Perimeter defense on Desmond Bane and De'Anthony Melton is the make-or-break factor
In the Spurs' last two matchups with the Grizzlies, both of which ended in losses, Desmond Bane and De'Anthony Melton shot a combined 14-of-24 from three-- a very impressive 59 percent. Bane and Melton are by far the Grizzlies' best 3-point shooters, shooting 43 percent and 42 percent on the year respectively. While Valanciunas and Jackson, Jr. are both already relatively well-known around the league, Bane and Melton are the Grizzlies' real secret weapons.
Considering that a few of this year's more popular rookies have had a lot of media attention, Desmond Bane has gone more or less under the radar in the grander scheme of things. That said, for being the 30th overall pick, he's been a steal for the Grizzlies. At one point a few months ago, he was leading the league in 3-point shooting percentage (and is still the leading rookie), and just recently, Zach Lowe named him as one of his picks for First Team All-Rookie.
De'Anthony Melton, on the other hand, seemingly came out of nowhere, as he's a second-round pick that's already been traded twice in his short career. While he is sized more like a point guard, he plays more like an undersized shooting guard for the Grizzlies coming off the bench, oftentimes playing with another point guard on the floor.
For those who love to pay attention to advanced statistics, Melton is somewhat of a star in his own right, frequently being referred to as "the best player you've never heard of," or just as a flat-out anomaly. Considering how he's played this season, it's understandable as to why.
Melton is consistently highly ranked among the league in box score plus-minus, improved his 3-point shooting percentage by nearly 13 percent from last season to this season on close to double the number of attempts, and holds his own on defense despite his size.
Personally, I can live with giving up some easy buckets to Jonas Valanciunas or Jaren Jackson, Jr. if the Spurs are forced to give up a few shots somewhere. But if Bane and Melton are able to shoot the ball even close to the level that they did in their past two meetings with the Spurs, the game could be over before it even starts.
Paying particular attention to those two on the perimeter, perhaps in addition to Grayson Allen, will be critical for the Spurs in pulling out a win and moving onto face the Lakers or Warriors in the second play-in game.