night points to his connectivity as an offensive player. He recognizes the floor well, and he tends to get to spots that could lead to an extra pass or a bucket for himself. In addition, he also moves the ball within the flow of the offense quite well too, connecting the play design as drawn up.
Konchar’s aggressiveness scoring was a good sign, as he took advantage of the opportunity of extra on-ball reps. He hit a 3 off the dribble over Myles Turner, after getting TJ McConnell off him, and I about fell out of my seat.
All in all though, this was a very jitty performance in Konchar’s return to his home state, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he wrapped up the backup 2-guard spot for opening night.
Ziaire Williams: 19 points (5-12 shooting, 2-3 from 3), 5 rebounds, +19 in 28 minutes (Grade: A-)
After missing last game with a thigh contusion, Ziaire Williams definitely looked more comfortable in this expanded usage. He didn’t shoot so hot in his last game against Atlanta, but it was more of a product of shots not falling rather than an inability to create.
In this one, he shot the ball well, while flashing different elements of his upside that made the Grizzlies high on him.
He showcased some shot creation with some off-movement shooting, including a really neat step-back 3. He had really good defensive moments, even if he got burned a few times — particularly in Jeremy Lamb’s game-winner. The most tantalizing play of the game was when he took shot-blocking extraordinaire Myles Turner all the way to the rim and finished over time in crunch-time.
Ziaire Williams scores past Myles Turner to tie the game with 25 seconds left— Fastbreak Breakfast (@fastbreakbreak) October 14, 2021
(Are the Pacers starters still out there? You bet!) pic.twitter.com/vst4288pRL
While there will be some growing pains — and in this one, it was at-rim finishing and driving defense — there will be those moments where you can see the upside with him where he could be a starting piece next to Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.
- Jarrett Culver (C-): Culver had some good defensive moments, but he looked rather rough on the offensive end. It’d be nice to see him next to more of the rotation guys where he could operate more as a cutter and defensive specialist rather than a creator, just until his confidence grows. Culver also only getting 15 minutes in this game wasn’t a great sign either.
- Santi Aldama (C): I think there’s something with Aldama. He has a lot of offensive skill as a ball-handler and passer, solid mechanics on his jumper, and good fluidity for a player his size. Adding strength will be a key for him to battle down low. However, as he eases into the NBA game, he’ll benefit from role recalibration — you could see where he has a “the guy” mindset that often yields into poor decision-making. Nonetheless, his irrational confidence is going to be fun in Southaven.
- Yves Pons (C+): Pons finished with the lowest +/- on the team (-27), but what that more of a product of his play or lineups around him? I’ll give the ‘+’ here, because I like his two-way energy.
- Brandon Clarke (B-): Clarke didn’t have the most efficient game, but I liked his activity on both sides of the ball. He made some nice looks as a shooter and as a passer, and he also looked confident in doing so.
- Xavier Tillman (C): Tillman was just kind of there in this one. He couldn’t really find anything offensively. However, his quick feet defensively caught my eye though, especially when defending out on the perimeter.
Tune in tomorrow, as the Memphis Grizzlies close their preseason with a meeting in Chicago against the Bulls.