In this preview I asked the Site Manager of Grizzly Bear Blues, Joe Mullinax, 5 questions about the Memphis Grizzlies. We did a home and home so if you want to see my answers to his questions, head on over there!
1. What weakness in Memphis should the Jazz exploit?
The Grizzlies have had some issues with their bench of late, and on a nightly basis it seems they’re trying different players in the rotation. Depth is a wonderful thing to have in the regular season, but come playoff time rotations need to be condensed. Thankfully Head Coach Taylor Jenkins has pushed the right buttons of late, but there’s a small margin for error against a team as good as the Jazz. Who plays well and with who next to Ja Morant/Dillon Brooks/Kyle Anderson/Jaren Jackson Jr./Jonas Valanciunas will make all the difference from game to game
2. How will Memphis attack Rudy Gobert?
With a stick, while he sleeps. In all seriousness, Gobert is fairly underrated at this stage - I feel personally he is one of the 15-ish best players in the NBA. He’s that impactful defensively, and on offense/on the glass he is elite enough at what he does he negates what he’s not able to do as well in terms of floor spacing/shooting. The Grizzlies will need to hope that Jonas Valanciunas can beat him up on the block and tire him out/wear him down some. Gobert is better than Jonas, but Valanciunas is good enough to make Rudy work on both ends of the floor. That battle could be enough to limit his effectiveness some
3. Who is Memphis’s secret weapon?
This is a bit of a cop out, but everyone not named Ja Morant. Valanciunas is criminally underrated and is arguably having his best season as a two-way player of his career. Kyle Anderson has played so well he’s in the mix to be considered a finalist for Grizzlies MVP. Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman Sr. are “rookies” who both played massive roles in the play-in wins over the Spurs and Warriors. Even Grayson Allen has gone from fringe NBA player to fringe NBA starter on a playoff team in two seasons. That doesn’t even mention last season’s bench mob trio of Tyus Jones, Brandon Clarke, and De’Anthony Melton - who all have at some point fallen out of the Memphis rotation. It takes balance. But these Grizzlies have some serious weapons beyond just the stars.
4. How has Jaren Jackson looked since coming back from injury and will he make a difference?
He’s been rusty, with flashes of brilliance. He’s the X Factor in this series. The Grizzlies have terrific depth, but so does Utah - and at this stage of things they’re just physically better. The one guy beyond Ja that is physically capable of taking advantage of his matchups is Jaren. He can force Gobert outside the paint if he’s at the 5. He can attack Bojan Bogdanovic or Royce O’Neal off the dribble on the perimeter. He’s a mismatch nightmare. But he still fouls too much despite his defensive versatility, and his lack of facilitating skill he put the starters in a tough spot at times. If he can get it together and look more like himself from before the injury? Memphis can win this series. But that seems/feels unlikely given how his return has gone so far
5. What’s it like having the rookies Utah should have drafted in Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman?
Having a front office so ridiculously good at drafting players is a gift. Both Tillman and Bane play beyond their years. Both are better at what were viewed as their weaknesses than previously expected. Both has taken minutes from more established options, like the aforementioned Melton and Clarke, and especially in Clarke’s case rightfully so. It makes things easier for them long-term - both players are under team control the next three season at low cap hit numbers. So Memphis knows as it comes time to pay Jaren and Ja that these two guys can play the game well at a low price point. That, whenever the offseason starts, is room for optimism.