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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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GRITGRINDGRIZZ: First impressions of new-look Grizzlies? Promising

If NBA preseason games are generally meaningless affairs, they can seem even more trivial when they come against non-NBA competition. At least against other NBA teams, you begin to see how your roster will stack up against the level of competition they’ll see in the regular season.

This week, the new-look Grizzlies handily defeated two international squads: Maccabi Haifa and SkySport New Zealand Breakers. Both games were blowouts essentially decided in the first quarter.

So: Yay, winning. But what can we take away from the Memphis Grizzlies’ domination of non-NBA talent?

I’ll give it a shot:

Ja Morant elevates to block a shot against Maccabi Haifa on Oct. 6. (Photo: Lee Eric Smith)

Ja Morant: Of course, people want to know if the hype around the No. 2 overall pick is real. That hasn’t shown up just yet in the scoring column; Morant has just 14 points in the two games, including just four points against the Breakers. But fear not: You won’t be able to take your eyes off him when the regular season starts.

Unlike any Grizz PG in recent memory, Morant aggressively attacks the basket off the dribble. And once in the paint, you’ll see why people rave about his court vision – he zips passes to open shooters through passing lanes that don’t seem to exist when the ball leaves his hands.

If it’s like this two preseason games in, you can only imagine how it will be as Morant learns his teammates’ tendencies and spots. As he finds his NBA scoring touch and gets more comfortable, he’ll be a human highlight reel.

Jaren Jackson Jr. finishes through contact against Maccabi Haifa on Oct. 6. Photo: Lee Eric Smith)

Jaren Jackson Jr.: Poor guy. A new hotshot rookie point guard shows up and suddenly Jackson seems like old news – even in his second year.

That is until he averages 18.5 points and 8.5 rebounds on these first two opponents – in less than 20 minutes each game.

Unlike Morant, we already KNOW Jackson can do this against NBA competition. Just keep up the work big fella.

Let it FLY!: Remember back when the Grizzlies didn’t even TRY to shoot threes?

No more. In these first two games, Memphis has attemped a whopping 58 three-pointers. Head Coach Taylor Jenkins is implementing a “five-out” offense that finally modernizes the Grizzlies offensive repertoire. But it only works if you make them.

Memphis is averaging just under 40 percent from the arc so far. And even more encouraging is everyone is in on it so far – Jae Crowder, Grayson Allen, Bruno Caboclo, Jackson, Tyus Jones have all made at least two threes.

Will that hold up in the regular season? Who knows? But finally having capable shooters and an offense that caters to creating shots should mean Memphis will be at least respectable from the arc.

We’ll see how the Grizzlies do against NBA competition when the Charlotte Hornets come to Memphis on Oct. 14. But if you’ve been reluctant to hop on the bandwagon, I’ll just put it this way:

It looks like it’s safe to believe, Memphis.

R.J. Hampton bets on himself

R.J. Hampton skipped the NCAA to play professionally in New Zealand. Photo: Lee Eric Smith)

Tuesday’s game featured a poster child for the “alternate path to the NBA:” R.J. Hampton.

Top high school prospect Hampton considered joining your Memphis Tigers at one point, but instead chose to skip college altogether, signing professionally with the Breakers.

That meant that Hampton – along with as many as 80 NBA scouts who had checked out James Wiseman during Pro Day at the University of Memphis – were at FedExForum for the Grizzlies’ exhibition matchup with the Breakers.

The 18-year-old Hampton, who would be a senior in high school this year but for being reclassified to graduate last spring, had a dismal night playing against NBA competition, scoring just two points and dishing one assist. Knowing scouts look at things differently, I’m wondering what their takeaways were.

But Hampton reminds me that in ways we never imagined, “professional athlete” is now a legitimate career path. In his case, if nothing else, he’s likely already earning “change your life” money in New Zealand – even before coming to the NBA.

That career path may not fulfill one’s NBA hoop dreams. But could you make a comfortable life for yourself playing basketball internationally? Absolutely. And that’s not counting other occupations around pro-sports: Coaching, training, management, marketing, broadcast . . .

So if you’re going to “major” in professional basketballing, you want to go where you’ll be best prepared to get a job. The University of Memphis has assembled arguably the best “faculty” in America – enough to woo Wiseman, Precious Achiuwa and Boogie Ellis.

Instead, Hampton wanted to start earning right away – and that’s how he landed in New Zealand.

We likely won’t know if Hampton made the right choice for years to come. A lot could go sideways between now and the NBA Draft – an injury, mainly – that could limit or prematurely end Hampton’s NBA dreams. Then again, he could get hurt even if he was playing college ball.

That’s why it wasn’t a bad move for Hampton to go pro half a world away. He was in a position to start a job in his dream line of work right away – getting generously paid to do what he loves.

It’s not shortsighted; it’s smart. It’s savvy. It’s the kind of thing a professional would do.

NBA Cares . . . about China

Last week, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong protestors, who have been demonstrating for sovereignty for weeks now. Supporting a people’s movement for democracy? It’s an American thing to do.

But it ain’t a Chinese government thing to do. After pulling preseason games from Chinese TV, the latest is that all of the NBA’s official partners in China have suspended ties with the league – which will have significant financial repercussions.

After some early waffling on whether the NBA would prioritize profit over free speech and democracy, Commissioner Adam Silver expressed support for Morey’s right to expression.

“The NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say,” Silver said in a statement.

I can understand and even appreciate the business motives for the NBA being very cautious in dealing with China. And the entire situation (specifically the protests in Hong Kong) is WAY more nuanced than I can explain here, but I will add this:

The very fact that Daryl Morey can express his view and reasonably expect to not be hurt, jailed or killed – we act like that’s normal. And it is, for us.  It’s easy for us to throw around words like “freedom” and “democracy” here, where it’s safe.

But you can’t do that in Hong Kong. It could cost you everything – including your life and/or the lives of those you love.

So regardless of what side the NBA comes down on here, remember that people are putting their lives on the line – in pursuit of the freedoms many of us take for granted.

GRIND ON . . .

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