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Preview: Suns try to keep momentum going against Memphis Grizzlies

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This is a game where statements need to be made for Phoenix.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns host the Memphis Grizzlies

When: 7:00 p.m. AZ time

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


Probable Starters:

Suns- Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Dario Saric, Aron Baynes

Grizzlies- Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Jae Crowder, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas


Grizzlies

OffRtg = 104.6 (25th), DefRtg = 111.4 (22nd), NetRtg = minus-6.8 (24th)

Memphis is a scrappy group, but one Suns fans should be familiar with after seeing young prospects and development prioritized over the last three years. The Grizzlies’ core of Morant, Jackson Jr., and Brandon Clarke is definitely promising but still far away from actually being a real playoff threat in the loaded Western Conference.

Speaking of those three prospects locked in long-term for Memphis, let’s analyze them for a minute. There’s a real chance Phoenix and Memphis are battling all throughout the 2020s in playoff battles.

Morant is running away with Rookie of the Year right now, at least in my opinion, as his transition to the NBA game has gone much smoother than I expected. The former Murray State point guard, one the Suns probably draft if they wouldn’t have slipped in the lottery, is averaging 19.1 points and 6.4 assists on a 54.8 true shooting percentage. According to Basketball-Reference, Morant would join only Oscar Robertson and Damian Lillard as the last rookies to pull off these high-end numbers in Year 1.

Meanwhile, Jackson Jr. is really rounding into form during his sophomore campaign looking the part of a true Swiss Army knife big man. JJJ is posting 16.2 points and 1.2 blocks while shooting 37.1 percent on threes. In terms of stylistic pairings, the Morant/JJJ duo is super enticing due to their strengths outweighing each other’s weaknesses. There’s no reason not to believe Jackson Jr. can’t become one of the league’s most versatile big men in short order.

Rounding out the intriguing trio for Memphis isn’t former No. 4 overall pick Josh Jackson, who was suspended by their G League affiliate for violating team rules last week, but an older prospect in Clarke who blossomed late at Gonzaga.

There’s a reason why I was so high on Clarke during the pre-draft process, and he’s showing it immediately with the Grizzlies. Surprisingly enough, Clarke is actually shooting 45.5 percent on three-pointers right now, while also providing the secondary rim protection that’s becoming so vital nowadays. Like Cameron Johnson for Phoenix, Clarke is one of the most NBA-ready prospects who continues to prove it each night.

Maybe not right now, but within the next few seasons Memphis has the chance to take a huge leap forward.

Suns

OffRtg = 111.5 (6th), DefRtg = 109.7 (18th), NetRtg = plus-1.9 (12th)

Isn’t it incredible what Ricky Rubio is doing for the Suns right now? It’s such a sudden change, especially from what we’ve seen in the past from the point guard position. Rubio is averaging 11 assists per game since his return from back spasms, and he’s alluded to being much more comfortable with his teammates’ tendencies now. It’s easy to see that manifest itself on the court as well constantly finding Mikal Bridges, Oubre, and Booker on cuts and no-look dishes to the perimeter.

As Oubre called Rubio in the locker room Monday night a “Point God Wizard”, it’s a fitting nickname for what the Spaniard is actually providing to the Suns’ offense. Ranking No. 6 in offensive rating is truly a jaw-dropping change in Phoenix. Credit a lot of that to Rubio, who might have been a poor fit in Utah’s system the further we get away from it.

We also can’t forget about the Suns’ $158 million man here, who is still posting 50/40/90 shooting splits through 23 games. Booker is showing how having competent teammates and a strong supporting cast on all levels of the organization can do to his overall game averaging 25.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 6.3 assists on a 63.7 true shooting percentage. Seeing a TS% spike of +5.3 from Booker isn’t something to gloss over either.

Booker is making another leap in Year 5, as he has all throughout his career in Phoenix. Don’t put limits on Booker and what he can do next. As Booker is proving right now on a national scale, it’s not a smart idea to do that.

Finally, let’s talk about the Suns’ center rotation and what should happen once Deandre Ayton is back from his 25-game suspension next week. Baynes has been a huge asset to Phoenix filling in for Ayton, but, as we have seen already this season, the big man isn’t use to a high usage role. Slotting Ayton back in for 30-35 minutes per night will change that, while also adding even more depth to an improved rotation.

Don’t be surprised if Frank Kaminsky joins Tyler Johnson in the DNP-CD crew very soon due to Ayton and Baynes. Kaminsky continues to prove he can’t handle a consistent role, and his lack of finishing around the rim has been a detriment. Below, here’s how the Suns’ rotation should shake out once the Bahamian big man returns on Dec. 17.

Starters- Rubio, Booker, Oubre Jr., Saric, Ayton

Bench Mob- Jerome, Johnson, Bridges, Baynes

Prediction

After an impressive performance Monday against Minnesota, this is one where the Suns should actually cruise if they put the pedal to the metal early on. Winning in Memphis last month 114-105, which should’ve been an even wider margin, provides the blueprint for Phoenix to follow here.

If the Suns truly want to continuously stay afloat in the all-important Western Conference playoff race, these are the types of games where statements should be made. Right now, the offense seems to be clicking on all cylinders, so I don’t envision Memphis stopping it either.

I’m predicting that statement is going to be made thanks to big outings from Booker, Rubio, and Oubre. Suns by double-digits in another blowout win.

Suns 122, Grizzlies 107