Earlier this season the Grizz beat the Suns 108-104 to make it four straight wins over the Suns, seemingly no matter whether they are dealing with injuries or not.
They match up again on Saturday night. The Grizzlies come in once again playing better than expected with a 13-12 record despite missing Jaren Jackson Jr. the whole season and Ja Morant and Jonas Valenciunas for big chunks as well, not to mention role players being in and out of the lineup.
The Suns come in at 18-10 on the season with an 8-5 road record so far. They are also undefeated on the back end of back-to-backs.
Let’s talk to Parker Fleming, an editor at our SB Nation partner GrizzlyBearBlues.com about what to expect in this game.
Dave King: Thanks for answering these questions, Parker!
1) With JJJ out, where have the Grizzlies suffered in his absence? By that I mean, what metrics or measures are down because he’s not in the lineup on either end of the floor?
Parker Fleming: The most obvious way the Grizzlies are missing JJJ is his perimeter creation. Whenever he and Ja get the pick-and-roll going, it becomes more potent, as they have to play the pop from Jaren or the drive from Ja. From a metrics standpoint, his defense is missed. Their blocks per game is down right now (5.5 to 4.7), and they’re allowing 14.5 more points per 100 possessions when Ja is on the floor (per Cleaning the Glass). Jackson’s defensive switchability shores up a lot on the defensive end, though his foul numbers masquerade it.
2) How surprised are you that rookies Xavier Tillman and Desmond Bane have been so good so quickly?
Desmond Bane wasn’t a surprise to me. Some of my go-to draft analysts were really high on him, and his shooting and secondary playmaking make him an obvious “immediate impact” rookie. Now, I’m surprised that he’s shooting 48.2% from 3 — didn’t see that coming. Xavier Tillman has been really surprising to me. Though he’s cooled off a bit the past few games, his defensive versatility and his quick instincts in the high post as a facilitator are beyond his years. He’s incorporating the corner 3 into his game, which is an encouraging sign going forward.
3) I’m sure you guys are still happy about the Melton/Carter trade. He’s missed a bit of time (shoulder), but had a great start to the season after signing a huge new contract. What do you see as Melton’s ceiling when he hits his prime?
Melton’s ceiling has raised significantly, as he’s grown more comfortable as a 3-point shooter and live-dribble creator (as a shooter and passer). Bummed to see him injured right now. If the shot sticks, he can be a starting 2-guard as a 3-and-D specialist that takes pressure off Morant by co-facilitating the offense and taking on the tougher defensive assignments.
4) Do you like Ja Morant’s chances to make the All-Star game this year? If not, how soon do you think he will start getting annual nods?
I do like his chances by the raw numbers, averaging 18.8 points and 8.3 assists. Given the team’s standing and the state of the Western Conference, it’s going to be hard for him to top the loaded backcourt candidates out West — like Booker and Paul among tons of others. I will say it was really encouraging that he was in the top-5 among West guards in fan voting, especially since Memphis Grizzlies rarely get love there.
5) What matchups are you most looking forward to in the game this weekend?
The easy one is the “point god” matchup between Ja and CP3. They represent a change of guard in the NBA, and watching those two orchestrate their offenses will be a true delight. Kyle Anderson and Mikal Bridges will be a sneaky one too, since they’re both 3-and-D wings that took huge leaps in their games this season.
Our official game preview is coming later in the day, and then the Grizzlies/Suns game tips off this evening.