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Five Questions for Grizzlies vs. Spurs

I chat with a Spurs expert ahead of tonight’s divisional matchup.

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Boston Celtics v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

After three straight victories, the Memphis Grizzlies came up short against the Boston Celtics. Grizzlies fans must not hang their heads after Monday’s loss. The Grizz only lost by three despite being on the second night of a back-to-back and without Steven Adams. Memphis’s top three scorers — Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, and Dillon Brooks — shot a combined 23/56 (41%) and the Grizzlies nearly completed the fourth-quarter comeback.

Memphis holds a 7-4 record and is the sixth seed in the Western Conference. After a three-game homestand, the Grizzlies now travel to San Antonio to take on their division rival. The Spurs traded star point guard Dejounte Murray in the offseason and many NBA fans believed San Antonio was preparing to tank for Victor Wembanyama. However, as of Wednesday, the Spurs hold the ninth-best record in the Western Conference and sit above the Warriors, Timberwolves, and Lakers.

Now the losers of four straight, San Antonio prepares to take on Morant and Bane, one of the NBA’s top backcourts this season. Ahead of the game, I reached out to Noah Magaro-George, a writer and editor for Pounding the Rock — the SBNation site for the Spurs — and he prepped me for what to expect in tonight’s matchup.

Before the season, the Spurs were expected to have one of the league’s worst records, yet they started hot, jumping out to a 5-2 record. How has San Antonio exceeded expectations thus far?

The Spurs are 5-6 as of Tuesday, but they’re still somewhat exceeding the early expectations that they would slip into an all-out freefall after trading Dejounte Murray this summer. Rather than force-feed Tre Jones, Keldon Johnson, and Devin Vassell the ball, head coach Gregg Popovich has installed a read-and-react offense dependent on pushing the pace in transition and continuous motion in the half-court. Between unbelievable three-point shooting and opponents underestimating their will to win, San Antonio has surprised a couple of revamped playoff contenders still trying to establish an identity and build chemistry.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Vassell has been fantastic this season. He’s averaging more points and rebounds while increasing his FG% and 3PT%. What else has Vassell done to impress you?

Devin Vassell has been a revelation for the Spurs this season. The third-year swingman looks more comfortable with the ball in his hands and has demonstrated more confidence in initiating pick-and-rolls and navigating tight spaces. Executing simple reads without making mistakes might not sound exciting, but finding teammates off drives or shooters from a pass away is a much-welcomed sign of development from Vassell.

The former lottery pick had nearly 80% of his offense assisted last year, with most of his points coming via catch-and-shoot threes, dribble handoffs, and cuts. That number has decreased to 63.5% through his first seven games as he has expanded his scoring repertoire off the dribble. Vassell should be one of the names we hear early and often in the Most Improved Player of the Year conversation.

In Ja Morant’s last three games against San Antonio, he has averaged 41 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists on 64.5 FG% and 83.3 3PT%. Do the Spurs have any way to slow down Ja?

Honestly, the Silver and Black have no answer for Ja Morant. Then again, has any team found a reliable solution for corralling the burgeoning MVP candidate? While Tre Jones is a pesky point-of-attack defender, he lacks the wingspan and frame of your more traditional lockdown stoppers. San Antonio sports the worst defensive rating (115.6) and defensive field goal percentage (50.8%) in the NBA, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Morant had another scoring outburst at their expense.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

What are the general sentiments from Spurs’ fans regarding this season? Are the fans ready to tank for a shot at Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson?

Spurs fans seem evenly divided on whether the organization should try to win as many games as possible or tank for a generational talent. A white-hot start to the season only amplified the debate, but each side seems all in on their train of thought. There are definitely merits to sneaking into the play-in tournament as an overachieving underdog, but history tells us that superstars are the backbones of championship contenders. Small-market teams like San Antonio have limited options since they aren’t a free agent destination. Their best bet at adding a cornerstone is usually through the lottery system, and the 2023 NBA Draft has a plethora of talent at the top of the class.

Going off of the last question, do you expect the Spurs to be sellers this year? If San Antonio makes some trades, who is off limits, and who is most likely to be elsewhere by the trade deadline?

The Joshua Primo situation has probably put some of San Antonio’s front-office basketball dealings on hold. But they could be sellers if their record is still trending in the wrong direction near the All-Star Break. Core pieces like Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Jeremy Sochan, and the other rookies are safe. Josh Richardson, Jakob Poeltl, and Doug McDermott feel like the attractive veterans that playoff hopefuls pursue near the deadline. As for everyone else, they figure to be little more than salary filler if they end up in any deal.

Thank you, Noah, for participating in today’s Five Questions with the Opponent. Make sure to follow Noah on Twitter (@N_Magaro), along with Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock), for the best Spurs coverage.

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