Opening night couldn't have gone much worse for the Grizzlies, who treated an announced crowd of 17,212 to Allen Iverson in street clothes and a blowout loss to an Eastern Conference team likely to join them in the lottery next summer.
"I'm disappointed for our team and our fans," coach Lionel Hollins said in his post-game press conference, and that about sums it up. Now, the Grizzlies will play a Toronto Raptors team Friday that won its opener tonight against Lebron James' Cleveland Cavaliers and then embark on a five-game road trip. 0-7 isn't hard to visualize.
But first, tonight's game:
1. Backcourt Annihilation: Detroit is a guard-oriented team this season and their deep backcourt rotation completely demolished their Grizzlies counterparts tonight.
The numbers: Detroit's group of Rip Hamilton, Rodney Stuckey, Ben Gordon, and Will Bynum combined to score 64 points on 25-47 shooting, with 15 assists and 4 turnovers. The Grizzlies' group of O.J. Mayo, Mike Conley, Marcus Williams, and Sam Young combined for 16 points on 5-27 shooting, with 5 assists and 8 turnovers.
That’s about as ugly as it can get in an NBA game. I wrote a post earlier this week about what kind of player Mayo might develop into, with "shooting specialist" one possibility. Among the handful of examples I used in that category were Hamilton and Gordon. Essentially, the Pistons might have two of the league's five best pure shooting guards, and they both got it going tonight. Mayo sure didn't look much like Hamilton or Gordon tonight. He was terrible on both ends, failing to hit a single outside shot, struggling mightily to finish at the rim, and getting torched on the defensive end. His backcourt partner Conley was less noticeably bad, but less noticeable period. His one explosive drive to the rim ended in a missed layup.
2. More Evidence for Iverson: The Grizzlies bench was an offensive wasteland tonight, seven players combining for 11 points on 4-22 shooting. The Pistons' Gordon scored as many points off the bench as the Griz reserves had field-goal attempts.
While some will point to Conley's play tonight as evidence Allen Iverson should be the team's starting point guard, I think it really underscores why Iverson should embrace the sixth-man role. This team desperately needs some kind of scoring punch off the bench. Starting Iverson and moving Conley to the bench won't accomplish that, but putting Iverson in that role will. Meanwhile, bringing Iverson off the bench will in no way preclude him from playing more minutes or closing out games if that's what's best for the team.
Players such as Ben Gordon, Jason Terry, Manu Ginobili, and Leandro Barbosa play this kind of role in the league. A healthy Iverson embracing it for the Grizzlies could be a huge boost.
3. The Center Pecking Order: It was funny to read over the summer and in the preseason out-of-town hoops scribes writing about this team in the context of Hasheem Thabeet as the starting center. It was understandable, given that the team used a #2 overall pick on the UCONN center, but I couldn't imagine him playing ahead of Marc Gasol this season. Tonight's game only underscores the gulf between the two.
Gasol was the best player on the floor for the Grizzlies tonight, taking advantage of good match-ups (the Pistons foolishly put Charlie Villanueva on him for stretches) to amass 21 points and 15 rebounds on 6-9 shooting (9-11 from the line), playing hard every second he was on the floor, even with a big deficit late. Gasol has problems defensively that the Pistons were not equipped to exploit and will never put up numbers like this consistently. But one of the good things about him is that he'll exploit good match-ups and settle into a productive secondary role when those match-ups aren’t there. He's a skilled, smart, hard-nosed team player and his presence was one of the reasons I thought drafting Thabeet was a huge mistake: Reaching for raw size high in the draft is usually a mistake. Doing so when you already have a terrific young center on your roster is bewildering.
Gasol will likely start and average 30-plus minutes all season. As for Thabeet, well, he may not be as good as Hamed Haddadi or Steven Hunter right now. Thabeet's NBA debut produced a stat line of 0 points, 2 rebounds, and 0 blocks in 12 minutes. The argument with Thabeet, of course, is that he alters and discourages shots, providing valuable defense that doesn't show up statistically. But even to the degree that's true — and I think it's a shaky argument at this stage of Thabeet's development — how much of an impact does that make against an opponent beating you almost entirely with jump shots?
Haddadi got six minutes in the second half and was better than Thabeet. He's not much yet and may never be, but right now he's more aggressive, more alert, and even more fluid an athlete than the team's #2 pick.
The Jacob Riis Report: Charlie Villanueva sure didn't look like a good free-agent signing tonight. He was abused in the paint by the Grizzlies whenever he was on the floor and didn't use his perimeter skills to exploit his half of the mismatch, ending up with 7 points and 1 rebound in 17 minutes. I'd like Villanueva a lot more if paired with a strong defensive center, but I'm not sure how great a fit he really is with this current Pistons team.
The Grizzlies rookie class had a rough, rough debut, the trio of Thabeet, Young, and DeMarre Carroll combining for 2 points on 0-10 shooting and not much else to speak of. Carroll stepped onto the floor in his NBA debut and was asked to guard Rip Hamilton, who promptly dropped two jumpers on him. After the game, Lionel Hollins expressed disappointment about what he called the rookies' "deer in the headlights" debut. Asked what he's told them about the transition to the NBA, Hollins said, "I tell them there are guys in the NBA who aren't stars and they'll kick your butt. You won't even know who they are."
Speaking of deflections, the Grizzlies had only five tonight as a team, according to Hollins.
American Idol grad Lil Rounds did a nice job on the anthem tonight. Three 6 Mafia not so much during the introductions.
One of the best things about Twitter? Making the fourth quarter of NBA blowouts bearable.