What: Charlotte Hornets (5-7) at Memphis Grizzlies (6-4)
When: 8:00 PM EST
Where: FedEx Forum; Memphis, Tenn.
How to watch: Bally Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
CHA: PJ Washington (out, elbow).
MEM: Dillon Brooks (questionable, hand), Yves Pons (out, ankle), Killian Tillie (out, back), Ziaire Williams (questionable, wrist).
The Charlotte Hornets are “down bad,” as the internet might say. Five-straight losses, multiple of which were winnable games, have brought the momentum they built at the start of the year to an abrupt halt. Thankfully, we’re only 12 games into an 82-game season, and Memphis last stop on this long road trip. There’s plenty of time to regroup.
We’ve got a special edition preview today; Jesse Cinquini of the Grizzly Bear Blues SB Nation squad was kind enough to answer a few questions and give us some insight on his team ahead of the Hornets-Grizz matchup. Grizzly Bear Blues has also got a Q&A preview featuring yours truly on their site, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Q: Ja Morant has been incredible to start the year; what area of his game have you been most impressed with so far?
A: It’s Morant’s total offensive dominance of the painted area that sticks out to me. A whopping 42 percent of his field-goal attempts have come in the paint (97th percentile among point guards according to Cleaning the Glass), and he’s converting 68 percent of these shots (89th percentile). Morant is 6-foot-3. He’s been historically efficient at the rim for his stature.
Q: Who else, besides Morant, has been crucial to Memphis’ 6-4 start?
A: Desmond Bane has been arguably the second-best Grizzly to this point. He’s number two in points per game (16.3) and has managed to sustain his excellent rookie-year efficiency despite a much-heightened usage rate (33rd percentile to 74th). His ability to score without the ball in his hands makes him an ideal fit for this Morant-centric offense. Don’t be surprised if he ends up in the Most Improved Player discussion.
Q: How has the Valančiūnas-Adams trade worked out so far, and what were your thoughts on the deal originally?
A: Thus far, I think the Valančiūnas-Adams swap has panned out reasonably well for Memphis. Though obviously not the offensive player Valančiūnas is, Adams is nearly as good a rebounder. Additionally, rookie Ziaire Williams could be a key piece soon, and Valančiūnas’ absence has allowed for more touches for the other youngins (Melton and Bane). When news of the trade broke, I thought it was the right move for the Grizzlies long-term — Valančiūnas wasn’t going to re-sign in Memphis.
Q: I was a huge Ziaire Williams fan in the draft, I actually had him even higher on my personal big board than where Memphis drafted him. In contrast to James Bouknight, the Grizzlies have fed him plenty of reps early on. Do you expect Williams to be in the rotation all season long, and how have you felt about his play so far?
A: It’s safe to say Williams will stick around in the rotation, not necessarily because he’s played incredibly well, but because the organization has very high hopes for him. Overall, Williams has been pretty hit or miss to this point. He’s flashed some creation skills, on-ball defensive chops, and can shoot the leather out of the three-ball. But he has been plagued by inconsistency, as most neophytes are.
Q: Do you think the Grizzlies are “playoff” contenders or “play-in” contenders?
A: Playoff. They’re 6-4, all without a de facto defensive stopper and three-level scorer in Dillon Brooks. The heart and soul of the Grizzlies, Brooks’ presence should go a long way towards getting the team back on track defensively. As long as he and the rest of the gang can stay healthy, Memphis can win 45-49 games.
Big thanks to Jesse for taking the time to answer a few questions about the Grizzlies. We hope you enjoyed this preview, and be sure to follow Jesse on Twitter @CinquiniJesse and check out his work on Grizzly Bear Blues, The Knicks Wall or CelticsBlog.