Suns, Grizzlies rookies square off for first time
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Top-four draft picks Deandre Ayton and Jaren Jackson Jr. meet as NBA rookies for the first time in what could become a Western Conference rivalry when the Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies duel on Saturday night.
Ayton, who played at Arizona, and Jackson, who starred at Michigan State, didn't meet in their one-and-done college careers, which ended for both in shocking losses in the first week of the NCAA Tournament.
The Suns and Grizzlies wrestled for the worst record in the NBA last season, with Phoenix (21-61) gaining that distinction over Memphis (22-60) by one game.
That one-game difference turned out to be critical at the NBA Draft Lottery, where the Suns, favored to get the No. 1 pick, had the ping-pong balls bounce their way. The Grizzlies, who had the second-best chance of winning the big prize, wound up with the fourth selection.
The Suns chose Ayton, who already has made his mark in the NBA as the league's 21st youngest player (20 years, 96 days). He has three double-doubles in four games, including two in a row against Golden State and the Los Angeles Lakers in which he scored at least 20 points in each.
"He has a lot of talent," LeBron James observed after the Lakers' 131-113 win over the Suns on Wednesday night. "He is going to continue to get better. They chose right."
Despite Ayton's presence, the Suns have lost three in a row, all by at least 18 points. All three opponents scored at least 119 points.
Jackson, meanwhile, began his rookie season as the NBA's second-youngest player (19 years, 42 days) and has started a bit slower than his rival. He had 24 points in Memphis' home win over Atlanta last week but was held to an average of 11.7 points in the Grizzlies' three road games.
The best is yet to come, Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff declared.
"We've been together a short amount of time, but in no situation have I seen a moment that's been too big for him," Bickerstaff said. "He's never been too (excited). He's never been too low. Whatever it is that's in front of him, he just attacks it head-on, and for a guy who just turned 19 years old to do that already speaks to his character."
The Suns won three of four from the Grizzlies last season, but Memphis is off to the better start this time around. The Grizzlies demonstrated they might be a far better team than last year's record would indicate with a 92-84 win at Utah on Sunday.
In a season in which scoring has gone through the roof, the Grizzlies remain a defensive-minded team, ranking third in the NBA in average points allowed at 102.3.
At the other end of the court, however, they've been held to 92 or fewer points three times.
The only time they've scored in triple figures was in their 131-117 win over Atlanta in their only home game to date. Garrett Temple erupted for 30 points in his Grizzlies debut and Jackson posted his season best with 24.
Triple-digit scoring was the key to Memphis' limited success against Phoenix last season. The Grizzlies' lone win came in a 120-109 shootout at home, and they averaged just 98.3 points in their three losses.
Updated October 26, 2018