When: 8:00 pm EST
Where: FedExForum; Memphis, Tenn.
How to watch: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
Since the Charlotte Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies have already met this season and At The Hive has already previewed the team, I decided to try something different with this one. Grizzly Bear Blues writer Jesse Cinquini was kind enough to give a few thoughts on his Grizzlies, and how they’ve performed since we saw them on New Year’s Day:
Chase: What’s been the biggest change or development with the Grizzlies since their first game against the Hornets on 1/1?
Jesse: The Grizzlies have carved out a defense-first identity after starting the season off slow in that regard. Memphis is in the top half of the league in defensive rating while leading the entire NBA in steals per game (9.8). The team’s intensity and energy on defense have kept them in games against superior competition.
Where would you rank Memphis’ young core among the rest of the league?
Believe it or not, I would rank Memphis’ young core second in the NBA behind only the Boston Celtics, who have a superstar duo in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Desmond Bane, Xavier Tillman, and Brandon Clarke are all in the early parts of their careers and project to be above-average to generational talents. Memphis will consistently contend out West in a few years. Maybe even sooner.
Who’s your favorite young player on the team?
Playing devil’s advocate here, I’ll go with Jackson Jr. While the unicorn big man has yet to take the floor this season, his skillset is exceedingly rare for a player of his stature. Able to fire deep threes off the dribble and knife his way to the rim, Jackson Jr. is a guard in a center’s body, a fact that should frighten the rest of the NBA.
Memphis has lost 4 games in a row and fallen to 11th in the standings. What do they have to do to they get back in the top-6 and out of the play-in?
Morant needs to get going scoring-wise. Morant hasn’t looked like himself over the past week or two — he’s struggled mightily from the field and has been a sitting duck at times when playing off-ball. Coach Taylor Jenkins should prioritize getting him going early in games to boost his confidence and make sure he’s at his best during crunch time.
Who has a higher ceiling: Ja or LaMelo?
What an exceedingly difficult question. I love both players’ skillsets, although, at this juncture, I will give the slight edge to Morant. While Ball is the superior perimeter shooter and rebounder, Morant is the better passer and interior scorer with a once in a lifetime ability to knife up the defense via dribble penetration. I believe both players will rank among the top of the NBA at some point, but Morant could very well be the best player in the league, and I don’t see that kind of potential with Ball just yet.
Another thanks to Jesse Cinquini, who you can follow on Twitter (@CinquiniJesse), and read his pre-game article on Grizzly Bear Blues that I answered a few questions about the Hornets for (link here).
One advantage the Hornets will have this evening is on the injury front; Jackson Jr. (knee) and Justise Winslow (hip) have yet to play this season, and Brandon Clarke (calf), De’Anthony Melton (shoulder), and Killian Tillie (foot) are all out tonight.
Like Jesse mentioned earlier in the preview, Morant has struggled to score as of late and with so many role-players missing, Memphis’ 11th-ranked (110 DRTG) defense has slid all the way to last (124.7 DRTG) during this four-game skid. They don’t defend the 3-point line well (opponents are shooting 39.1 percent from deep against them for the season, 27th in the NBA), but they do force turnovers and lead the league in steals per game. If the Hornets can contain Morant and limit their role-players as floor-spacers, this should be a winnable game.
Quick side note; Memphis drafted Tillman 40th in the 2020 Draft and he’s averaging 8.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 21.8 minutes per game. Must be nice to draft a center in the second round that can contribute to a winning team right now, but the Hornets would know nothing about that, unfortunately. Bane, the 30th pick, is tied with Malik Monk for fifth in the NBA in 3-point percentage (48.1 percent) among players that have played in at least 10 games and average three attempts per game from deep.
Charlotte will be without Devonte’ Graham (left groin strain) this evening as he continues to recover from his injury.
Want to read a fun fact? Over the last seven games, in which the Hornets are 5-2, LaMelo Ball is averaging 24.2 points, 7.6 assists, 6.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals per 36 minutes with 48.2/45.7/90.0 shooting splits, a 2.45 assist-to-turnover ratio and a 62.3 true shooting percentage. Not that anybody here didn’t already know this, but our future Rookie of the Year is incredibly good.