The Memphis Grizzlies are back in action tonight at home in FedExForum as they take on the New York Knicks. The Knicks are likely grateful for the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets, for if it wasn’t for these faltering teams with higher expectations/profiles New York may be seen as the season’s biggest disappointment. Despite moments of brilliance from RJ Barrett, Julius Randle has regressed from his tremendous season last year and so have the Knicks. But make no mistake - New York has both the talent and the resolve to make this game difficult for the Grizzlies if Memphis allows them to.
The issues for the Knicks are widely connected to Julius Randle’s regression. Is scapegoating him “fair”, or are there larger issues at play?
Chip Murphy: I think it’s fair to blame Julius as part of the problem for the way this season has gone. We expected a regression with his 3-point shooting, but he was one of the best mid-range players in the league last year, and now he’s statistically one of the worst. Randle made a lot of tough shots last year - some of them being threes. Those aren’t going down. He’s hard to figure out because he fills up the box score pretty much every night. The efficiency on offense hasn’t carried over from last season.
The Knicks had playoff expectations this season and Randle playing at an All-Star level again was a requirement to meet those goals. He hasn’t met those standards.
RJ Barrett, AKA the guy that got drafted after Ja Morant, has made some strides this season. Where has his game developed the most?
CM: RJ Barrett is the future of the New York Knicks. His overall stats may look ordinary but since January 1st he’s taken a giant leap forward. Barrett is averaging 23.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. That’s on a 26 game sample size. Last season he developed a 3-point shot off the catch that’s remained steady in 2021-22. This year he’s taken it a step further by routinely making tough jumpers off the dribble from all areas of the court.
If there was ever a reason to be skeptical about RJ in his first two seasons it was his inability to finish at the rim. He still has some ways to go there but RJ has shown dramatic improvements in most parts of his game.
He’s shown signs of being a point forward while also defending the other team’s best player on a routine basis. The jump shot was the biggest question mark about RJ coming into college and I think he’s already answered it.
Are people really serious about wanting Tom Thibodeau fired after the season New York had last year?
CM: I know it sounds crazy to want Thibs gone after he won Coach of the Year last season. The truth is that he’s done a horrible job with this team. Thibs has been stubborn, too reliant on vets, and just generally too set in his ways. Everything we were warned about when Thibs was hired has come true.
He’s a 64-year-old man who’s been a coach in the NBA for 30 years. He’s not changing for me, you, or anybody else.
It’s become painfully obvious that many of Thibodeau’s bad habits were covered up by a superhuman 2020-21 season from Julius Randle. With Randle showing himself to be a mere mortal and Thibs showing he’s learned nothing from his failure in Minnesota, it’s hard to imagine this coach can take this team to the next level.
The Grizzlies are having a pretty good season that also has the benefit of being very fun to watch. How much has the rise of Ja Morant and company made airwaves around the country’s largest media market?
It’s hard not to notice what the Grizzlies are doing. Ja Morant is playing All-NBA caliber basketball and Desmond Bane helps him form one of the league’s best backcourts. I loved Bane as a shooter at TCU but I didn’t know he’d be this good. Memphis is a great spot because all the pressure is on everyone else in the West - Phoenix, Utah, and Golden State. The Grizzlies can just play ball, win a bunch of games, and have fun doing it.
Memphis went from a nice story to a team you want to beat. I think that’s the best compliment you can give to another team.
What are you most interested in seeing play out in tonight’s game?
It’s hard to care about any storyline from this game more than Ja vs RJ. Ja and RJ will be linked for their entire careers, which means the Grizzlies and Knicks will always be an essential watch as long as those two are in New York and Memphis.
I assume RJ will cover Ja again so I’m interested in seeing if he can do a good job against him for a second straight time.
Thank you so much to Chip for taking the time to answer my questions. Grizzlies-Knicks will be on NBATV tonight at 7 PM CT.