MikeCheck: Evaluating where every roster player stands as Grizzlies reach midpoint of preseason
MEMPHIS - Two down; three exhibitions to go.
And now, the Grizzlies get an opportunistic break between their two sets of preseason games. After opening with victories over international teams Maccabi and New Zealand, new coach Taylor Jenkins and his retooled roster are in the midst of a six-day reprieve before their final three preseason games.
In a sense, it’s back to training camp this weekend for the Grizzlies, who play their remaining tune-ups Monday at home against the Hornets and travel for a two-game trip to face the Thunder on Wednesday and Spurs on Friday. Memphis opens the season Oct. 23 at Miami before returning to FedExForum for the Oct. 25 home opener against the Bulls.
The Grizzlies are literally at the midway point of the preseason, and Jenkins is eager to use the extended time between exhibition games to tweak some areas and fine-tune others with valuable practice days.
“We’re going to scrimmage a lot over the next couple of days, as much as you can really simulate game action,” Jenkins said entering the weekend. “Now, we get to dive in over the next couple of days and hit them hard with fundamentals. It will allow us to really install a lot, because when you get into game mode (in the season), there’s less practice time. So we’ll take advantage of this with a new group.”
This new group has shown plenty of encouraging flashes from No. 2 pick Ja Morant, franchise anchor Jaren Jackson Jr. and top free-agent addition Tyus Jones through the first two games. The Grizzlies have also shown some kinks and stumbles as they sort through a new system on both ends of the court.
Two weeks have passed since the Grizzlies held media day, and we’re less than two weeks from the first game that actually counts in the standings. So, here’s my Grind City Media view of where each player stands at the midpoint of the preseason as the Grizzlies step up to common NBA competition.
Now, we get to dive in over the next couple of days and hit them hard with fundamentals. It will allow us to really install a lot, because when you get into game mode, there’s less practice time ... So we’ll take advantage of this with a new group.Taylor Jenkins
Point guard Ja Morant: Morant’s unique blend of poise, swagger, vision, passing and athleticism make him the perfect playmaker for the up-tempo, read-and-react system the Grizzlies are installing. He can get his shot any time he wants, but prefers to be more aggressive getting – and keeping – teammates involved, which speaks to his 17 assists compared to just 14 shot attempts through two exhibitions.
Shooting guard Dillon Brooks: An uneven performance so far through two games has the third-year swingman shooting just 26.1 percent from the field, including 1-for-6 on threes. This isn’t the way to lock down the starting 2-guard spot Brooks covets, so he could benefit from a breakthrough next week, especially with Grayson Allen and Marko Guduric showing steady progress in the competition.
MEMPHIS, TN - Jae Crowder #99 of the Memphis Grizzlies drives to the basket in a preseason game against the Maccabi Haifa on October 6, 2019 at FedExForum. Photo by Joe Murphy via Getty Images.
Small forward Jae Crowder: The steady veteran knows where to be on both ends of the court and is one of the more vocal communicators on the roster. He’s been as good as advertised when it comes to providing leadership and solid work habits in practice, and that 3-and-D reputation has been right on point with the 50-percent clip Crowder is shooting from beyond the arc in his first two appearances.
Power forward Jaren Jackson Jr.: Just allow this to sink in for a second – the second-year forward hasn’t really done much to stand out, yet he’s finished with 18 points and nine rebounds in limited minutes during each of the first two exhibitions. Just wait until Jackson really gets comfortable and confident in this new system designed to unleash the full scope of the 6-foot-11, 242-pounder’s remarkable impact.
Center Jonas Valanciunas: A sore foot from a collision during training camp has sidelined Valanciunas for the first two games. Jenkins insists the team is being extra cautious with the veteran Valanciunas, who also played extensive minutes with Lithuania at last month’s FIBA World Cup before reporting for Memphis’ training camp. Jenkins says there are “no concerns” about J.V. missing the season opener.
Point guard Tyus Jones: There’s no evidence so far to suggest anything other than the Grizzlies will have one of the most dynamic and productive sets of point guards in the league. Jones is shooting 60 percent from the field, is perfect on threes and has a 3-to-1, assist-to-turnover ratio in 40 preseason minutes.
MEMPHIS, TN - Brandon Clarke #15 of the Memphis Grizzlies gets introduced before the game against the New Zealand Breakers on October 8, 2019 at FedExForum. Photo by Joe Murphy via Getty Images.
Forward Brandon Clarke: The effort and athleticism are certainly there for the Grizzlies’ other rookie first-round pick. But Clarke’s rhythm and timing remain a work in progress on the offensive end, which is understandable at this stage. His work on the boards, where he’s tied for the team lead, is encouraging.
Swingman Marko Guduric: The one huge question about Guduric as he transitioned from Europe to the NBA for the first time was whether he would be assertive and aggressive with his shot. Well, he hasn’t really been shy so far as he finds his way. He’s also still adjusting significantly to the speed of the NBA.
Forward Kyle Anderson: Neither Anderson nor the Grizzlies were sure to what extent he would be able to compete in training camp and the preseason. But Anderson answered the call on the first day of practice and also played his first game in eight months the other night. There’s still rust to knock off.
Forward Bruno Caboclo: Somewhere between Bruno’s breakthrough in Game 1 and his breakdowns in Game 2 is a player with the skill set and raw tools who could really be an asset in this new system. The fact that Caboclo is welcoming the challenge to bulk up and play center could pay off in a rotation role.
Point guard De’Anthony Melton: That hard-working guard pushing through conditioning workouts during the open media portion of practices? That’s Melton crushing it as he rehabs from a back issue.
Combo guard Grayson Allen: We all know Allen is uber-competitive. What he’s shown through two preseason games is an ability to effectively step in at both guard spots, which just might secure him a solid role.
Combo guard John Konchar: The versatile guard hasn’t had much playing time to show how impressive he’s been at camp. But it’s easy to see why the Grizzlies inked him to a NBA/G League Two-way deal.
MEMPHIS, TN - Solomon Hill #44 of the Memphis Grizzlies drives the ball against the Maccabi Haifa on October 6, 2019 at FedExForum. Photo by Joe Murphy via Getty Images.
Forward Solomon Hill: Jenkins using Hill so quickly off the bench at both forward spots – and referring to him by his ‘Solo’ nickname – could mean something. Or, it could mean absolutely nothing at all.
Forward Yuta Watanabe: The Grizzlies’ depth and roster crunch at the power forward spot have pushed Yuta a bit farther down the pecking order than he likely deserves. His development is still a big priority.
Center Ivan Rabb: Perhaps there’s a plan to limit Rabb’s minutes in the first two exhibitions and play him over the final three. If not, he’s apparently fighting a steep uphill battle for one of the final roster spots.
Combo guard Matt Mooney: Signed to an Exhibit 10 deal, Mooney is getting valuable work with the Grizzlies main roster as he preps for a primary development role with the G League’s Memphis Hustle.
Center Miles Plumlee: The journeyman big appears in the best shape of his career, although he hasn’t had much time to show it on the court. If he stays on the roster, Plumlee is likely insurance at center.
Forward Josh Jackson: According to team officials, Jackson has agreed to reestablish his career and reputation in Memphis with an initial stint with the Hustle when G League camps open later this month.
Forward Andre Iguodala: The three-time champion forward, acquired in an offseason trade from the Warriors, has not been with the Grizzlies this preseason as the sides work to resolve his next NBA step.
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