Despite the explosive first-half exploits of top overall pick Blake Griffin, the Memphis Grizzlies summer squad beat the Los Angeles Clippers team 85-68 to move to 3-0 so far during their five-game Las Vegas Summer League run.
My player-by-player notes:
DeMarre Carroll: Let's start with the good news. Late-first-round pick Carroll continues to impress, registering 16 points (7-9 shooting) and 3 rebounds in 32 minutes. Carroll seems to play with a relentless pace, consistent intensity, and defensive mindset reminiscent of James Posey and Shane Battier during the Grizzlies' 50-win season. Only seconds into the game, Carroll was already hitting the floor going after a loose ball. And he made those kinds of plays throughout the game, saving a ball to a teammate while falling out of bounds, swooping from out of the frame to pick off a pass, disrupting the Clippers offensive with quick, aggressive defensive rotations, getting offensive rebounds and contested putback buckets, etc.
Carroll scored many of his points in transition (in one case on a breakaway after his own steal). And what seems to make Carroll so effective in the open court isn't his pure speed. It's that while everyone else on the court is running, he's racing.
What makes Carroll more promising is that there seems to be enough skill to go with his effort. After a couple of early misses (including a Shane Battier Memorial Baseline Jumper — gotta hit those!), Carroll found his stroke, hitting a pull-up jumper in transition and even a floater off the dribble. And his ball-handling again looked solid. If this summer-league is any indication, the Grizzlies search for a good back-up small forward is over, to say the least. More than that, one hopes that the intensity Carroll brings to the game (in conjunction with holdover Marc Gasol, who will enjoy having him around) will rub off on teammates.
Hasheem Thabeet: On the other hand … Another discouraging performance from the #2 overall pick. Thabeet registered 7 points (1-3 shooting) and 3 rebounds in 30 minutes while picking up 5 turnovers and 7 personal fouls. Thabeet's zero blocks may be a scoring error, as I marked down at least one in my game notes. If anyone needs to pay attention to Carroll, it's Thabeet, who appears to be far too laconic on the court.
Offensively, Thabeet is a disaster when asked to create shots, as his 5 turnovers attest. His slow reactions and weak upper body make him susceptible to defensive pressure — never mind the zero assists; I actually think more of Thabeet's passes landed out of bounds than in the hands of teammates. And when he does get a shot off in the post, he's been mechanical and ineffective. Thabeet's only field goal in this game was an open 15 footer. Given that he's also shown good free-throw form, perhaps mid-range shooting is an aspect of Thabeet's game that needs to be aggressively developed. Perhaps he can be effective if asked only to score off catch-and-dunk or catch-and-shoot setups rather than be forced to make decisions with the ball or create offense one-on-one.
Because Thabeet's offensive game is so raw and his rebounding — until the effort kicks in more — so ordinary, his value right now is predicated almost entirely on his defensive impact. And it should be noted that the Grizzlies are 3-0 in these games with all three opponents shooting 37% or under. In my notes for Game 3 (unlike Game 2, frankly), I made several notations about shots Thabeet had visibly altered.
Ultimately, Thabeet's raw offense can be forgiven (for now) if the defensive effort is there. Thabeet has the ability to impact the game significantly on that end, but even there the effort and focus seems to waver. Late in the game, there were multiple possessions in which a Griz defender (Carroll in one instance) funneled a ballhandler to the baseline only for Thabeet to be late rotating over to challenge the shot.
Darrell Arthur: Arthur had a disappointing game offensively, scoring 10 points on 4-10 shooting and missing several of the mid-range jumpers that absolutely have to become a reliable weapon for him. On the plus side, his activity was again good, registering a team-high 8 rebounds, and he did a very nice job defending Blake Griffin in the first half. Griffin scored on alley-oops and putbacks, but when he tried to attack Arthur directly in halfcourt sets, Arthur contained him, shutting off his driving lanes (in one case forcing a travel) and contesting his shots.
Sam Young: Young rebounded somewhat from a subpar Game 2, with 11 points and 6 rebounds on 3-8 shooting, hitting his first three-point attempt of the summer. Young's astounding ball-fake continues to work and he was effective in transition again. Unfortunately, the Clippers didn't play rising second-year guard Eric Gordon, which would have given Young a good defensive test.
Hamed Haddadi: Haddadi had 2 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 blocks in only 10 minutes of play. Once again, his defensive presence was a clear strength but his labored offense kills him.
Marcus Williams: Once again, the free-agent guard looked better in the box score (22 points and 5 assists, including 16-20 from the free-throw line) than on the court, where his pass happy Game 1 play now seems like a distant memory. Williams is certainly not a ridiculous option for a cheap back-up point guard, but surely the Griz could do better.