This has to be one of the most disappointing teams in the league this season (at least to me), and it's hard to blame the loss of Kyle Lowry for six games, as the team has been even worse when he has been in the lineup.
But issues abound elsewhere. Ostensible top scoring option Andrea Bargnani is a seven-footer and former top overall draft pick shooting 40% from the floor. Swingman DeMar DeRozan is still generally the same low-efficiency scorer he was before his big contract extension. Rookie center Jonas Valanciunas is a very promising prospect but is still pretty raw. But the biggest issue is a team defense that has slipped from 12th to 22nd despite ostensible upgrades at point guard and center.
Three quicks thoughts in advance of tonight's game, with a mid-week column hopefully following later this afternoon.
1. The Return of Kyle Lowry: Former Griz guard Lowry, in his first season was Toronto, got off to a gangbusters start to the season before a bone bruise in his foot knocked him out for a couple of weeks. Upon return, he's still be dynamic, but hasn't been shooting well (36% post-injury). But Lowry has had some pretty good games in FedExForum since the team jettisoned him in favor of dedicating the job to Mike Conley (a decision I supported then and now, even if I didn't much like the return for Lowry). Conley should be back after missing Monday's game with the flu, so these two will go at it again.
2. Big Man Match-Ups: The Grizzlies have a quality advantage up front, but the match-ups could be interesting. The 20-year-old Valanciunas has been on an upswing, averaging 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks on 61% shooting over his past five games, but will face a considerable two-way challenge in the form of Marc Gasol. At power forward, it's a dramatic contrast in styles. Bargnani is a perimeter shooting big man who has been really effective lately — except for that 2-19 he threw up against the Spurs on Sunday. Zach Randolph isn't typically comfortably guarding that far out, so if Bargnani has his shot dropping, he could be a big factor — and could provide a good early test for the impact of a returning Darrell Arthur's defense. But Bargnani is also a really bad rebounder for his size and position — 4.7 a game —and soft if long defender, so Randolph could just as easily carve him up in the paint.
3. Stylistic Kryptonite?: As the Cleveland game on Monday showed, you can't take any games for granted in this league. One particular source of concern for the Grizzles is that Toronto, despite their early struggles, seems equipped to combat the Grizzlies trademark style, which is about getting extra possessions on the offensive boards and by forcing turnovers.
The Grizzlies are third in the NBA in offensive rebound rate, but the Raptors are a close fourth on the defensive end, falling from the #1 spot after a rough night in Houston. Valanciunas is a rebounding anchor in the middle, with Lowry and DeRozan probably the best defensive rebounding backcourt in the league. Wing role players Dominic McGuire and rookie Terrence Ross have also been strong in this area. Meanwhile, the Raptors have done a good job taking care of the ball, sitting at second in turnover rate.