The Memphis Grizzlies are in the Hoosier state to take on the Indiana Pacers tonight. The Pacers have won seven of the last eight against the Grizzlies and lead the all-time series 32-18. This is the first time the teams will have played each other this season. Tyrese Haliburton averaged 16.5 points per game and 5.8 assists per game against the Grizzlies as a member of the Sacramento Kings but this will be his first matchup against Memphis in the gold and navy.
To preview this game, I spoke with Tom Lewis, the site manager of Indy Cornrows — SB Nation’s Indiana Pacers blog — to discuss tonight’s battle.
1) Since 2/11, Tyrese Haliburton’s first game as a Pacer, Indiana is 4-9. Still, with a margin of defeat of only 7.3 and wins over the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs, there is reason for optimism in Indianapolis. What has Tyrese Haliburton brought to the Pacers since coming to town?
Tyrese Haliburton has brought hope for the Pacers future as a quality point guard that can be the face of the franchise. While he’s still developing his NBA game, the dynamic play Haliburton flashes along with his personality makes him the legit point guard the team has needed for several years. He has good size, shoots the three well, and can get in the lane to score or dish to an open man. Hali definitely has room to grow on the defensive end, but having a great, young talent to run the team going forward is a great foundational piece to the team to rebuild around.
2) With Myles Turner out and Domantis Sabonis in Sacramento, who has stepped up in the frontcourt?
Injuries and inconsistent play have made the front-court rotation a bit of a crapshoot from night to night, but rookie Isaiah Jackson has been the most promising player to step up with the added opportunity. Staying on the court has been his biggest issue with an ankle injury slowing him down and when’s he’s played foul trouble. However, IJax has found a groove of late and he brings something no one else can with his speed running the floor and his ability to go up and get the ball, and if needed, quickly jump a second time. He runs the floor so well, he is often missed by teammates who realize too late that he is ahead of the defense. IJax’s ability to catch the ball on the run and in the air will always put pressure on the defense to account for him.
Goga Bitadze has been a disappointment overall but shows flashes of quality play which continue to make him a decent backup option. Then there is the trio of Oshae Brissett, Jalen Smith, and Terry Taylor who show plenty of dog in their games and have allowed the Pacers to play well with one big, but still get quality front-court production.
3) From what you have seen so far, can Malcolm Brogdon and Tyrese Haliburton be Indiana’s backcourt of the future?
Brogdon and Haliburton have played quite well together and could certainly do so going forward. They can both play off the ball, but while Brogdon has been real productive when they play together, Haliburton has had a tendency to defer and not be as aggressive trying to score. Rick Carlisle has had excessive praise for the pair and Brogdon in particular of late, but it is hard to believe the Pacers wouldn’t try to move Brogdon, who has already signed a three-year extension, in the offseason. He has struggled to avoid various injuries over his career with the Pacers and if you can’t rely on Brogdon to consistently play, it makes more sense to turn the keys of the offense and leadership over to Haliburton.
4) What matchup are you looking forward to tonight?
Well, I was really looking forward to Ja Morant against the world but it appears he is doubtful and will sit out his only visit to Indy. Also looking forward to a couple of Indiana local legends in Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. doing their thing at the Fieldhouse. The Memphis Grizzlies have a long history of local legends coming home to the Fieldhouse with Mike Conley and Z-Bo causing problems in the past. It is always fun to watch those guys you watched when they were in high school, do it on the big stage. Although in Bane’s case, he went to a small high school and was not well known until he blew up in college. His story now is inspiring every high school player in the state. I am most interested in seeing how Isaiah Jackson handles the time he’s matched up with JJJ. It will be interesting to see how Carlisle mixes his rotations with Adams and JJJ creating a big frontcourt to deal with against the Pacers frontcourt options.
5) The Pacers are 13th in the Eastern Conference and the play-in game is out of reach. How can Indiana grow and take advantage of their last 13 games?
Rick Carlisle has done a good job of mixing and matching playing rotations since the trade deadline, in large part due to a wide variety of injuries along with all of the new faces. At this point, the primary goal should be to continue giving those young players the opportunity to play, while putting them in different roles to continue evaluating how best to move forward with the current roster. There are several players who have shown they are NBA guys, most as reserve level players, but there are more roster changes in store for this team, so the more they know about the players they have in the building the better.
Thank you, Tom, for participating in this game’s “Five Questions.” Follow Indy Cornrows (@IndyCornrows) for the best Pacers content.