The Memphis Grizzlies suffered an ignominious defeat at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks on Monday. Don’t let the mere 92-102 discrepancy on the scoresheet fool you — the outcome of this one was never in question. Ball and player movement, two driving forces of Memphis’ offensive success this season, were nowhere to be seen — the Grizzlies dished out a mere 17 assists compared to 13 turnovers, a ratio not conducive to winning.
But with that said, a victory against the Los Angeles Clippers, a title contender, would compensate for Monday’s sloven performance. More importantly, Memphis needs a win to reach the .500 threshold once again.
I reached out to Robert Flom, managing editor of Clippers blog 213Hoops, for perspective on Los Angeles’ 2020-21 campaign and a final score prediction.
1. Nicolas Batum has been the unsung hero of this Clippers team. Where does he rank among the top players on Los Angeles’ roster?
Nic has been absolutely incredible. His defense, shooting, passing, and ability to fill in the gaps left by superstars makes him a perfect fit next to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and it’s hard to imagine where the Clippers would be without him. By most advanced metrics, he has been the third-best player on the Clippers thus far this season, though as he’s slumped and Ivica Zubac has surged, that gap has narrowed. Ultimately, he’s probably somewhere around the 5th best player on the roster, behind Leonard, George, Pat Beverley, and Zu, but ahead of Marcus Morris, Serge Ibaka, and Lou Williams. He won’t usually score as much as those guys, but his fit is exceptional and he rarely makes mistakes.
2. How would you assess Luke Kennard’s first season as a Clipper thus far?
Disappointing. Luke hasn’t been bad, per se. He’s shot the ball well, especially from three, plays with good energy and attitude, and rarely makes actual mistakes. The issue is that far too often, he simply fades into the background. Clippers’ fans were expecting a dynamo scoring and playmaking guard that could help pick up the shot creation slack as Lou Williams ages. What they’ve got so far is a fine 10th man who is an excellent spot up shooter and can offer some ball-handling, but doesn’t do a ton else. Now, Luke had an injury-riddled year in 2020, and between that and adjusting to a new team and a very different environment, it would make sense that he hasn’t come out like gangbusters. Still, it’s hard to be anything other than let down for a guy who came in with high expectations, and who the Clippers signed to a 4 year, $64M extension before games started.
3. The Clippers lead the league in three-point percentage with an otherworldy 42% clip. Yet, the team ranks just 18th in attempts. Would you like to see the Clippers let it fly from deep with more regularity?
Yes, yes, a million times yes. The Clippers do not have much in the way of dynamic ballhandlers or playmakers – Paul George is probably their best, but he’s not as adept at getting to the rim as he was a few years ago, and his passing is still inconsistent. Lou Williams is still sneakily good at attacking the basket, and is a very good playmaker, but he’s getting older and can’t blow by guys at will anymore. All this means that since the Clippers don’t get to the rim or the line much, and they’re terrific three-point shooters, they should be taking a ton of them. They don’t need to launch it like the Morey Rockets, but they have enough good shooters who can take threes at a high volume that the Clips not being top 10 in attempts (at least) is a sin. It’s maybe one of the easiest things to fix about this team, and hopefully the coaching staff works on it over the All Star break.
4. Who’s your favorite Grizzly to watch aside from Ja Morant?
This is tough! A healthy Jaren Jackson Jr. is probably the answer, but as he’s injured, I’d say my favorite to watch this year has been Xavier Tillman. After watching him destroy my beloved Wolverines time and time again in NCAA play, it’s been great to view him in a more neutral setting. The Clippers passed on him in the draft for fellow Big 10 big man Daniel Oturu (a dreadful mistake in my opinion), and as I’m a masochist, I have fun watching him perform elsewhere and sighing at the Clippers not selecting him. Tillman is just so smart on both ends of the court, and is old-school style of big man play is just endearing. I also enjoy Desmond Bane quite a lot. Anyone but Dillon Brooks.
5. What’s your final score prediction?
120-107, Clippers win. I think the Grizzlies put up a valiant fight, but the Clippers just have too much firepower for them, especially with Jaren Jackson Jr. out.
A massive thank you to Robert for taking the time to answer these questions insightfully! Make sure to follow Robert (@RichHomieFlom) and the 213Hoops blog (@213Hoops) on Twitter for top-tier Clippers coverage.