Grizzlies Weekly Preview: February 8th-14th, 2021

Welcome to a new edition of the Grizzlies weekly preview – something that I haven’t put together in a while, but seems appropriate considering the jam-packed schedule this truncated season presents us.

Last week was a tough one for the Grizzlies. The start of the 4-game session looked promising as Memphis downed San Antonio in impressive fashion for the second time in three nights. After that, the Grizzlies hit a wall and failed to top 110 points as they racked up losses to Indiana, Houston, and New Orleans.

We witnessed an incredible frustrated Ja Morant, who struggled mightily to score. In the three losses, he averaged what amounts to 96.4 points per 100 shot attempts, which is bad enough for the absolute basement among guards in the NBA over that time fram.

Jonas Valanciunas made his return from the health and safety protocol list and had an impactful outing against Steven Adams and the Pelicans, but the Grizzlies were no match for Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and co.

The short version of what went wrong last week can be found below. Memphis is a very deep team and their bench is showcasing that on a nightly basis, but their starters are severely struggling against other teams’ primary units.

Brandon Clarke is out Monday with a calf injury and De’Anthony Melton is out with a shoulder injury after hurting it in the Pelicans game. We can assume that JV will make his way back into the starting lineup after coming off the bench Saturday – a game in which Xavier Tillman and Gorgui Dieng started in the frontcourt.

Upcoming Week Preview

Monday vs Toronto Raptors (10-13)

The Raptors have been a streaky team this season, vanquishing lesser opponents, but struggling against tougher competition. To date, they have the 23rd strongest strength of schedule according to basketball-reference.

OG Anunoby will miss the contest with Memphis due to a calf injury.

Toronto’s backcourt should provide quite the challenge for Memphis as Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant go heads up against Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry, who over the past three games have averaged 47 points and 12 assists between them. This Raptors team is not incredibly deep and Memphis will look to push the tempo to try and gain an advantage with their young legs.

It’s games like these where Memphis really misses Jaren Jackson Jr., who would be a terrific matchup on Pascal Siakam, who is putting up 19 .7 points and hauling in eight rebounds per game. Kyle Anderson will likely get that assignment. On the offensive end, Anderson will look to stretch the floor with his newfound shooting skills to allow for Valanciunas to score against Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher.

Also, maintaining possession of the ball will be critical, as Toronto forces turnovers at the highest rate in the league at 17%.

Wednesday vs Charlotte Hornets (11-13)

Similar to Memphis, Charlotte shares the ball well. They are first in the league in assists per game at 28.1. Rookie LaMelo Ball has stepped into the starting lineup over the past week and during that time has led the Hornets in assists with 5.75 per game.

Guard Devonte’ Graham in day-to-day and did not play in Sunday’s game against the Wizards.

Former Celtic Gordon Hayward leads the way in scoring for the Hornets with 23.1 points per game, earning most of his points in the mid-range. The Hornets have a bevy of guys who can shoot the three and Memphis will need to contain Terry Rozier, Malik Monk, and Gordon Hayward who all average over 40% from three on more than four attempts per game. Last week, the Hornets were particularly hot from deep. Even LaMelo Ball, who is not known for his shooting prowess, hit a dozen threes, averaging 48% from beyond the arc.

Charlotte gives up the highest percentage of corner threes in the league, which may or may not help the Grizzlies, who are 28th in the NBA in corner three percentage – despite being top 10 in corner three attempts percent. Oddly enough, the Hornets protect the mid-range well and barely give up any shots there, while opponents get to the rim at will, where they give up 36% of their shots on defense. Hat tip to The Dunker Spot pod where Nekias Duncan and Steve Jones Jr. broke down the Hornets defense, which plays zone nearly 20% of the time.

Valanciunas will have a chance to go heads up against Cody Zeller, who has a 109 DRtg so far this season while also contributing 8.2 points per game.

Friday @ LA Lakers (18-6)

If you can find a weakness in the defending champions’ armor, please be sure to let the coaches around the league know. On Friday, the Grizzlies will go up against the best defense in the league, which only gives up 104.8 points per game. Earlier in the season, the two teams played a double-header in Memphis where the Grizzlies lost both games and scored 94 and 92 points in the contests. This week, the Lakers play Wednesday and Sunday, so the Grizzlies may not have the luxury of LeBron James or Anthony Davis taking a rest day.

It’s not surprising that a team with James and Davis is 3rd in the league in percent of shots taken at the rim. The ability of LeBron (7.8 assists per game) and others like Dennis Schroder (4.4 assists per game) to get to the rim allows the Lakers to also get a lot of easy shots around the edges. The Lakers are 5th in corner three attempts percent and 8th in overall three attempts percent.

This Lakers team is elite on the defensive end and boasts a top five defensive eFG%.

Anthony Davis will likely have his way with the Grizzlies bigs, as he usually does. Hopefully for Memphis, Brandon Clarke will be back from injury and available to play by Friday. He will be needed in the second unit to help offset the 12.9 points and 6.3 rebounds that Montrezl Harrell is chalking up each night.

Though they have several guys who can get hot and light it up, Los Angeles does most of their damage on offense inside the arc – at the rim and in the mid range. They are at the bottom of the league in three point attempts, and are 6th in the league in eFG%.

LeBron James is an MVP frontrunner in many people’s opinions and his 25.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.8 assists per game are the catalyst behind this movement.

Sunday @ Sacramento Kings (12-11)

If Ja is still slumping by the time this game rolls around, De’Aaron Fox is going to eat his lunch. Hopefully that isn’t the case and Morant will be able to take a step forward as he competes with Fox for bragging rights as one of the best young point guards in the NBA.

The Kings have one of the worst defenses in the league, giving up 118.2 points per contest. The lone bright spot on the defensive side of the ball for Sacramento is rookie guard Tyrese Haliburton, who is in the top quarter in steal and block percentages for his position. Haliburton also has a good shooting touch, hitting 44% from beyond the arc on 5.1 attempts per game. Many people say he is the steal of the draft, but maybe Desmond Bane will have something to say about that.

Led by De’Aaron Fox’s 23 points and 6.5 assists per game, the Kings have a top 10 offense. Veteran forward Harrison Barnes is having an above average year scoring the ball, putting in 17.1 points per game and shooting an eFG% of 57.8%. He’s hitting threes at a clip above 40%, but is only taking 4.5 per game and prefers to score near the rim.

The guy who every Memphis fan wanted to be a Grizzly – Buddy Hield – is having a rough season from an efficiency standpoint. He’s one of the league leaders at his position in three point attempt rate, and is hitting at a league-average clip, but he is super struggling to score the ball elsewhere.

Marvin Bagley and Richaun Holmes round out the front court and while they average 17.8 and 15.7 points respectively, the latter does it much more efficiently. It’s wild, but Bagley is shooting 48% from the line this season. Yikes.

Side Outs

  • Grizzlies center Gorgui Dieng leads the league in 3P% at 52.8%. Who cares if it is only on 2.4 attempts per game.

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