The Sacramento Kings couldn’t have started the season any worse in terms of wins. They are currently no. 15 in the west with a record of 0-3. Only the Los Angeles Lakers have a worse record at 0-4. But even though their record doesn’t show it, the Kings actually look better to me than they did last season when they started 1-2.
Tonight the Kings will have another opportunity to capture their first win against Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies currently have a very solid record of 3-1 behind the exceptional play of their superstar. Morant is currently second in the NBA scoring race with 35.3 points per game and is tied with De’Aaron Fox at no. 17 with 7 assists per game. Both of these young, hyper-athletic guards have been off to a hot start this year and are going to put on a show for everyone tonight when they’re face to face in battle.
The Kings haven’t beat the Grizzlies since Feb. 28, 2020, losing their last six matchups. However, the two teams haven’t played since Sacramento acquired Domantas Sabonis. Along with their other new additions, the Kings may be poised to end one of their many losing streaks. To learn more about the Grizzlies, I reached out to Andrew Katz, a writer for Grizzly Bear Blues — the Grizzlies’ SBNation site.
Many people in Sacramento expected De’Aaron Fox to do for Sac what Ja has done for Memphis. Why do you think Ja’s impact was felt so drastically while Fox has struggled to do the same?
From the moment Ja was drafted, the Grizzlies front office has worked to surround him with talent that compliments his game. Whether it be trading up to draft Brandon Clarke in 2019 or drafting Desmond Bane with the 30th pick in 2020, Memphis has excelled in finding players that match Morant’s playstyle.
At least from an outsider’s perspective, it seems the Kings have done the opposite. Obviously, missing on the Marvin Bagley pick is unfortunate, but drafting Tyrese Haliburton and Davion Mitchell in back-to-back drafts was confounding. Fox is best with the ball in his hands, and while I appreciate Haliburton and Mitchell’s games, they need touches to maximize their production. That is why I liked the Domantas Sabonis trade for Sacramento. After the trade, Fox played some of the best basketball of his career. That is not a coincidence. The Kings’ recent moves have reflected a franchise that is ready to build around Fox and if they commit, they will be competitive.
Why do you think the Grizzlies were so inactive in the off season? Obviously they were already successful and should be again this year, but even teams like the Celtics and Warriors made some moves to bolster their roster even more. Will this come back to haunt them later in the season?
It is clear the Grizzlies organization is confident with their infrastructure and internal development, and while I at times hoped they would make a move, it is hard to question Zach Kleiman and the rest of the front office. The only players on the Grizzlies current roster that were not drafted by Memphis are Tyus Jones, Steven Adams and Danny Green. Even someone like John Konchar, who went undrafted before the Grizzlies signed him, has been incremental to Memphis’s success.
It was expected that Memphis would let Kyle Anderson walk. While I loved De’Anthony Melton, the Grizzlies would not have been able to pay him in 2023. Memphis coughed up a lot of money to keep Adams, Jones, Clarke and Morant this offseason. I would expect Bane to get a contract similar to Jordan Poole’s and Tyler Herro’s, if not bigger. Memphis has a lot of young talent and all of its draft picks so a move is not out of the question, but I think if you asked Grizzlies fans if they would trade Bane or Jaren Jackson Jr. for Donovan Mitchell or another disgruntled star, most would say no.
The Grizzlies’ window is now but it is also the future. While they may not be a better basketball team this year, they will still be competitive and among the West’s best in 2023.
Fox has looked seemingly unguardable this season and looks like he is truly on a mission to breakout and get the All-Star nod he’s been after for the last couple of years. What do you think the Grizzlies are going to do in order to halt him in his tracks?
Fox has looked incredible this year, and I am not sure the Grizzlies will have an answer. Morant has been much more active on defense to start the year, but he is still a smaller point guard and will likely have trouble guarding Fox. Bane’s massive frame and quick feet make him a capable defender who can hold his own against talented perimeter players. However, I expect someone else to be matched up with him for most of the night.
Dillon Brooks made his regular season debut Monday against the Nets, and let’s just say it was not stellar. Brooks shot 2-for-13 and finished with four points. His shot-selection drives Grizzlies fans insane, but his defense is incredibly important to Memphis’s identity. “Villain” Brooks gets under opponents’ skin with his unwavering confidence and pesty defense. On Monday, he got into it with Kevin Durant before KD torched the Grizzlies for 37 points. Brooks’s size could present problems for Fox and he is Memphis’s best bet to minimizing the guard’s impact.
With his 36-point performance against the Clippers, De’Aaron Fox becomes the first Sacramento-era Kings player to score 30-plus in the first two games of the season pic.twitter.com/7cWYmluia9— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) October 23, 2022
The Grizzlies have the third worst defensive rating in the league at 121.0. Will their offense be enough to simply out pace the Kings like the Warriors did or do you see their defense stepping it up?
As I mentioned above, Brooks is crucial to Memphis’s defensive identity, and now that he is back, I would expect the Grizzlies’ defense to improve. However, his return did not stop the Nets from scoring 124 points on Monday. Memphis’ defensive struggles stem from a few problems, the most important being the absence of JJJ. Last year, Jackson was one of the league’s best rim protectors and he was selected to All-Defensive First Team. His defensive improvements were on par with the leap Bane and Morant made. Without Jackson, Memphis’s defense is not the same.
It also hurts that Memphis lost Melton and Anderson, their two leaders in stocks per game. Melton and Anderson were great at creating turnovers and pushing the Grizzlies into transition. Memphis replaced them with two rookies – Jake LaRavia and David Roddy. LaRavia drew comparisons to Anderson coming out of the draft, and at least on the defensive end, that has been accurate.
I would definitely expect tonight’s game to be a shootout. I think both teams are going to push the pace and with speedy point guards like Fox and Morant, stops will be a rare commodity. As the season goes along – especially once Jackson returns in a few weeks – the Grizzlies defense will improve, but for tonight, I expect there to be a lot of points.
Ja is obviously one of the most electric players in the league. However, his style of play is somewhat dangerous and takes a heavy toll on his body. Do you see him changing his style of play or do you think he’ll find a way to stay healthy without adapting?
Trust me, I think about this all the time. Every time he goes up for a big dunk there is the concern he will come down awkwardly. However, Morant has also proven that he is a professional lander. Think about how many times a game he jumps up and comes down hard. Now think about how many times he has gotten hurt. Nearly every time, Morant has been injured, it has not been a result of his high-flying dunks, but because of a regular basketball play.
Morant’s jumper has never looked better – he is shooting 60 percent from deep this season on five attempts per game. If he is able to make this a more featured part of his game, he will not only be unstoppable, but he will be able to play longer. He has been incredible this season, but I am a little worried the Grizzlies are putting too many miles on him this early. While he has played a normal amount of minutes, Ja’s usage rate is higher than ever – the fourth highest in the NBA. I expect that as the season goes along, he will miss games here and there, whether it be for rest or minor injuries, but for the year as a whole, I think he can stay healthy.
Ultimately, Morant is the star he is because of his style of play. When he is running toward the basket, there is basically no stopping him. He is a smart player and he knows how to take care of his body. I expect him to be a dominant force in the NBA for a long time.
To read the other half of this Q&A and see what I told Andrew about tonight’s matchup, go to grizzlybearblues.com.