MikeCheck: Morant’s rising, Jenkins’ big challenge and a Grizz player to keep an eye on all take their place at the ‘Grindtable’
MEMPHIS – Powered by highlight-reel dunks, assists and playmaking flair, franchise point guard Ja Morant ensured the Grizzlies passed their first preseason test literally with flying colors.
But there’s plenty on which to build as Morant, coach Taylor Jenkins and an encouragingly deep roster move past last week’s impressive preseason sweep in Minnesota and look ahead to their final two-game exhibition series against the Hawks.
Dynamic catalysts in Morant and Hawks’ third-year All-Star Trae Young generate the headlines entering Thursday’s game at FedExForum. But for the Grizzlies, there are so many other storylines developing as they shore up rotations and await the returns of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justise Winslow, who both continue to progress through injury recovery.
As the Grizzlies work toward the Dec. 23 season and home opener, our broadcasters ‘Grindtable’ will break down three key topics. Consider it a 5-on-3 break, with the NBA’s most talented and knowledgeable broadcast crew filling lanes and scoring on each insightful point.
This week’s panel features Grizzlies TV broadcasters Pete Pranica and Rob Fischer, Radio play-by-play man Eric Hasseltine and pregame, halftime and postgame radio host Jessica Benson.
The most impressive aspect of Ja Morant’s preseason so far has been...
To steal Ja’s words, or word, everything. It’s not like the reigning rookie of the year was going to forget how to play basketball this offseason, but it’s been great to see him pull out all his tricks, along with the intensity, straight from the jump this preseason. The cross jab is still the poster starter, and even though it’s the teeniest, tiniest sample size, him going 3-for-4 from deep was great to see.
The most impressive thing about Ja has been how easy the game is looking to him. He’s in total control, makes the right play, and has the defense on skates. I like the way Ja is choosing the right time to pass, the right time to shoot, and the right time to put his hair up. He’s picked up where he left off at the bubble, which is scary for opponents.
Ja's control of the tempo and the offensive set. He has moved freely and not only set teammates up but gotten great looks for himself as well.
The most impressive facet of his game has been his overall command of the games. In the first two pre-season games, 18 assists and just one turnover. That’s impressive even if it is pre-season. I would imagine that the game is slowing down for him a bit and he’s able to make better decisions on the fly.
I’m most impressed by the fact that Ja is simply toying with the game right now. He’s arrived in better shape than anyone, is performing in midseason form and is doing it all with a huge smile on his face – almost as if he’s trolling the league right now. He didn’t have an offseason. Now, he’ll try to just keep turning it on all season.
Taylor Jenkins’ most challenging task in the final two preseason games will be...
Finding more opportunities to use a coach’s challenge. Just kidding. His real challenge is determining who will be in the starting lineup when it starts to count next week. Grizzlies need buckets. Period. Kyle Anderson is a lock in my opinion. Grayson Allen struggled as a starter in game one, but found his shot coming off the bench in game two. De’Anthony Melton does everything and did everything well both as a starter and coming off the bench. PS- someday, and someday soon, Desmond Bane is going to be a part of this convo.
The obvious answer is finding the right starting lineup combination especially while dealing with injuries. But the challenging task to me is to keep the momentum going. The Grizzlies looked so good in the first two preseason games and you want to build on those things. Not to sound like the head coach, but build on the good habits you’ve had the last two games to ride it into the regular season.
Mixing and matching lineups while deciding where the minutes will go. Injuries are an issue, but building chemistry is key because lineups will have to be altered with any more injuries and with any foul trouble once the season begins.
Trying to figure out the best lineup combinations is a tough task in most cases, but even more so this season with the shortened training camps and the long injury list. For example, Grayson Allen struggled as a starter Saturday, but flourished off the bench Monday. Is that data solid or outliers? A two-game sample isn’t enough to determine anything. It would be nice if Brandon Clarke could play in the final two to give Jenkins some more lineup data.
Settling on a starting shooting guard. Jenkins used two different guys at that position in the first two games – Grayson Allen and De’Anthony Melton. While it doesn’t rise to a crucial development, it is one that could impact what might be the more important rotation – that uber-productive second unit. The Grizzlies boasted one of the top-performing benches in the league last season, and they have the same unit back. If Melton starts, that removes a key guy from the second unit. It’s a juggling act.
A Grizzlies player (not named Ja) fans should keep a close eye on Thursday is...
Dillon Brooks. Grizzlies fans know better than to take one good Dillon Brooks 20+ point game and treat it as the gospel truth. He had a shaky start in game one, but has looked better as a creator, and dare I say, decision maker. I knocked on wood three times after typing that sentence. I’d love to see a level of consistency early in the season.
Desmond Bane. He looks like he belongs. His aggressive play and his shooting and his comfort level with the guys on the floor have been impressive. Plus, he’s the new guy! We always love the new guy. I’ll also be looking forward to seeing any of the injured guys who might come back. I want to see the Grizzlies as close to full strength as possible.
To me, it's Desmond Bane. Can he continue to look comfortable on the floor and hopefully see some time with the regular rotation players? If he can help fill some of the minutes on the wing with Winslow out, that's a huge bonus.
There are a lot of compelling choices here because Kyle Anderson has been fantastic and Dillon Brooks always bears watching, but I’m going to go with Desmond Bane. He’s scored double figures in both games and has shown a mature presence on the floor. I want to see if he can continue to trend upward in his play. If so, he can make an already potent Grizzlies bench even better.
Grayson Allen. My true first choice is Brandon Clarke, because I’d like to see him get game action in before next week’s season opener. But the Grizzlies understandably took a cautious approach with Clarke, who missed the first two preseason games with groin soreness. Otherwise, it’s Grayson for me. He was bad Grayson in the preseason opener, and good Grayson in the second game. If he can steady out his shooting and contribute a spark, the Grizzlies gain much-needed depth at shooting guard.
(Catch Pranica and Fischer on FOX Sports Southeast’s Grizzlies game-night coverage, and listen to Hasseltine and Benson on 92.9 FM ESPN Radio, the Grizzlies radio flagship station)
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