With an 8-3 record in December, the final month of the year has been kind to the Memphis Grizzlies. But the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder served the Grizzlies a slice of humble pie on Monday. They beat Memphis on its home floor 102-99 and spoiled the return of Ja Morant.
Next up on the calendar are the mighty Golden State Warriors (25-6), who may have the current frontrunners for the MVP (Stephen Curry) and Defensive Player of the Year award (Draymond Green).
I reached out to writer Joe Viray of Golden State of Mind, who answered questions on various Dubs-related topics.
Where does Stephen Curry rank in the MVP race at the moment?
It’s a close two-man race between Steph and Kevin Durant for me at this point. I wouldn’t have a problem with either one being the frontrunner. KD’s otherworldly efficiency and timely shot making is leading the Nets to wins, while Steph just does so much to drive the Warriors offense. I would give the slight edge to Steph because of record and because a huge part of his value isn’t captured by counting stats.
Jordan Poole is currently sidelined with COVID-19 but is averaging a career-high 17.9 points. In what ways has his offensive game evolved from the season prior?
It’s mainly Poole’s aggression and rim pressure that has stood out this season compared to his previous seasons. Per Cleaning The Glass, he’s going to the rim at a 26% rate (compared to 18% and 22% during his rookie and sophomore seasons, respectively), and is making 72% of his shots at the rim - 93rd percentile for his position. He’s provided plenty of downhill juice and rim pressure the Warriors have been missing the past few years.
Would anything short of a title for the Dubs be considered a disappointment?
Considering the fact that the core of Steph, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson are getting up there in terms of age and mileage, I think anything short of a title this season would be considered a disappointment. Especially since this start was somewhat unexpected, and they’ve now raised the fanbase’s expectations (that were already high to begin with).
Besides Ja Morant and Stephen Curry, which head-to-head matchup should fans keep an eye on?
I’m personally looking forward to how Draymond matches up with Jaren Jackson Jr. Draymond usually plays free safety on defense, but he’ll have to pay extra attention to JJJ due to his versatility on offense. Draymond closed out pretty hard on JJJ 3s during their first matchup and fought over screens (3-of-10 on 3s for JJJ that night), so he respects his outside shot. Draymond would probably prefer JJJ settle for mid-range jumpers or floaters.
What’s your final score prediction?
Warriors will be hungry for revenge. They’ve lost 2 straight to the Memphis Grizzlies dating back to the play-in game, and they blew a huge lead in their first matchup this season. Unfortunately for them, they’re missing two key pieces in Poole and Andrew Wiggins and are facing a full-strength Memphis team that just got Ja Morant back. It’s going to be much tougher to build a lead this time around, but with that leaky Grizzlies defense (117.6 DRTG with Ja on the floor, which would be equivalent to the worst defense in the league), coupled with the Warriors’ extremely stingy defense, I could see the Warriors squeaking by, 110-107. But I also would not be surprised if the Grizzlies take this one – they’re a pretty good team and they’ve been clicking. And Ja turns it up a notch with the Warriors in front of him.
Shoutout to Joe for his insightful answers! Make sure to toss him a follow on Twitter @JoeVirayNBA for some of the best Warriors content out there.