The Memphis Grizzlies will be taking on the Phoenix Suns in a rematch from the Martin Luther King Jr. Day showdown. There are a lot of enticing battles in this one. The matchup between Ja Morant and Chris Paul will capture a lot of eyes, but there are also a few that’ll be nice side storylines — Devin Booker and (maybe) Dillon Brooks, Deandre Ayton and Jonas Valanciunas, and Mikal Bridges and Kyle Anderson.
We’ll even get to see some revenge performances on both sides — Jae Crowder for Phoenix, and De’Anthony Melton for Memphis.
To prepare for tonight’s game, I chatted with Dave King of SB Nation’s “Bright Side of the Sun” to talk about the Grizzlies and Suns.
1) What are the early returns on the Chris Paul trade so far?
The returns are pretty great right now, as the Suns have won 9 of 11 and have one of the best records in the league. Seems likely that one or both of Devin Booker and CP will make All-Star. The Suns are off to their best start (17-10) in a decade so yeah, we are pretty happy to have him here in Phoenix.
2) What else does Phoenix need to do to become a WCF contender?
That’s the big question isn’t it? And one that Suns fans haven’t had to consider in a long time. Frankly, the roster is pretty well balanced and built for playoff success. CP and Jae Crowder have been playoff starters for the last 8+ years so they know what it takes to succeed. The Suns wildcards are their young ones — Booker, Bridges, CamJ, and Ayton are very important pieces who have never seen a playoff game in their careers. Do the Suns need to make a trade? I don’t think so. But I also thought they should stay with Rubio rather than commit to CP, so what do I know.
3) Big fan of Cam Johnson and Mikal Bridges. What is your respective upside for each player?
I’ll start with Cam Johnson. He’s still figuring it out and trying different things on offense. He shows flashes of three-level skills but is not consistent. Worst case, he’s a career glue guy who every good team wants because he can shoot lights out and play good team defense. Best case, he gives you a fourth or fifth shot creator too.
Bridges has the higher ceiling. He’s Inspector Gadget defensively on wing playmakers, making their lives hard due to his length and footwork. Offensively he’s an opportunistic three level scorer, but very inconsistent with his focus on that end. Some games he only takes a few shots and is quite happy with that. But in the future I see a Tayshaun Prince type — 17+ points, all-NBA defender on a high level team.
4) A year out, do you see the Grizzlies/Suns trade (Melton/Jackson/2nds for Carter/Korver) as a win-win? It seems like both sides really enjoy Melton and Carter.
Jevon Carter played well last year, especially in the Bubble, and got rewarded with a $9 million over three years. But he’s limited to spirited defense and spot up shooting, and this year his 40% 3P shooting has become 27% so he’s out of the rotation most games now. Melton is a much much better player. I’d rather still have Melton.
But the trade wasn’t about Melton and Carter though. It was about ridding the team of Josh Jackson and freeing up that cap space to sign Rubio who helped the Suns become respectable (34-39, with a season-ending 8-game win streak). Without Rubio, a player like Chris Paul never would have wanted to join the Suns.
So yes the trade was worth it because the Suns ended up with Chris Paul and now have a great shot at a deep playoff run.
5) Which matchup are you looking forward to the most in this one?
I am not looking forward to any of them, to tell you the truth. The Grizzlies have the Suns number, team to team and player to player. Dillon Brooks — the one Suns GM James Jones really wanted in 2019! — gets into Book’s body, head or both and forces bad games from the Suns best scorer. Ja is too fast and creative for CP to defend well. Jonas eats Ayton for lunch. The Grizzlies have won like a thousand straight games from the Suns so I don’t expect anything different this time. You got a good, hard working team there in Memphis.