As the Memphis Grizzlies continue to pursue growth, games like Monday night will become more and more valuable. After a piss-poor showing against the Minnesota Timberwolves this past Saturday night - a performance that led their Head Coach Taylor Jenkins to call out the effort of his team - Memphis desperately needed a better showing. And Monday evening, against a top-5 or so team in the NBA in the Utah Jazz, they got exactly what they needed. It wasn’t pretty. And it did not end exactly as Grizzlies fans surely wanted it to (heart attacks and nerves aren’t the most fun things on Monday nights of Thanksgiving week). But there was a concerted effort on defense, and it led to Memphis being in the fight until the better end.
They can compete with anyone when they’re invested. The key is maintaining that energy.
Some quick takeaways from a night that reminded us all that this team is indeed capable of hanging with the best this league has to offer.
Jaren Jackson Jr. played a solid game offensively...
BECAUSE HE ATTACKED OFF THE DRIBBLE FROM THE PERIMETER. He had the mismatch with Rudy Gobert that I talked about in Monday’s Game Preview, and he was able at times to take advantage of it multiple times. His shooting efficiency numbers were still underwhelming, but if you watched the game you saw much better activity both from range as well as at the basket. He cut, he came off screens, he isolated the bigger/slower Gobert and the smaller Royce O’Neale. He was just seemingly more invested offensively while still making a strong impression on defense.
That Jaren Jackson Jr. stock will only continue to appreciate as he drains game-winning threes and makes massive blocks. I’ll take yours if you do not want it.
Desmond Bane when you need him
With both De’Anthony Melton and Dillon Brooks out again for this game, the Grizzlies rotation remained thin on the wing. And Desmond Bane for the second straight game started hot for Memphis, putting the offense on his back early as the team got their feet under them (especially Ja Morant, who started slow). He created as a facilitator off the dribble. He showed a prowess for finishing at the rim that is another pleasant development in his overall game. And while the team as a whole defended better, Bane’s improved effort on that end was noticeable (especially on the final possession). He certainly wasn’t perfect, but he clearly was better.
Bane’s evolution as a player is so massively important for this Grizzlies team. He doesn’t need to post 30 or so points every night. But he has to be a scoring option whether he is a starter (as it appears he will remain when the team is at full strength) or as a reserve. It can no longer be Dillon Brooks as the only threat. And Bane appears to be up to the challenge to take up some of the burden.
- Ja Morant remains an absolute stud. Not his best shooting night. But he fought his ass off to get to the rim and find a way to get other players involved. He competed. Ja will never be mistaken for a defensive stopper, but his energy on that end was better too, making things a bit easier as rotations were completed. That’s all he needs to be as a defender - competent enough that his offensive impact is felt as fully as possible.
- The Ziaire Williams game? He showed real fire as a defensive player, moving his feet well and getting in front of shooters (sometimes too much - a foul on a made three was frustrating but also apparently a form of initiation to the Grizzlies organization). He also created for himself off the dribble much more than we are used to seeing. It isn’t as if he was a monster by any means. But he was competent, and perhaps a bit better than that. For your team’s resident project, that is good to see.
- Nine man rotation? Nine man rotation! For much of the season, and for much of Taylor Jenkins’ tenure as Grizzlies coach, Memphis has trotted out a 10-man rotation. Pregame with media members Jenkins hinted at rotation tweaks, and that tonight came in the form of a nine-man rotation with Xavier Tillman being cut out completely. That means eight players played over 20 minutes - Tyus Jones only logged 11, but the five starters, Kyle Anderson, John Konchar, and Ziaire Williams all saw extended run. This adjustment may or may not stick, and you can argue Xavier Tillman should have been one of those nine, but at least we have seen evidence of Jenkins being willing to try new things to rectify issues.
Memphis comes home Wednesday for some pre-Thanksgiving basketball as the Grizzlies take on the Toronto Raptors.