Grizzlies

Grizzlies Hitting Stride as Jackson Nears Return

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The Memphis Grizzlies had quite literally an average week as they went 2-2 over the last seven days.

That being said, after watching the games, there were a ton of positives for the team and only one real negative.

The Negative

Too many turnovers.

Memphis won the turnover battle in two of the four games, but they were not nearly as clean with the ball as they’d like to be.

Admittedly shorthanded against the Washington Wizards on Sunday, the Grizzlies did themselves no favors by turning the ball over seventeen times. While they were always fighting an uphill battle minus Ja Morant and Desmond Bane, they could have played a crisp, clean game and given themselves a better chance. Instead, they were sloppy with the ball, and rather than capitalizing on Washington’s mistakes they often gave the ball right back to them.

The game against the Spurs, however, was where the turnovers really looked ugly. In a game with their full roster available (minus the guys who haven’t played in a game yet), Memphis had the win well in hand. Late game mishaps led to San Antonio getting back into it, though, and the game went into overtime. Then, in overtime, Memphis nearly blew it again with sloppy play at the end of the period, and they were inches away from a Devin Vassell dagger three handing them the loss.

They got the win in San Antonio, but the Spurs had two good looks that could’ve won it, and they never should have had the chance. Memphis turned it over twenty times in that game, essentially giving the Spurs twenty extra chances to steal the game.

Memphis has played really well, and they haven’t had a ton of turnovers in every game. But for a team that struggles at times in the half court, it’s something that they will want to clean up as the season progresses.

The Positives

Succeeding in Different Ways

Memphis loves to play fast, shoot a ton of threes, and win the possession battle. But last season, they really struggled if that game plan didn’t play itself out for them.

This season, they’re showing growth.

Against the Spurs, they had the same number of shots and were nearly even in both threes and fast break points. But despite, that, they still managed to pull out a (ugly) win.

Against Minnesota, they shot an uncharacteristic 21.2% from three. But they found a way to win the possession battle and dominated their seven-footers with 62 paint points to grind out the win.

Most impressive, though, was actually Memphis’ loss to Boston.

While it ended with the wrong result, Memphis’ ability to give themselves a chance to win against the Celtics was extremely encouraging. Boston has dominated Memphis in recent seasons, using their defensive length and half-court prowess to dismantle the Grizz.

But Monday, Memphis settled in, rebounded well, played sound defense and took the shots Boston gave them to give themselves a chance on the second night of a back-to-back. If it wasn’t for the massive free throw discrepancy—28 for Boston compared to 14 for Memphis, with Tatum shooting 16 himself—they may have even won by a decent margin.

Regardless, seeing Memphis succeed in the half-court against a team like Boston without one of their best half-court weapons in Jaren Jackson was very encouraging.

The Spanish Slammer

After a red hot start to the season, Santi Aldama cooled off a bit and looked more like a bench player for a few games. While he still belongs mostly in a bench role, he played rock solid this week for the Grizz.

He shot and rebounded well, as he averaged 50% from three on the week with 14 attempts and had seven rebounds in each game besides the Boston matchup. He looked extremely comfortable in the paint, as well.

But his best performance was defensively against the Timberwolves. He had seven rebounds, a block and two steals, but his performance was even better than the box score shows. He played disciplined defense against both Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert all night. KAT loves to hunt fouls, but Santi stayed on his feet and kept his hands vertical all night, never taking the bait. He was a massive factor in KAT’s frustrations that inevitably led to his fouling out in the fourth quarter.

Aldama will play best on the bench unit for this Memphis team. But his growth in the minutes he’s getting this year will reap massive dividends for both him and the Grizzlies down the road.

Plus, he’s going to have to get a patent on this slick reverse slam he’s so fond of (Spanish Slammer trademark pending).

Roddy Using His Body

David Roddy did not get off to the quick start that yours truly expected him to have. He struggled to fins his shot, and he looked lost quite a bit on the court.

But his constant smile—reminiscent of De’Anthony Melton—should have kept fans well assured that he would come around, and he’s already taking big steps in the right direction.

His shooting is still not there, as he has very few makes on very few attempts. But his cutting and court awareness have taken massive leaps, and it is clear that he is starting to catch up to the speed of the NBA.

Roddy is clearly starting to understand how to use his size and athleticism to his advantage on the offensive end. He’s strong enough to finish through contact and quick enough to get past his primary defender.

He’s still got a lot of work to do, but Roddy is starting to figure things out, and that is going to benefit the team tremendously when the playoffs roll around.

Top Two, Not Two

Morant and Bane are taking a collective leap.

People knew Ja was a superstar before the season started, and they knew Bane was a steal for Memphis.

But they didn’t know just how dangerous their collective backcourt was going to be.

So far, Morant is averaging 28.8 PTS, 7.0 AST and 6.0 REB on 48.0% shooting and 41.0% shooting from three. His improved efficiency from three alone will keep opposing teams up at night.

But Bane’s leap is going to give them nightmares when they finally get to sleep.

He is averaging 24.7 PTS so far this season, a massive jump from his average of 18.2 PTS last season, and he’s shooting a fantastic 45.1% from three on a ridiculous 8.5 attempts. But what’s massively impressive is that he is simultaneously almost doubling his assists, as well, averaging 4.8 AST compared to 2.7 last year. He’s also increased his average REB to 4.2 from 3.8.

So Morant is still a playmaking, finishing maestro who’s now added a consistent three point shot. And Bane is still a long-range sharpshooter who has added playmaking skills.

In short, they’re a problem. Even national pundits like Bill Simmons are taking notice, as he has bought into Morant and Bane being the best backcourt in the entire NBA, echoing Ja’s own sentiments.

Ja and Des are making a statement to the league, and they are doing it loudly. If they keep performing at this level, there is no goal out of reach for the Grizzlies.

Block Panther

Just in time for the release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, fans were treated to this tweet:

Grizz fans have come to know that injured players moved to “DOUBTFUL” are nearing a return, and Memphis’ own Block Panther is now nearing his. With Memphis not just holding down the fort, but playing well enough to be four games over .500 and fifth in the west without Jackson, his return will come at an opportune moment. The Grizzlies have proven they are good enough to compete with the best teams in the league, and they haven’t had their third best player—and best defender—on the court yet.

The sky is about to be the limit for the Memphis Grizzlies.

CRAVING MORE GRIZZLIES?

Check out last week’s Salary Breakdown by Luke Hatmaker (@luketeno), Grizzlies’ Salaries Set Up Successful Future. And be sure to check out the Grizz 901 Podcast, where the Grizz Lead guys get on to discuss the most recent games and much, much more!

About Nathan Qualls

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