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Game Preview: Resurgent Suns face rebuilding Grizzlies in Memphis

Could tonight come to be known as the Jevon Carter revenge game?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns @ Memphis Grizzlies

When: 5:00 p.m. (AZ time)

Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN

TV: Fox Sports Arizona

Radio: 98.7 FM


Playing the ‘Grit N Grind’ Grizzlies in Memphis used to be a fearful challenge for any team but not so much anymore. Memphis has finally moved on from that era and are in rebuilding mode. With last year’s No. 2 draft selection Ja Morant and the No. 4 player in the 2018 draft Jaren Jackson Jr. leading the charge, they are now leading the NBA in pace. Yes, they play fast but are still very much a work in progress offensively with the worst offensive rating in the NBA (95.7) and a 1-3 record to go with it. They’re not terrible defensively (DefRtg of 108.1, 18th in the NBA) but combined with their offensive rating they have a net rating that is 29th (minus-12.3).

The surprising Suns go into this game ranked 7th in offense, 8th in defense and are 4th in net rating. While Phoenix averages giving up 106.2 (10th) points per game, the Grizzlies average surrendering a hefty 120.8 (26th) per game. The Suns average scoring 115.4 points per game (7th) while Memphis averages 107 (20th).

Things are — so far — going well for the Suns and, following their trouncing of the Warriors on their home court on Wednesday night, this should be another win for them. This is the NBA though and letting down your guard on any given night can lead to bad results. The Suns can’t afford to count this game as a win before it’s played.

The Grizzlies (1-3)

Probable Starting Lineup: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Jae Crowder, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jonas Valanciunas.

Injuries: None reported.

Like the Suns, the Grizzlies are a young team (24.7 years average age) with some quality vets added to the mix (Jonas Valanciunas and Jae Crowder). Unlike the Suns, they are relying heavily on two 20-year olds in their starting lineup... one of whom is their rookie starting point guard (Morant). Also unlike the Suns, they haven’t worked out the kinks quite yet.

Morant leads Memphis in scoring with 17.5 ppg but the Grizzlies spread the scoring around with six other players averaging between 10-15 points each. As a team, they have been shooting poorly so far, both from the field (41.5%, 25th) and from deep (28.1%, 30th).

Although Memphis has not been doing a lot well this season, rebounding is one area that they have been above average at (47.8 rpg, 9th) and slightly better than the Suns (46.8 rpg, 13th). Valanciunas leads them with 9.0 a game with Crowder and JJJ each pulling down 6.5 a night.

As noted above, expect them to play fast and push the pace. Memphis is pretty good at getting steals (tied for 6th with 9.0 steals per game) and scoring in the fast break (tied for 7th with 16.5 ppg). This is unlikely to worry the Suns very much though as they are pretty good in those areas too. They are tied for 3rd in steals (9.2 per game) and are 6th in fast break points (16.8 per game).

Team Leaders

Points: Ja Morant (17.5)

Rebounds: Jonas Valanciunas (9.0)

Assists: Ja Morant (5.0)

The Suns (3-2)

Probable Starting Lineup: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Dario Saric and Aron Baynes.

Injuries: Ty Jerome (ankle) - out.

The Suns have been a very pleasant surprise to fans so far in this young season but not so much to opposing teams. Surprising, yes. Pleasant, no.

Devin Booker and Kelly Oubre Jr. lead the offensive charge and are averaging a combined 43 points per game. Ricky Rubio has been key in orchestrating the offense with 8.8 assist per game (tied for 4th in the NBA) and also is leading the Suns in rebounding with 6.8 boards per night. Aron Baynes has been solid in the middle since being called on to start in Deandre Ayton’s absence, doing pretty much everything well (14 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1 bpg) except shooting threes. At that he’s been exceptional (42.1% on 3.8 attempts per game). Dario Saric got off to a bit of a slow start but showed up big for the Suns against the Warriors.

Everyone has also been playing defense. Good defense. Remember last season when at times it seemed as though other teams were running layup drills during the game? Not any more. The Suns are actually ranked 7th in the NBA in opponents’ points in the paint this season (42.4). Memphis is 26th giving up 53.5 points in the paint per game. The Suns are also tied for 8th in opponents’ 2nd chance points (12 per game).

As a whole, the Suns are the better team. When breaking things down further, there are some areas of concern... specifically in bench scoring. Comparing the two statistically, the Grizzlies’ bench actually comes out on top in many categories. We saw potential problems with the Suns’ bench in the Golden State game where the Suns’ bench had difficulty maintaining the big lead the starters had accumulated early on. It didn’t happen quickly because the bench is a big part of the Suns defensive success this season but they weren’t a prolific scoring bunch when all of the starters were on the sidelines. That’s something I’m sure Monty Williams noted for future reference though.

This will also be reserve point guard Jevon Carter’s first trip back to visit his former team. Here’s hoping he feels the need to prove to them that they made a mistake in trading him to the Suns!

Team Leaders

Points: Devin Booker (24.4)

Rebounds: Ricky Rubio (6.8)

Assists: Ricky Rubio (8.8)

Summary

As I mentioned earlier, this should be a relatively easy win for the Suns. They surpass the Grizzlies in virtually every statistical category but can’t let that make them complacent and take the game too lightly. To quote Ricky Rubio, “Never too high, never too low.”

Suns win by 12.