Opponent: Memphis Grizzlies
Starting Lineup: Ja Morant – Dillon Brooks – Jae Crowder – Jaren Jackson Jr. – Jonas Valanciunas
Second Unit: Tyus Jones – Marko Guduric – Kyle Anderson – Solomon Hill - Brandon Clarke
Leading Scorer: Morant (19.1 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Valanciunas (8.9 RPG)
Leading Assists: Morant (6 APG)
Biggest Challenge: Transition defense
The Myles Turner/Domantas Sabonis frontcourt has been a work in progress to start the year, and one of the biggest areas of concern is their transition defense. The Grizzlies play at the sixth fastest pace in the NBA, and the number is even higher when rookie Morant is on the floor, who loves to push the ball in transition. Jackson is the ideal big for this type of offense as well. Since Turner will likely match up with Valanciunas so he can protect the paint, it will be up to Sabonis to get back on defense and defend Jackson. That’s a tough task for him.
Biggest Advantage: Big depth
The Indiana Pacers play three traditional bigs consistent minutes: Turner, Sabonis and Goga Bitadze. The Grizzlies play a similar dual-big lineup with Jackson and Valanciunas, but they have no other true centers on their lineup. They stagger Jackson and Valanciunas’ minutes and play Clarke at center in crunches. The problem with this is that Valanciunas can only be effective in short spurts, and Jackson fouls at one of the highest rates in the entire league. If the Pacers can get Jackson into foul trouble and force Valanciunas to play for long stretches, Sabonis and Turner could have big days.
The X-Factor: Malcolm Brogdon being healthy
As good as Morant is offensively, he is as big of a liability on defense. He may be able to hold his own against Aaron Holiday, who doesn’t control the game quite as well. But now that Brogdon is healthy? That is a major mismatch. Brogdon should be able to attack Morant on the pick-and-roll, and if all else fails, he has the size advantage to shoot over him and beat him in iso settings. The Pacers could’ve won this game without Brogdon, but they should be major favorites now that he’s cleared to play.
The Grizzlies are more than a bad team with some intriguing prospects. Morant and Jackson are future stars, and they have surrounded them with good NBA vets like Crowder, Valanciunas and Jones. They may not win a lot of games this year, especially in a loaded Western Conference, but they aren’t going to get blown out every night. They showed that Saturday night as they nearly knocked off the Los Angeles Lakers. They match up decently with Crowder on T.J. Warren and Jackson on Turner, but Sabonis should be able to get some buckets on Valanciunas and Brogdon will certainly have a big opportunity against Morant. Those will be the matchups to keep an eye on.