With both teams coming off 22-win seasons, the Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves were hoping to solidify their futures when they pulled off a late-night, blockbuster trade after last summer’s draft.
Neither club has truly started to reap the benefits yet, but the early results have been significantly better for one of them.
Rookie scoring leader O.J. Mayo will hope to show the Timberwolves and their fans what they could have had when his Grizzlies visit a woeful Minnesota team on Monday.
When the rebuilding Timberwolves drafted Mayo with the third overall pick last June, they were briefly crowded at the shooting guard spot, with Randy Foye and Rashad McCants already expected to play big minutes.
“We felt it was a chance to take a player who we had ranked as the third best player in the draft,” Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said at the time. “That I think almost all the league felt was third behind (Michael) Beasley and (Derrick) Rose. And if anybody has the chance to break in and have the type of impact in the NBA that Rose and Beasley seem certain to have, it would be O.J. Mayo.”
Thus far, Mayo has outscored the two players picked before him, leading all rookies with 20.1 points per game and creating a strong scoring duo with forward Rudy Gay (19.6 ppg).
The former Southern California star had 29 points on Saturday, when the Grizzlies (10-20) pushed host San Antonio to two overtimes before losing 106-103. Memphis had stopped a four-game losing streak with a 108-105 win over Indiana on Friday, but it fell just short in the upset bid against the Spurs.
“I hope this game brings us closer as a team. I hope the pain draws us together,” Memphis coach Marc Iavaroni said. “We’re getting there, but we’re not there.”
Love has begun his Timberwolves career in disappointing fashion, shooting 38.7 percent and averaging 7.5 points and 7.8 rebounds, and Miller has missed the last three games with an ankle injury.
Minnesota (5-24) has taken a step back with its dismal start. The Timberwolves finally snapped a 13-game losing streak with Friday’s 120-107 win at New York, but any good feelings quickly dissolved in a 118-94 home loss to Orlando Saturday.
They led at halftime against the Magic, but were outscored 65-39 in the final 24 minutes.
“We’ve got to be able to lock in for 48 minutes. Everybody has to do their jobs. … It’s just going to be an ongoing process that they’ve got to get better at,” coach Kevin McHale said. “We almost feel sorry for ourselves. We’re missing easy shots, missing free throws, missing a lot of stuff. That is part of the game. That shouldn’t affect your defense. We’ve got to get past that.”
Al Jefferson has again been one of the few bright spots for Minnesota, averaging a double-double with 22.1 points and 10.2 rebounds.
Both teams have struggled defensively this season, with their opponents shooting above 47 percent from the field—ranking both clubs in the league’s bottom six in that category.
While the Grizzlies are 2-12 on the road this season, Minnesota has the same record at home, losing its last nine there.
After splitting four meetings overall and two at the Target Center in 2007-08, this game will be the teams’ first matchup this season.