The big day is finally here, as the Timberwolves will tip off against the second seeded Memphis Grizzlies at 2:30pm CST. For a full preview of the X’s and O’s of this series, our guy Jack Borman posted a great primer yesterday.
Ahead of the opening tip, I wanted to help myself and our readers get more familiar with the Timberwolves opponent, I asked Parker Fleming, the Associate Editor over at Grizzly Bear Blues to answer a few questions for me.
Dillon Brooks was injured for most of the season, and missed each of the meetings between the Wolves and Grizzlies. How has he looked since returning, and how does his presence change things for Memphis?
Parker: Dillon Brooks has looked pretty solid in his return. Prior to this season, and for a bit of last season, he was put in situations where he was forced to take on a bigger scoring load. Now, as other players are finding their games offensively, he’s become more controlled and methodical getting to his spots to create offense for himself or for others.
Where his presence is really felt is on the defensive side of the ball. Last year, he should’ve been on an All-Defense team with how he took on these All-Star assignments with flying colors for a top-10 defense — but I digress. He changes things for Memphis in that he just makes life easier for his teammates with his role assignment. He’s not the go-to scorer or anything, but he shifts the defense with his downhill attack to the mid-range, and he alleviates some of that offensive load off of Ja Morant and Desmond Bane.
Defensively, he guards the other team’s best dudes, allowing Bane — or Ziaire Williams or De’Anthony Melton — to take on the secondary assignment and use some of that energy towards the offensive end. It will be extremely fascinating to see whether he takes Anthony Edwards or D’Angelo Russell most of the time. And finally, he’s referred to as the “spirit leader” and “head of the snake for this team.” This team already plays with a lot of audacious swagger, and Brooks just takes it over the top.
Jaren Jackson Jr. has seemingly taken a big leap this year, especially on the defensive end. What should Wolves fans know about his growth this season heading into this series?
Parker: Jaren Jackson Jr.’s growth really comes on the defensive side of the ball. The Grizzlies went from the 30th-ranked defense after the first month of the season — around the time the Wolves actually thrashed them in November — to the 6th-ranked defense to close the season; that’s a testament to a lot of things, but the biggest one is Jackson’s impact. He can traditionally anchor the defense as the 5, as the Grizzlies give up 106.8 points per 100 possessions with him at the center (92nd percentile, per Cleaning the Glass). However, he can also play the 4 and roam around the perimeter to take on big wings. He can also switch onto guards in pick-and-roll situations, and actually stick with him. He should be a Defensive Player of the Year finalist, and definitely on the All-Defense First Team. His offense hasn’t changed much; his percentages have actually fallen. His ability to score inside and out though still makes him a threat.
Memphis is a remarkably deep team, but playoff rotations naturally tighten up compared to the regular season. Which players off of Memphis’ bench would you expect to earn regular rotation minutes?
Parker: It’s going to be tricky. I can see the Grizzlies going 10-deep. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. If it shortens to 8, the 3 bench guys that deserve those minutes are Brandon Clarke, Tyus Jones, and De’Anthony Melton. If it goes to 9 players, it should be between Kyle Anderson and Ziaire Williams. They have a lot of guys that can add value in different ways, and excluding any of these 5 players from the rotation takes something away from the Grizzlies’ attack. The “happy medium” would be to go 10 in the first half, and then slice the rotation to 7-8 guys for the second half.
If there’s a nitpick to Memphis’ overall profile, it’s probably their half-court offense. If the game does slow down, how confident are you in the Grizzlies ability to execute in the half-court offensively?
Parker: I’d probably say I’m pretty confident. The team’s 3-point shooting has improved recently, as they’re shooting 38% from 3 since February (5th in the league). Getting Dillon Brooks back to create in the mid-range helps too. Obviously, having the league’s best paint scorer in Ja Morant is a massive plus too, and the fact that he’s a wicked passer too only makes him more dynamic. They’ve been able to alleviate their halfcourt woes with second-chance opportunities. It’s not like Steven Adams won’t grab rebounds in the playoffs. He should (respectfully) feast against a team that surrenders a lot of offensive rebounds. But then again, the Grizzlies are the only playoff team ranked in the bottom-10 in halfcourt offense that excludes putbacks.
Finally, and most importantly, when do we get the first double-technical called on Patrick Beverley and Dillon Brooks? Can they make it past tip-off on Saturday?
Parker: A minute and 30 seconds into Game 1. The real question is, how many double technicals do Pat Beverley and Dillon Brooks get? Is the O/U at 5.5?
You can find Parker on Twitter at @PAKA_FLOCKA.