The Memphis Grizzlies traveled to Sacramento to open their four-game West Coast road trip against the Kings. A matchup between two of the most athletic and electric point guards in the league led to a high-scoring up-and-down game full of highlights.
The Kings shot-making ability had them hanging around early and flirting with a comeback late. But with a small cushion and Ja Morant lurking by the scorer’s table, the Grizzlies were able to pull away and cruise comfortably to their fourth win on the season.
It was not Morant’s best game of the season but he led his team to the win. Let’s look at his and his teammates’ performances and grade the results.
Desmond Bane - 31 Points (11-18 FG, 6-8 3P), 4 Assists, 6 Rebounds
After an injury that clearly slowed him down for a few games after the home opener, Bane has found his rhythm. He’s scored 38 and 31 in his last two contests going 14-19 from three over that stretch. To start the season, it was a concern that too much of the scoring burden was on Ja and may have contributed to his insane scoring start as his teammates struggled to hit shots out of the gate. For the Grizzlies to have success this season they need Bane from the last two games and not the first three. His ability to stretch the floor makes life a lot easier for Ja and Bane’s playmaking ascension has also been a welcomed addition as well.
The thing to appreciate the most about Bane is not only his shooting ability but his timing, he routinely makes big shots to end an opponent’s scoring run or at the end of quarters as he did to end the first half against Sacramento. They all count the same, but those types of shots often swing momentum in Memphis’ favor.
Tyus Jones - 14 Points (6-11 FG), 5 Assists, 2 Rebounds
With the departure of De’Anthony Melton in the offseason Grizzlies’ fans called for the front office to pursue a scoring spark off the bench. However, Tyus Jones showed tonight that he is more than capable of being that spark as he entered the game and immediately scored 10 points in his first five minutes of action including eight straight.
We’ve known Jones as the backup floor general type point guard who sets the table for his teammates in relief of Ja Morant but his increase in his willingness to create his own shot this season is something I’ve loved. The lineups with both he and Morant have also been a fun wrinkle that we saw in spots last year but is clearly a part of their rotation that the coaching staff believes in this season. The only concern with having both smaller guards on the floor together is the defensive limitations, keep your eye out in the future if they have a longer leash together once Jaren Jackson Jr. returns to back them up defensively.
Jake Laravia - 13 Points (5-6 FG, 3-4 3P), 1 Assist, 9 Rebounds
Both Memphis Grizzlies’ fans and Coach Taylor Jenkins have been watching closely for which of the rookies would assert himself ahead of the others to remain a big part of the rotation after the return of Jaren Jackson Jr., and Laravia did just that on Thursday night.
Against the Kings, he flashed the two biggest assets of his game that are why the Grizzlies made him the 19th overall pick: rebounding and three-point shooting. Laravia fell one rebound shy of a double-double and went 3-4 behind the arc. That is really all you can ask for from the young forward on this team and his rebounding ability makes him playable next to Brandon Clarke when the Grizzlies want to go small after the failed experiment of the Tillman/Clarke lineup early in the season. His only real flaw that was exposed tonight was in his matchups with Harrison Barnes, an experienced veteran, who knows how to get to his spots worked him a few times and drew several fouls against Laravia.
Ja Morant - 22 Points (8-18 FG), 6 Assists, 5 Rebounds
Last night was not the explosive scoring output from Morant on par with his electric start to this season. Credit to Sacramento and their coach Mike Brown though, they had a great game plan to slow down 12 forcing him to his right in the half-court where he is less comfortable, and defending him vertically at the rim in the fast break and when he was able to into the paint.
All that being said he still finished with 22 despite the great defense and that serves as a reminder that he can now roll out of bed and drop 20 on any team running any defense. What’s impressed me most about Morant’s start to the season is the frequency with which he draws fouls and gets to the free throw line where he went 5-5 in Sacramento. Morant is currently fourth in the league in free throw attempts per game at 9.6 and shooting it at 87.5% puts a ton of pressure on opposing defenses to defend without fouling.
Santi Aldama - 4 Points (2-6 FG), 1 Assist, 2 Rebounds
Against Sacramento, Aldama had his lowest scoring output of the young season. He was camped outside the three-point line where he went 0-4 scoring his only two baskets when he finally decided to get involved in pick and role actions. But the offense is not the reason for the low grade, Aldama shouldn’t be asked to be a top-three scorer for any lineup Memphis puts on the floor and any shot he makes is gravy.
His defense was the real issue in the Kings matchup, biting on every single pump fake and losing Keegan Murray not only outside the three-point line but on several off-ball cuts and rebounding opportunities. Tonight was the first time Memphis truly saw the massive defensive gulf going from Jaren Jackson Jr. to Aldama in that starting spot. Murray really should send Aldama a thank you card for making his first night of NBA action so easy on him.
Dillon Brooks - 11 Points (4-12 FG), 2 Assists, 2 Rebounds
Brooks still shows signs of contract-extension-threatening Marcus Smart Syndrome as he continuously forces up unnecessary, tough shots early in the shot clock and dribbles himself into trouble. Brooks was also whistled for his second technical foul in his two appearances this season for arguing a foul called on teammate Desmond Bane.
DB’s early returns have been frustrating as they have been for the last two seasons. As he’s worked his way back into game shape after an injury kept him out of the first three games he seems to be forcing everything on the offensive end without the high-end defense that he’s always hung his hat on. Brooks was tasked with defending De’Aaron Fox much of the night who finished with 27 points and blew right by Brooks several times to get into the lane.
- Brandon Clarke - 16 Points (6-8 FG) 3 Assists, 3 Rebounds
Clarke had some good flashes coming off the bench finishing with his highest scoring output of the season with 16, but I could do without his out-of-control isolation play he finished in the third quarter. It was a nice highlight but, I like my Clarke scoring with maximum one dribble.
- Steven Adams - 12 Points (6-9 FG), 4 Assists, 11 Rebounds
The Big Kiwi did what he so often does - rebound and take a hit below the equator. But to his credit, Adams added some out of characteristic back to the basket scoring that looked reminiscent of the Jonas Valanciunas days. The scoring attempts may have been clunky and forced but they were the driving force that put Kings’ forward Domantas Sabonis in early foul trouble.
- David Roddy - 2 Points (1-4 FG), 1 Assist, 3 Rebounds
The rookie was just out there getting cardio.