Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Grizzlies 99, Thunder 91 Post-Game Three-Pointer

Posted By on Wed, Oct 7, 2009 at 11:50 PM

The Grizzlies beat the Oklahoma City Thunder before a small but spirited crowd tonight to win their home preseason opener. I didn't intend to write this much about a preseason game. Really I didn't …

The Iverson Show: Debut delayed.
  • The Iverson Show: Debut delayed.
1. A.I. Out: The Grizzlies announced just before the game that Allen Iverson is expected to miss three weeks after an MRI revealed a partial tear in his left hamstring. Iverson gave a brief press conference prior to the game, saying that he hoped to be back for the last couple of preseason games. I have no particular reason to doubt the Grizzlies or Iverson here, but it's hard not to notice that we are exactly three weeks away from the regular-season opener.

This development taps into my own mixed feelings about the whole Iverson experiment: Here we are at the first home game of the season and the on-court action is obscured by a (minor) controversy regarding Iverson. It should be noted, however, that Iverson was on the bench with the team the whole game and was very animated in encouraging teammates (and questioning calls).

The primary question Iverson's absence raises is how it will impact his role on the team as the regular season begins. Most people I talked to at the Forum tonight expected Iverson to start the season coming off the bench. We shall see.

Sam Young: Hustle & Flow, for one game anyway.
  • Sam Young: Hustle & Flow, for one game anyway.
2. First Look at the Rooks: The most interesting thing about tonight's game was getting a first live look at the team's rookie class. It seems like it's impossible to have or hear a conversation about the Grizzlies right now without encountering some variation on the phrase "DeMarre Carroll is going to be a fan favorite." I believe that too, but tonight's game was more about second-year pick Sam Young.

Young finished with a game-high 22 points in 20 minutes, including 13-16 from the free-throw line. At some point in the third quarter, I wrote in my game notes, "He's a jump shot away from being a good role player." That might still be true, but right after I wrote it, he started making jumpers, first a mid-range shot off a surprising crossover, then a three-pointer.

Young is a strong, aggressive player who hustles and fights. My favorite sequence for Young tonight was when he got a steal and finished the breakaway with a windmill jam. The best part? He quickly hustled back down the floor and chased James Harden around screens, denying him a shot.

Young was mighty impressive in the second half tonight, but anyone getting too excited should think back to Darrell Arthur's 15 rebounds off the bench at Houston in last season's opener. It's one game.

As for Carroll, he impacted the game beyond his modest stat line, a phrase I might as well have ready to paste into most post-game reports this season. In one sequence in the first half, he guarded James Harden, a 6'5" guard, and D.J. White, a 6'9" power forward, on consecutive possessions. And effectively in both cases. Carroll looks like a player who'll be able to guard the two through four positions, depending on the match-up.

Hasheem Thabeet, as the second overall pick, is the rookie with the highest expectations, but fans are going to have to be patient with him. Thabeet's still wooden interior moves and weak upper body made it difficult for him to score against any semblance of physical defensive pressure, but he blocked a shot, grabbed some boards, finished a few easier offensive plays, and provided a reasonable defensive presence in his 25 minutes. It wasn't a bad performance given where he is developmentally.

Smooth on smooth.
  • Smooth on smooth.
3. Rudy vs. Durant: Both scoring-oriented small forwards from the Baltimore/D.C. area, Rudy Gay and Kevin Durant are prone to being compared, which is unfortunate for Gay since while he has all-star ability, Durant is a generational shotmaker destined for scoring titles. Still, I suspect we haven't seen all Gay can do. Tonight both players started but played only partial minutes, and both were efficient and effective scorers. Durant with 17 points on 9 field-goal attempts and Gay with 18 points on 10 field-goal attempts.

What was most promising from Gay was how intent he was on attacking the basket, especially early on, resulting in 9 free-throw attempts. The Grizzlies need Gay to use his physical gifts more — and not just to score. If this aggression carries over to the regular season, that will be a very good thing for Gay and the Grizzlies.

Shaun Livingston: Heavily braced but still skilled.
  • Shaun Livingston: Heavily braced but still skilled.
The Jacob Riis Report: The Thunder feature a couple of intriguing young bench players on the comeback trail in Shaun Livingston and D.J. White. An extremely talented big point guard whose preps-to-pros transition was derailed by nearly career-ending injuries, Livingston was briefly Grizzlies property last season when he came over from the Heat in one of the team's many accounting maneuvers. Maybe they should have kept him on the roster, because even in his physically diminished state, Livingston looks like a better option than the Grizzlies current bargain point-guard options — Marcus Williams and Mike Taylor.

Livingston did some nice things tonight, scoring 10 points on 5-7 shooting and dishing 3 assists in 26 minutes. He got up off the floor for a dunk in traffic, showing there's still at least a little life in those knees. He used his size advantage to block a Marcus Williams jumper and score on Mike Taylor in the post with a decisive drop-step.

As for White, he was a late first round pick last season, but missed most of his first season after a jaw injury. White doesn't have the size or talent to be more than a career backup, but he appears to be a tough, smart, charismatic player. I like him a lot as a role player. White came off the bench for 16 points on 8-13 shooting and showed good mid-range touch.


Deflections:

This is a picture of Trey Gilder (I think).
  • This is a picture of Trey Gilder (I think).
Skinny Trey Gilder looks like a bigger Tarrence Kinsey. The non-guaranteed former D-leaguer had some nice moments in limited minutes. There could be something here.

The officiating tonight was terrible. The referees' union would do well to use this game tape in negotiations.

After what was apparently a strong opening game, Mike Conley struggled tonight offensively, shooting 1-7 and missing badly on his 4 three-point attempts.

Steven Hunter looked quite alive in 11 minutes. He showed enough that I had daydreams of flipping his expiring deal to a contender looking for frontcourt depth and getting something — anything — useful in return.

Zach Randolph was active on the boards but a non-entity in the team's offense. A work in progress, like most everything else right now.

I was severely disappointed that Hamed Haddadi got barely more than a minute of run tonight.

Early on, the Grizzlies were looking to throw the ball ahead in transition, but not executing. First Marc Gasol bobbled a Conley pass. Then Gay's pass to streaking (okay, rumbling) Gasol got lost in traffic when he should have gone over top. The most revealing thing about these plays? That Gasol was in a position to make the play both times, a sign that he's running the floor more effectively.

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