The Memphis Grizzlies are concluding their 4-game road trip with a trip to the Alamo to visit the San Antonio Spurs. They’re hoping to secure a win here to return to Memphis with another .500 road trip.
Though they're not the Spurs of old, they still pose a challenge to the Grizzlies with their size, defensive energy, and peskiness on both sides of the ball. And Gregg Popovich, probably the greatest NBA coach of our generation, is still there too.
Nonetheless, it should be a fun game of Wednesday night hoops, regardless of what ESPN thinks...(in case you missed it)
Memphis Grizzlies vs. San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 26 will no longer be televised nationally on ESPN. That game is being replaced by New York Knicks vs. Miami Heat. Grizzlies lose one of their seven nationally televised games.— Damichael Cole (@DamichaelC) January 21, 2022
To get ready for tonight’s game, I chat with Noah Magaro-George of SB Nation’s San Antonio Spurs blog, Pounding the Rock, to talk about these two teams.
1) Dejounte Murray has made All-Star buzz. What’s been the biggest element of this transformation?
Dejounte Murray has blossomed into one of the best facilitators in the league this season. While he isn’t as flashy or dynamic of a playmaker as guys like Luka Doncic, Trae Young, or James Harden, the sixth-year point guard has thrived in San Antonio’s motion-heavy system by making simple reads and taking care of the basketball. Despite shouldering an unprecedented offensive workload for the Spurs following the departure of DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills, and Rudy Gay this offseason, Murray hasn’t lost a step as a defender, and his scoring efficiency has held par with where it was a year ago.
Dejounte probably isn’t the centerpiece of a championship contender, but you can see how he could help bring a title back to the 2-1-0 when placed in a better context. His steady progression from a project player into an All-Star candidate is nothing short of remarkable, and he deserves all the praise in the world for putting in countless hours on the hardwood and in the film room.
2) The Spurs are teetering between competing for the play-in and rebuilding. Where do you stand on the line they’re walking?
My dream scenario is for the Spurs to land any one of Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero, or Jabari Smith in the upcoming draft. San Antonio is in desperate need of frontcourt depth and star power, and though rookies rarely make a meaningful impact from day one, building a foundation for the future should be the main priority. Unfortunately, earning one of the top picks would require them to get immensely lucky in the lottery and continue falling in the standings. Intentionally tanking is disrespectful to the fans who spend their hard-earned cash to support the organization, but organically losing is a lesser evil people might be able to get behind, and that’s what the Spurs are doing. The Silver and Black may be in 13th-place in the Western Conference, but they have been competitive on a nearly nightly basis. Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Jakob Poeltl, Derrick White, and Doug McDermott provide San Antonio with the bones of a postseason team. However, they are a couple of components away from rejoining the playoff picture, and Jabari, Chet, or Paolo could be one of the essential pieces of the puzzle.
3) Which Spur has caught your attention this year?
After two long-winded answers to your previous questions, a shorter response feels appropriate here. Dejounte Murray has been one of the few beacons of hope for a franchise that was synonymous with perennial excellence for the better part of two decades. The six-four floor general leads the league in steals and deflections, trails only Nikola Jokic in triple-doubles, and paces the point guard position in rebounds per game. What a developmental arc from a guy who went 29th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft.
4) What do you want to see them do at the trade deadline?
The team got in early on the trade deadline festivities when they sent Bryn Forbes to the Nuggets for Juancho Hernangomez, cash considerations, and a protected 2028 second-rounder last Wednesday. But if we’re being honest, the Spurs didn’t gain much outside of good karma for facilitating a three-team deal that helped Boston get under the luxury tax threshold. Hopefully, Thaddeus Young will be the next domino to fall. The 33-year-old warmed the bench as of late after briefly becoming the second-string center, and the organization has been open about finding him a better situation. San Antonio always tries their best to do right by their players. They bought out Pau Gasol, DeMarre Carroll, and LaMarcus Aldridge in back-to-back-to-back seasons when they couldn’t find a suitable swap that allowed them to compete for a championship. Though there have been rumors about the Suns showing interest in Thad, his contract makes Dario Saric and his $9.2M salary a necessary throw-in to complete any potential transaction.
5) Outsider thoughts on the Grizzlies
Memphis is one of the most entertaining teams in the NBA, and I always make a concerted effort to tune into their games when they don’t conflict with my Spurs coverage. From Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, and Jaren Jackson Jr. to Dillon Brooks, Steven Adams, and Kyle Anderson, there is just so much to love about this franchise. Tyus Jones, De’Anthony Melton, Brandon Clarke, and Xavier Tillman are perfect complementary players, and the construction of the Grizzlies gives me hope if San Antonio follows a similar blueprint. The matchup between Dejounte Murray and Ja Morant should be must-see television, which is why it was such a strange decision for ESPN to remove this contest from their national broadcast schedule.