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Game Preview: Suns (1-3) hit road to Memphis, take on Grizzlies (2-2)

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Without Devin Booker, can the Suns beat the Grizzlies on the road?

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns (1-3) at Memphis Grizzlies (2-2)

When: 5:00 PM AZ Time

Where: In Memphis

TV: FoxSports Arizona

Radio: 98.7 FM


The Suns have a back-to-back on the road this weekend, facing the Grizzlies and win-starver Thunder. Could be a rough weekend for the home team, fans.

Out

Suns: Devin Booker has been ruled out on Saturday (hamstring) but he might play on Sunday against the Thunder. Deandre Ayton has a sore ankle, but is probable to play.

Grizzlies: Dillon Brooks and Marc Gasol are probable, while JaMychal Green and Chandler Parsons are out.

Probable Starters

Suns

Another game, another chance for Deandre Ayton to face a top NBA big man, this time in Grizzled veteran Marc Gasol. But to double Ayton’s pleasure, he also gets to face another contender for Rookie of the Year in 6’11” swiss army knife Jaren Jackson Jr.

After a handful of games, Ayton and Jackson are 3rd and 4th in scoring, 1st and 3rd in rebounds, 2nd and 12th in assists per game, and 1st and 3rd in NBA.com/stats efficiency rating, respectively.

Ayton is off to a great start to his career, ranking 3rd, 1st, 2nd and 1st in several important categories, and he’s not even playing the most minutes per game (he’s 3rd).

But even bigger than that, Ayton has been the most effective player on the Suns so far this year.

Ayton is the only regular on the Suns with a positive plus-minus on the scoreboard this season.

The team overall is -45 in 196 minutes of play (4 games * 48 minutes).

  • In Ayton’s 121 minutes of play: +4 on the scoreboard
  • In the 71 minutes Ayton is NOT on the court: -41

And Ayton is playing against other teams’ starters, not the scrubs of another team.

Other notable regulars on the Suns:

  • Devin Booker with Ayton — 98 minutes, +3 overall
  • Trevor Ariza with Ayton — 90 minutes, +2 overall
  • Isaiah Canaan with Ayton — 86 minutes, -8 overall
  • Ryan Anderson with Ayton — 68 minutes, +11 overall

When Ayton is off the floor, the Suns regulars are bad.

  • Devin Booker’s non-Ayton minutes: 39 minutes, -24
  • Trevor Ariza’s non-Ayton minutes: 45 minutes, -42
  • Isaiah Canaan’s non-Ayton minutes: 32 minutes, -24
  • Ryan Anderson’s non-Ayton minutes: 18 minutes, -14

This is unusual for a rookie. Usually, rookies are really bad on the plus/minus and it’s the veterans who are leading the way to wins. Just take a look at other notable rookies throughout the league:

  • Luka Doncic: 173 minutes, -21; Mavs are only -6 in non-Luka minutes
  • Marvin Bagley: 146 minutes, -55; Kings are +30 in non-Bagley minutes
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: 130 minutes, +35; Clippers are -13 in non-SGA minutes
  • Jaren Jackson Jr.: 111 minutes, -32; Grizzlies are +20 in non-JJJ minutes

The only other big-minute rookie who’s a positive on the scoreboard this early in the season is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the Clippers.

Okay, that’s your Suns tidbit of the day.

Grizzlies (2-2)

Overall, the Grizz are who we always thought they were: really good defensively (6th) and quite pedestrian offensively (28th).

They’ve had an overall easy opening week compared to the Suns (toughest schedule in league), with games against the Hawks (win) and the Kings (loss), while beating the Jazz and losing big to the Pacers.

That Jazz win is the feather in their cap on the season. With Jackson Jr., Gasol and Conley, they can really clamp down defensively, holding the Jazz to just 84 points, including Donovan Mitchell, Ricky Rubio and Joe Ingles going a combined 3-19 on threes.

I mentioned their heralded rookie already. Jaren Jackson Jr. has been productive with 14.8 points (2nd leading scorer on the Grizz), 6.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. But he’s not making threes yet (45% overall, 16% on threes) and carried his foul-prone tendencies to the NBA, averaging 4.3 fouls committed per game. Overall, he’s a -32 on the scoreboard so far this season.

Mike Conley is back and leading the Grizzlies with all he’s got: 19.3 points, 5.8 assists (to only 1.3 turnovers), 4.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals.

Marc Gasol is doing a bit of everything: 13.5 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 46% three point shooting on 3.8 attempts per game.

Prediction

With Devin Booker surely out, the Suns will have to rely on Deandre Ayton to lead the charge to a second win on the season.

He will be pitted against two really good defenders in Gasol and JJJ, though, so don’t count on it.

Unfortunately, the Suns are going to have a hard time winning this game.