When: Saturday, November 18th, 7:00 PM CST
Where: Frost Bank Center, San Antonio, TX
How to Watch/Stream: Bally Sports Southeast
As Memphis prepares to wrap up a three game road trip in San Antonio, they’ll return home for the second night of back to back, against—one of—the title favorites, the Celtics. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
After all, tonight’s contest against the Spurs remains their best shot at a dub this weekend. Time to focus on the present. San Antonio, like Memphis, currently sits in the West’s bottom-most rung. In fact, there’s only a half game separating the two squads (MEM 2-9, SAS 3-9) in the standings.
Is that to say that there’s not things to like about this game? Far from it. There’s plenty to soak up from this match of Southwest Division rivals. For starters, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the history between the two squads.
See, it was the Grit-N-Grind Grizzlies that ruined the Spurs’ title hopes in the ’10-’11 playoffs. San Antonio suffered a 1st round postseason exit at the hands of Z-Bo and Mike Conley that year. The victory would go on to cement that iteration of the team as the franchise standard.
And still, despite the decade-plus of history, I’d be fooling myself if I thought the primary reason anyone was watching this game was for anything or anyone other than Victor Wembanyama.
Will the Grizzlies have an answer for the French prodigy? And will the Spurs muster anything to assist their Parisian phenom? It would be ideal if the answer was yes to the former… And no to the latter… But I recognize that’s wishful thinking. Which has done us little-to-no good so far this season.
Fingers crossed, it works tonight though. The Grizzlies are running out of options apart from “good vibes,” and guess what? In the NBA, that doesn’t win you games.
What We Doing About Wemby?
Alright so I guess we should get the seven-and-a-half foot elephant in the room out of the way first. Unless you’ve been living under a rock… And unless that rock was on—let’s say—Mars… I’m going to assume you’ve seen Victor Wembanyama before.
I thought about saying the Moon… But I’m pretty certain you can even see the kid from there. The point being, Wemby is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before on a basketball court. He’s without a doubt going to be unlike anything this Grizzlies team has faced before.
So who does Memphis have that they can throw at the big, slender man? Even with their roster in its current depleted state? Well—to be frank—the Grizzlies have only one option. At least if you were to ask me.
The one dude they hope is able to shellack Wemby? Jaren Jackson Jr.
Now depending on who you speak with, uttered groans may be audible after that statement. In regards to JJJ, you know what I mean? You bring up Trip in some circles, and folks cannot wait to give you their opinions.
Jaren-this and Jaren-that get thrown around a great deal, disparaging Memphis’ Unicorn. I’d like to remind those few that JJJ is on pace to average career highs in both points and assists. His rebounds per game are also hovering around his average, and his fouls are the lowest of his career.
The way folks talk though… You’d have thought he was experiencing the single worst slump of his career. Now, are his blocks per game down? Yes. Are the Grizzlies asking him to do more? Also yes. Will I question the basketball sanity of anyone willing to toss Jaren into trades? At this point? The most certain yes of the lot.
A dominant performance against Wemby (26 BLK on the year) would go a long way in Trip’s (19 BLK) favor. And an even longer way towards silencing his doubters. The cherry on top? Well, so Jaren goes…so goes the dub right? If he balls out over Wembanyama, the Grizzlies get the dub. Plain and simple.
So… Who’s Left On the Roster?
I promise you this isn’t a poor attempt at humor. I like to think I’m better at the jokes than that. No, it’s a legitimate question. And not one I take joy in asking so early in the season.
Ask yourself: Who’s not gotten bit by the injury bug—a bite doesn’t do Memphis’ suffering justice—so far this year? Let me rephrase: Who’s not been maimed by the injury beast on this Grizzlies roster? That’s a bit more visceral, now isn’t it?
Let’s put it this way… There’s only been three players to play all 11 games for the Grizz this season. I’m excluding Marcus Smart here, as his injury is due to sideline him three to five weeks. Desmond Bane, Jackson Jr., and David Roddy (more on him later) are it. That’s the end of the list.
What about Luke Kennard? Santi Aldama? Xavier Tillman Sr.? Ziaire Williams? Derrick Rose? John Konchar?
All missed time due to injury. That’s six guys who figure to get minutes, and four significant pieces of this rotation. Not to mention the Morant suspension…
The combination has this roster running on fumes. G-leaguers getting regular minutes—no Gilyard slander, dude’s a hooper—should be a dead giveaway. If not that, judge the state of the roster by the Disabled Player Exception recently granted to the team. That’s not something teams that are good get.
Both the increased minutes of their 2-way guys… As well as the DPE being sent to the team… Those each signal a roster that’s hurting. And one that will continue to struggle most likely in the interim. Until their roster is at least full of NBA players, look for it to be more of the same.
Who’s Got Smart Duties?
From the moment he came down on his ankle, Marcus Smart seemed all but guaranteed to make the IR. Hell, the rest of the roster had done it, so why not Smart? The injury stopped him from finishing Tuesday’s game, while also leaving him in a boot.
Now, the absolute last thing I can think this Grizzlies team needs other than a hole to the head… Is to lose Marcus Smart. The already deflated defense cannot afford to lose another guy.
In fact, you wanna see a magic trick? Remove Smart from the rotation and watch the Grizzlies’ perimeter defense completely disappear.
Ta-da. If you could even see said defense to begin with, but that’s neither here nor there.
The thing is, though… Does this injury to Smart hurt the team? Of course. But is the team beyond rescue or repair at this point? No.
And you know what? Not only is the answer no, it may be not so fast.
See, for the first time since one of their guys has gone down this season… Memphis is more than equipped for the fallout from the injury in question. Think about it. Between Z, Roddy, and Jitty alone, they’ve almost 80 starts between them.
That’s not a terrible place to be, all things considered. And they definitely won’t have to sign someone off the couch—no offense Bis—this time. Seeing as they’ve got guys who can hoop that can take his minutes. That’s definitely a win right?
Who do they roll with, though, at the end of the day against the Spurs? If it was me… I’m riding with either Roddy or Jitty. Both have a tenacity on defense that is significant and do a bit of everything. Not that Ziaire hasn’t either, but we’ve seen his confidence wilt on several occasions now.
If I need to back somebody in relief of Marcus, give me either of those two. At least to tide me over til I get Smart back. They’ll at least be able to rise to the occasion and not be the reasons the Grizzlies drop this contest to the Spurs. Because a loss to the Spurs may be rock bottom. And I thought we were already there.
Photo Credit: (Chris Day/The Commercial Appeal)