The Grizzlies opened their preseason with a win tonight over Spanish League franchise Real Madrid, playing something close to a regular-season rotation and looking further along than perhaps they ever have this early in the process.
I had been hearing more positive, early chatter from team insiders than I can ever remember, and you could see why.
“Yes, we are further along,” Lionel Hollins acknowledged after the game. “That's what happens when you have continuity and a core group that's been together.”
In lieu of the traditional regular-season post-game notebook style, a few quick observations from tonight:
Starters looking sharp: All five Grizzlies starters looked ready for primetime, both individually and as a unit.
Zach Randolph's increased quickness and lift was evident during his pre-game shooting routine and carried over into the game, where he twice pinned a taller defender under the rim and finished easily over him.
After the game, Randolph was so bouncy and animated it seemed like he was ready to play another game immediately. I told him he looked like he was back to his pre-injury form. He smiled, put his finger to his lips and said, “Shh. It's a secret. It's coming. I'm getting back to the old Z'Bo.”
Tony Allen looked fine physically coming off his summer knee surgery, though he told me after the game, with both knees packed in ice, that he'd have a better feel for things in the morning.
Rudy Gay (game-high 27 points on 11-18 shooting) scored easily, in the flow and all over the court, while handling and moving the ball at a higher level than has been his norm.
And Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, in particular, looked in top form, both in terms of conditioning and sharpness. Gasol dominated the defensive boards and was decisive on offense (16-16-6 stat line), while Conley (18-5-8) seemed quicker than ever despite adding a little more bulk over the summer.
With Randolph and Gay adding 6 and 3 assists, respectively, the starting five played with great chemistry.
“What I liked was that group doing things on their own that we haven't talked about [in practice] yet,” Hollins said.
Paint-focused offense: Stylistically, this was classic Grizzlies offense, as the Grizzlies shot 35/51 in the paint and 4/10 from three-point range. While the Grizzlies need to be a better three-point shooting team this season, being more efficient is probably more important than being more prolific. This will still be a post-oriented team.
Regular-season rotation: Playing the Spanish League Real Madrid, Hollins decided to approach tonight's game with a regular-season rotation, and will likely shift into a more typical pre-season rotation in the next few games.
This approach showcased several wrinkles that hint at how players may be used in the regular season. Though Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter may play at point guard and small forward, respectively, as primary positions, Hollins played each for spurts at shooting guard to buy them a little more time. The result was full rotation minutes — 23 minutes for Bayless, 17 for Pondexter — while newcomer Wayne Ellington (8 minutes) was used as more of a spot-minute option. I think that kind of usage in the regular season is likely.
Rudy Gay got quite a bit of run as a small-ball power forward. While I think we'll see some of that in the regular season, the expected return of Darrell Arthur sometime next month will limit Gay's minutes at the four.
By my count, the team played Conley and Bayless together in the backcourt for 10 minutes and was even in terms of plus/minus, albeit against a team that lacked the personnel to really exploit that backcourt's lack of size. Bayless didn't have much of a stat line (1-6 shooting, 1 assist), but had only one turnover in 23 minutes and the team seemed comfortable when he had the ball. One preseason game into his Grizzlies career, Bayless is obviously still finding his way, but is looking like the team's truest “sixth man” in terms of minutes and the importance of his role.
DNPs: Summer-league stars Tony Wroten and Josh Selby didn't see the floor. Selby, nursing a sprained ankle, wasn't available. Wroten was, but didn't play. I suspect that will change going forward this pre-season.