More information has come across the Twitter transom today about a contract extension for Griz wing Quincy Pondexter—the extension that was reportedly "unlikely" just last week. First was this report last night from the Commercial Appeal's Ron Tillery:
Griz expected to sign Pondexter to a 4-year extension tomorrow before deadline, per source. Ed Davis unlikely because sides are far apart— Ronald Tillery (@CAGrizBeat) October 31, 2013
Later this morning, Chris Haynes of Comcast SportsNet NW reported in a tweet that the deal to which Pondexter has been signed is for 4 years, $14 million. If that's the case, that's somewhat less than Pondexter was widely anticipated to sign for. Most estimates had the deal being for at least two or three million more.
The extension of Pondexter comes on the heels of his great showing in last year's Western Conference Finals, and his continued development coming into the preseason this year. It's clear that Pondexter still hasn't reached the ceiling of his game, and has room to improve even more over the next four years. And, if not, this contract is certainly a good deal for the Grizzlies, and it's not likely to cause any salary cap issues going forward.
As for Davis, I think it's safe to say that the Grizzlies haven't seen enough from him yet this season—preseason games and one real game in which he played eight minutes—to know whether they wanted to commit to him at whatever price his representatives were asking. If Davis has a great year, that will turn out to be bad for the Grizzlies' hopes of keeping him. If he doesn't, it'll probably turn out to have been the right call.
If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen this tonight:
That's a real stat, by the way. The Grizzlies have not won their season opener since 2000, and it was in Vancouver over the Sonics 94-88.
— Kevin Lipe (@FlyerGrizBlog) October 31, 2013
The Memphis Grizzlies (playing on the road) also scored 94 points in their season opener, but unfortunately for them, the San Antonio Spurs scored 101, dashing whatever hopes the Grizzlies had for an undefeated season. It was a rematch of last year's Western Conference Finals that played out exactly like last year's Western Conference Finals, with the Grizzlies coming out strong, playing with a lot of heart, but ultimately cut off at the knees by their own inability to make a basket.
The Grizzlies scored seven points in the second quarter, and watching it live, it felt like they didn't score any. Let us never speak of this again.
It's hard to know exactly what to take away from the game, given that it was so similar to last year. It's why I'm not really a fan of these playoff rematch season openers. This game played out exactly like last year's Spurs series. Last year's season opener against the Clippers had the same horrible, headache-inducing stressy vibe of the 2012 Clippers playoff series. It's supposed to be a new season and a new start, but when you begin it by playing the guys you ended it playing, it's hard for the game to not take on some of the same psychological and emotional overtones, the same feel, the same energy. That's as hippie as I'll get about it, but suffice it to say the Grizzlies had not figured out a way to get past the Spurs, and the Spurs followed pretty much the same game plan they used in the Conference Finals to get past the Grizzlies.
No, not the cheeseburger-and-tequila-fueled funeral dirge Neil Young album—tonight the Grizzlies are in San Antonio to face the Spurs to open the 2013-14 regular season with a rematch of last year's Western Conference Finals.
You may remember that that series ended in a 4-0 San Antonio sweep, as the Grizzlies ran into a buzzsaw of a team that (1) was determined to get back to the NBA Finals if it killed them and (2) completely prepared to take away every single advantage last year's model Grizzlies had over their opponents. The Spurs identified which Griz wings weren't perimeter threats, and simply left them completely open from long range while they crowded the interior and kept the Grizzlies' interior-oriented game from happening. It was brilliant strategic basketball, and the Grizzlies—whether it was through coaching strategy or simply the player-by-player matchups—were seemingly helpless to stop it from happening to them.
It felt like the Grizzlies were playing with house money at that point, anyway. No one expected them to get to the Conference Finals, and while I won't say that Russell Westbrook's injury is the only reason they made it past the Thunder (Scott Brooks' insistence on playing Zach Randolph's best friend Kendrick Perkins sure helped), they certainly caught some lucky breaks, as all teams must do to make it that far into the postseason. They went farther into the postseason than any Grizzlies team in franchise history (and, you have to remember, this is the only Grizzlies core lineup that's ever even won a playoff game to begin with).
The Grizzlies are coming in to tonight's game against the Spurs with a new head coach (though not someone with whom they're unfamiliar), with a completely overhauled bench, with at least one guy known around the league—especially known to these San Antonio Spurs—for his three-point abilities, with a new attitude on offense (that is, get into sets quickly and run everything through Mike Conley and Marc Gasol), and with every reason in the world to think that This Is The Year.
It's the year that they go to the NBA Finals, or they end up retooling for the next couple of years of the future. That's all. Not like there are any stakes or anything.
But none of those stakes apply to tonight. Tonight is just the first of 82 games, the beginning of a long journey. It's not make-or-break time tonight, though it feels a bit like a referendum: "Can they get past the Spurs now?" But don't make that mistake. The Spurs are going to be around at the end of the year, and so are the Grizzlies. They're going to play each other three more times before the playoffs. Tonight is important, especially as a tone-setter for the Grizzlies' tough month of November, but a little perspective will fend off the howling fantods of "oh my goodness they're going to be terrible this year" that will inevitably start popping up in comment sections if things go poorly for the Grizzlies tonight.
That said, it's a big game. And big games require talking points. So here are some things to watch for tonight.
Most obviously, the thing that sunk the Grizzlies against the Spurs last year was the lack of space in the lane—space that can only be created when the defense has to respect the shooters on the perimeter. When Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince were on the floor together in last year's WCF, the Grizzlies struggled maintain spacing for Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol to operate. It certainly didn't help that Prince's effective field goal percentage (eFG%) was .380 and Allen's was .375, and it was that crowded lane that contributed to Zach Randolph going 16-53 for the series, meaning basically 30%.
Let me put it this way: the Spurs showed the league how to beat the Grizzlies. If the Grizzlies aren't able to flip the script this year, and force other teams' defenses to stretch out a little more and give the inside game room to operate, they're not going to be able to beat the best defensive teams in the league on a regular basis. Not unless the offense really has been retooled from the ground up. The Marc Gasol/Zach Randolph high-low (broken down excellently here by SB Nation's Mike Prada) doesn't work if neither guy can move.
On the other end of the floor, the Spurs' offensive rating—number of points per 100 possessions—for the Conference Finals was 108.9, meaning they were able to score very efficiently against the Grizzlies' world-famous (and rightly so) defense. That's what the Spurs do: they find a weakness and they pick at it until their opponent collapses. Against the Grizzlies, Tony Parker pick-and-rolled Zach Randolph to death, knowing he was probably the weakest link on the floor at guarding Parker. If the first P&R didn't work, they ran another one. If that one didn't work, they reset and ran another one. And so on, and so on, ad infinitum until the big fella was too worn out to back down Tiago Splitter on the other end of the floor. The Grizzlies are going to have to contain Parker if they're going to beat the Spurs.
My hope is that last year's Conference Finals were a master class for Mike Conley in how he can grow his game and take his career to the next level. Parker's quickness allows him to do things that Conley could also do. Becoming more Parker-like is a way that Conley can bring these new Conley/Gasol-focused Grizzlies to the Promised Land, and that starts tonight.
All in all, it should be an interesting game—on that serves as a good barometer for where both of these teams stand at the opening of the season, but not a final judgement on what they'll be able to accomplish over the next 81 games. We're going to learn a lot about how the Grizzlies have evolved over the offseason by seeing them face off the same team we saw them play last. Tonight's the night we get to see real basketball for the first time since May.
Basketball season is finally upon us, and I can't wait—but I feel like there are some things we need to talk about first.
I've been trying to figure out how best to address the Grizzlies' final two preseason games in these pages—you know, the two where the Grizzlies looked lethargic, disinterested, and unorganized, and got beaten by the Raptors by 36 and the Rockets by 19—but here's the thing: I have no idea how much weight to assign a preseason game. The whole preseason for the Grizzlies has felt like an extended training camp, where the Grizzlies have been, whether due to injuries and illnesses or on purpose, running out whatever seems like it might be a good idea at the time.
We've seen crazy lineups—Conley, Bayless, Calathes, Leuer, Gasol, anyone?—and we've seen Mike Miller playing 30+ minutes, we've seen some plays that looked like "real" sets the Griz will be running and others where they revert to "bad old days" form, standing around until the shot clock expires trying to get a 20-foot contested jumper. We've also seen this team (most notably against the Milwaukee Bucks) decide to win "for real" and play hard down the stretch.
I'll just be honest and say I don't know what to expect. The last two games of the preseason were putrid, horrible excuses for NBA basketball, and the Grizzlies played like a dumpster fire.
But... the games didn't count, and the players—most obviously Zach Randolph, but all of them to an extent—know it doesn't count, and why play as hard as you can and risk getting hurt before you even make it to the games that matter for playoff seeding?
Which isn't to say that there's no reason to be concerned. If the Grizzlies stumble out of the gate showing the horrible offensive decision-making and absolutely horrific shooting percentages they had in the last two games, there are going to be problems, and we can forget making a run at a title this year. And, honestly, part of me wonders if the transition into the Joerger Era might need a season like that, a year where it doesn't quite click yet while everyone gets comfortable with each other and tries to figure out how to operate in what appears to be a completely refocused offense, featuring the Mike Conley/Marc Gasol pick and roll as its basic building block instead of the Zach Randolph/Marc Gasol high-low that's been slaughtering the Western Conference off and on for the last four years.
It's a big transition, and the possibility that we've all underestimated how big of a transition can't be dismissed until we get into this first stretch of four or five games.
The Q and Ed Question
The deadline for contract extensions is fast approaching: it's the 31st of October, which, as I'm sure your Halloween-costumed children have reminded you, is Thursday. We heard some chatter last week about the possibility that the Grizzlies may be looking to sign Ed Davis to a long-term extension that would secure his presence in Beale Street Blue after this year for a salary somewhat lower than he stands to make as a restricted free agent this summer.
It doesn't seem like that's going to happen, as several sources have reported on Twitter and elsewhere that the two sides don't appear likely to reach an agreement before the deadline.
Tucked in that same article (this one by Marc Stein) was the idea that an extension for Quincy Pondexter "hasn't been ruled out." It's well known that the Grizzlies are big fans of Pondexter, and his continued elevation of his play season after season means he probably still has some growing room. I'm not sure what an extension for Pondexter would look like; probably something under the Mid-Level Exception, maybe $4 million. For a guy who's a supposed "3 and D" threat, his "D" still needs some work to catch up with his "3." Otherwise I'd say the full Mid-Level (which is somewhere around $5 million) wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility.
But either way, if nothing happens by Thursday, both players are headed to restricted free agency this summer—and we'll just have to cross that bridge when we get to it, because there's a lot of basketball to be played between this point and that one.
Five last-minute predictions
I've held off on making official predictions here, because (1) I'm terrible at them and (2) there's not really any point—NBA seasons are long, grueling, unpredictable, beautiful chaos, and a million different things are going to happen between now and April that will render any attempt to prognosticate useless.
Of course, completely contradicting what I just said, I've got a few anyway:
• The Grizzlies will finish 2nd in the Southwest Division, behind the Spurs but ahead of the Rockets.
• Marc Gasol will average 32 minutes a game, down from 35 last year and 36.5 the year before (mostly thanks to Kosta Koufos).
• Zach Randolph will not make the All Star team but will still average a double-double.
• The Grizzlies will finish the season somewhere around 20th in the league in Pace, rather than 30th as they did last season.
• The Grizzlies will trade one of the following players before the deadline: Tayshaun Prince, Jerryd Bayless, and Zach Randolph. Grizzlies fans will not be happy with how little they receive in return.
Commenters (yes, even the ones who were calling for Jason Levien to step down as Grizzlies CEO after a preseason loss to the Rockets), let's see your predicitions below. Only ten hours until basketball!
This week's Flyer is the Hoop City issue, an in-depth look at what to expect from Memphis' two major hardwood collectives this upcoming season: Frank Murtaugh had ten questions for the Tigers and I had ten for the Grizzlies.
Of course, I've been known to run a little long in my first drafts, so there were some questions that didn't make the final cut that I still think are worth exploring a little bit. Call these the "deleted scenes" from my print Griz preview piece, which maybe someday I'll re-edit with these and release as Grizpocalypse Now Redux (I admit, that may be the worst joke I've tried to make in these pages yet). Here's what got left out:
11. Is Marc Gasol going to score more this year?
Coming off a strong showing in this summer's Eurobasket, where he averaged 14 points a game while doing his usual high-post wizardry, Gasol talked a little bit about the faster pace at which the Grizzlies would be operating this season, and said that he felt like he was going to be less reluctant to take a shot this year. Like he was going to be able to take those shots we've been yelling at him to take for years now.
He also did this:
But look, I'll believe the New Improved Scoring Machine Marc Gasol when I see it. That's just not the way Gasol plays. He looks to make the perfect pass to set up his teammate for the easy bucket, even when he potentially has an open shot. On offense, he's a facilitator first. Asking him to start turning into a low-post scoring threat (which he can be when he wants to) or a volume shooter from the elbows (which he can also be when he wants to) is asking him to change the way that he approaches basketball—and I think he's been playing it long enough that it's a little late for that.
I'm not saying I don't think he'll score more points this year on average—but I think that's going to have more to do with the fact that Dave Joerger has explicitly said the Grizzlies' offense will feature Gasol and Mike Conley as the primary players than it does with Gasol suddenly becoming, well, Z-Bo-like on offense. I, for one, like Gasol's game just the way it is.
I always feel like these games between the NBA's two Canadian expansion franchises (sorry, Vancouver) should have some sort of rivalry atmosphere, or a name like the Red River Shootout or the Egg Bowl. Yes, the Grizzlies are in Toronto tonight to face off against the Raptors in a preseason reunion of sorts, with Rudy Gay hosting his old team and Ed Davis visiting his. Of course, it comes at an interesting time for Davis: ESPN's Marc Stein reported on Monday that Davis' camp and the Grizzlies "have been discussing a deal" this month that would sign Davis to an extension of his current contract rather than let him become a restricted free agent at the end of this season.
It's easy to see how such a deal could make sense financially for the Grizzlies if they genuinely believe that Davis is going to be their guy long-term at the power forward spot: by extending him now while his stock is relatively low, it's possible to lock him up for three or four years in a deal that is practically guaranteed to be cheaper than the one he's going to sign as an RFA this summer. At the same time, it requires a commitment of money to the young big man—in essence, paying him for potential than paying him for performance. The Grizzlies have done this sort of thing before under the old ownership regime—remember the Mike Conley deal, famously referred to by CBS Sports' Matt Moore as "franchise suicide"?—but are we sure Ed Davis is as good as Mike Conley? And if he isn't—despite all of the faith and trust that Dave Joerger says he has in Davis, it's faith that he will improve and grow, not faith that he is ready to take the reins—what happens then?
Davis' qualifying offer is $4.36 million. At a minimum, that's what it'll take to keep him here next year. But... what's the market going to be like for Ed Davis next summer if he becomes a restricted free agent?
After hiding away in my underground lair to work on the big Grizzlies preview for this week's print edition of the Memphis Flyer, which will hopefully be in your hands soon, this weekend gave us a couple of preseason away games for the Grizzlies that happened seemingly in a vacuum: no one was watching in the arena, the action wasn't televised, and since I couldn't get the radio to work inside my house—Eric Hasseltine actually called the game yesterday afternoon in Atlanta by himself—for yesterday's I was reduced to following along with an auto-updating box score on NBA.com while the rest of the world watched football and napped.
I'll start with the game I could actually see with my own eyes: the Grizzlies' 97-91 road win over the Orlando Magic. If you were able to watch the League Pass feed of this game, you noticed instantly that the whole thing was being broadcast via two cameras, one on each baseline. It was like watching some sort of Soviet-era broadcast of an exhibition game between East Germany and Czechoslovakia telecast from a disused hangar for transport aircraft.
Camera jokes aside, there were some noteworthy takeaways from the Magic game: Mike Miller played 30 minutes and was one point short of a 20-10 game, finishing with 19 points and 11 rebounds. One assumes that sort of performance isn't going to be commonplace from Miller during the regular season, as his health (or lack thereof) was one of the main reasons his role was so limited for the Miami Heat the last couple of years. If Miller has really healed enough to be able to handle that sort of workload on a semi-regular basis, this Grizzlies team just got that much more dangerous. The Grizzlies' other player with a double-double against the Magic was Ed Davis, who racked up 16 and 10 (along with 2 blocks) in 28 minutes. Davis also shot 7-10 from the field (and made 50% of his free throws). Davis, along with Marc Gasol, got in some good minutes against Orlando's up-and-coming young big man Nikola Vucevic, who looks poised to have a breakout year this year.
The Grizzlies and Bucks played a very competitive, close-fought game tonight at FedExForum, even though it was a preseason game, no one was watching, and half of the Bucks' almost completely nonsensical roster (more on that later) was out with an injury. The NBA is a beautiful thing, and sometimes it's at its most beautiful when nothing happening makes any sense. I don't think I've had enough caffeine and/or 12-hour Sudafed to be able to stitch this game recap into a coherent narrative, so I'm just going to give it to you straight.
Neither Zach Randolph nor Tayshaun Prince were in the building tonight, as both of them are resting up and staying healthy. Randolph sat out for "lineup" reasons, and the official word is that Prince is recovering from a stomach bug, but I've yet to see his face on the Grizzlies' bench this preseason—in or out of uniform. He just plain hasn't been around. I have no reason to doubt the official narrative, and I haven't been able to verify whether he's been practicing all along and just not playing, but I do think it's exceedingly weird that we flat-out haven't seen him in the building, four games into the preseason.
Randolph, for what it's worth, has been playing really well so far this preseason, and looks to be in really good shape. The buzz about when/whether he'll be traded has already started, but it doesn't seem to be affecting him on the court yet. Whether it will down the stretch as the rumors start flying closer to the deadline, I can only guess. It always seems like he's one or two bad weeks away from slipping back into the "not nice Z-Bo" of old, but for whatever reason it hasn't happened, and I'm glad. I hope that continues to be the case.
In the spirit of trying new things, I'll be livetweeting tonight's preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks, and you can follow along here if you don't want to follow along on Twitter.
Grizzlies vs. Bucks: Treading Water in a Sea of Tanking
Tonight, in the fourth game of their preseason, the Grizzlies take the court against a Milwaukee Bucks team that's in a transitional period, one that finds them uncertain about the way their team is built but still probably good enough to make the playoffs in a top- and bottom-heavy Eastern Conference.
There is one new Bucks player who is making waves, though: rookie standout Giannis Antetokounmpo. He's made a splash in three preseason games so far for the Bucks, scoring and rebounding and generally looking like a guy who's going to make a name for himself in the upcoming season. It doesn't hurt that he's already picked up a pretty great nickname along the way: "The Alphabet."
Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention another new face on the Milwaukee bench, one who will be familiar to Grizzlies fans: former Grizzly O.J. Mayo signed with the Bucks over the summer, as they looked to strengthen their roster and fill the hole left by the departure of Monta Ellis for Dallas. I found it pretty funny that Mayo, whose name was always brought up in trade rumors involving Ellis while he was in Memphis, ended up essentially taking Ellis' place on a Bucks roster that, on the face of it, doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Brandon Jennings is gone, replaced by Brandon Knight (who survived this attempt on his life by DeAndre Jordan last year). They signed frontcourt standout Larry Sanders to a long-term deal.
In a year in which many teams that would normally be happy to be fringe playoff teams are frantically trying to implode their rosters in a race to the bottom of the draft lottery—in an attempt to cash in on this year's loaded draft class, presumably—the Bucks seem to be... sort of rebuilding and sort of just shuffling around players in an attempt to tread water as an 8th seed, a position that got them into the playoffs with a 38-44 record last year, but not exactly a position from which to build a championship-contending small market team out of spare parts.
The Grizzlies' first win of the 2013 preseason came against Maccabi Haifa of the Israeli Basketball Super League, and it was... not close. The Grizzlies never trailed, and after leading 28-14 at the end of the first quarter, they never really felt pressure again through the rest of the game.
Tonight was a milestone for the Grizzlies' preseason, and not just because of the lopsided win: this evening's game was the first in which the Grizzlies were playing at something resembling full strength: Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, and Quincy Pondexter all made their first preseason appearances, and Kosta Koufos was back in action after sitting out Wednesday night's game against the Dallas Mavericks.
Still missing from action was Tayshaun Prince, who—yet again—wasn't even in the building. I joked on Twitter early in the game about the possibility that Prince had actually been kidnapped, or maybe abducted by aliens, or maybe even was off fighting crime as a masked superhero of some sort1. Ron Tillery of the Commercial Appeal had the scoop on Twitter, though, saying the Griz veteran has been battling a stomach bug.
The starters (minus Prince, presumably, although there's been chatter since the end of last season that Quincy Pondexter may make the leap to the starting lineup this season) played a good deal tonight, with Gasol, Allen, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, and Mike Miller all playing more than 20 minutes. From the looks of it, they needed the time on the court together, feeling out the new Dave Joerger playbook. Ball movement looked very crisp at times, swinging the ball all the way from one side to the other quickly. Not sure if it was the sub-NBA competition, or if the Joerger Regime is really changing things up already, but it seemed to me at times that the passing and ball movement were much improved over last year, with guys going out of their way to make the extra pass and swing the ball around. At any rate, it's something to watch for, as the grind of the season starts to wear out guys that may be feeling fresh now. The pace may be up right now because it's preseason, or it may actually be down because guys aren't totally comfortable with the system yet.
Another lineup that was on the floor a good bit was a Bayless/Pondexter/Miller/Davis/Koufos unit that will presumably be one of the Grizzlies' main all-reserve lineups this year. Bayless had been playing mostly off the ball in the first two preseason games, but against Maccabi Haifa tonight he saw a good deal of time as the backup point guard. Nick Calathes played 13 minutes, instead of the big workload he carried Wednesday night against Dallas.
What stuck out to me tonight is the depth of this team. This is a team that can start Conley/Allen/Prince/Randolph/Gasol, swap that entire unit out for Bayless/Pondexter/Miller/Davis/Koufos, or Calathes/Franklin/Miller/Davis/Koufos, or swap Leuer for Davis or Leuer for Koufos, or move Bayless off the ball with Calathes at point, or...
...lots of options. Right now, with Tony Gaffney and Willie Reed and some of the other guys around who might not make the roster for the year, the Griz have a bit of a logjam in the bench backcourt and the bench frontcourt—there are just too many good players on the roster. For a Grizzlies team that has struggled so mightily with having a crappy bench for so many years—guys that just couldn't hold a lead, and certainly couldn't extend one, even against the worst teams in the league—having a roster where twelve guys can play actual meaningful minutes must feel like an unimaginable blessing.
Looking forward to the upcoming games this week, the Grizzlies take on the Bucks (featuring former Lionel Hollins Doghouse resident O.J. Mayo and exciting big man Larry Sanders2) at home on Tuesday night and then travel to Orlando on Friday to play the Magic. Tuesday night, I'll be watching for bench lineups again. I think Joerger still has a long way to go to figure out who his go-to guys are coming off the bench. Obviously a lot of eggs are in the Ed Davis basket, but Jon Leuer and Kosta Koufos have both played well, too. Pondexter established his sixth-man credentials in the playoffs last year, but he's got competion from rookie Jamaal Franklin, and he's also got Mike Miller soaking up some of the minutes at the 3 spot that used to belong to Pondexter. (I, personally, hope we see Calathes-Franklin-Pondexter-Miller-Koufos or Davis before the end of the preseason.) There are certainly questions yet to be answered about who is going to get the minutes, and I don't expect those questions to be answered any time soon.
Later this week I'll take a look at the matchups against the Bucks—operating on the assumption that the starters are probably going to play at least a few minutes a game from here on out—and dig deeper into some of the questions surrounding the Griz frontcourt rotation as we continue our inexorable march toward October 30th and a season-opening revenge match against the San Antonio Spurs. That's the first one that matters for playoff seeding, and the first one where a win means something besides pride. That's the first one that matters.
I was at FedExForum Wednesday night along with 11,000-odd other people to watch a basketball game, and something sort of resembling one happened for thirty-five minutes or so before a lineup made of Griz bench players finally started playing like they meant it and closed a 20-point deficit to a Mavs lineup of camp bodies and one white guy (Mickey McConnell) who literally no one in the media room after the game had ever heard of before. That was when the game itself got interesting.
But even before the Grizzlies lineup of Nick Calathes, Jamaal Franklin, Tony Gaffney, Jon Leuer, and Ed Davis began to mount a counteroffensive ("offensive" being the operative word for most of the action that took place Wednesday night in the Grizzlies' first home preseason game), things were "interesting."
To start with, the Grizzlies were without Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince, Quincy Pondexter—all of whom missed Monday night's game against the Bulls as well—and Kosta Koufous was out with an injury as well. Obviously none of these guys are seriously hurt; it's the second game of the preseason and there's still no point in pushing it any harder than they have to to be ready to go by the first regular season game. But against a Mavs lineup only missing Jose Calderon—much like the Bulls were only missing Joakim Noah Monday night—it made for some interesting matchups. The Grizzlies starters were Mike Conley, Jerryd Bayless, Mike Miller, Zach Randolph, and Ed Davis, who ended up playing most of the night out of position at center.
The game was good for gauging the development of some of the newer guys, of course. Jon Leuer had a tremendous game, scoring 17 points, grabbing 10 boards, racking up more assists (5) than Nick Calathes (who had 3), and looking confident and collected the same way he did Monday night. If he continues to be able to drill that elbow jumper, he's going to be a credible threat to move into heavy rotation. It's not hard to imagine a frontcourt rotation stretched to Gasol-Randolph-Koufos-Davis-Leuer, depending on matchups, rather than just the first four. Leuer looks good. It's "just preseason," but he looks like he's going to make some noise this year.
Coming off the heels of Monday night's loss to the Chicago Bulls in St. Louis, I'm not sure what to expect tonight other than more of the same: new Grizzlies players—and/or new NBA players—feeling their way through the breaks of the game, trying to find a comfort level with the league and with the Grizzlies' new, more uptempo offense.
The Mavericks are in a weird place this year, having lost out on the Dwight Howard sweepstakes and the Deron Williams sweepstakes and the Everyone Else sweepstakes and ended up with Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis (who, of course, Have It All) but not committed to wholesale tanking in an effort to land one of the coveted 2014 lottery picks. Presumably they're going to keep trying to contend as long as Dirk Nowitzki is on the roster, but what that looks like in practice, this season, is a Mavericks team that's hard to gauge.
As CBS Sports' Matt Moore said in his first NBA Power Rankings column of the season:
The Mavericks have become my Mendoza line for Power Rankings. If you are above them, you are a good team, if you are below them, a bad one.
The key question with the Mavs is this: can you replace Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, and Chris Kaman with Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis, and Samuel Dalembert and become a much better team in the process?
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies will still be in the feeling-out process that we saw them in on Monday night. Without Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince, and Quincy Pondexter—three of them presumably starters on opening night—it wasn't going to be much of a fair fight, especially with Derrick Rose on a mission to prove he's back. Not sure if any or all of them will be out again tonight, but if they are, it'll definitely be a chance for the bench players to step up again and see what they're made of.
I'll be paying close attention to the offense tonight, and how well some of the bench units play together. Those are the kinds of things preseason games are for. Getting too wrapped up in the W's and L's is a good way to miss the ways the team has changed (for better or for worse) over the offseason.
At any rate, I'm just excited to get a chance to be back in the Grindhouse. Robert Pera said at Media Day that he hopes to have the Wi-Fi working by the first regular season game. Between that, the in-game music (especially that one Clippers game at the end of last year where we got to hear "Supernaut" and Motörhead), the BBQ, and the Memphis-Wrestling-on-Channel-5 feel we've all come to love, it's been too long away.
The Grizzlies lost to the Chicago Bulls last night in St. Louis, and they lost by a lot: the final score was 106-87. However, the Grizzlies were without Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince, and Quincy Pondexter for various reasons, and even though the Bulls were without Joakim Noah, it's hard to argue that the two teams were playing at equal strength. The Bulls—led by a Derrick Rose who is clearly back to being his old self on the court, cutting fearlessly and exploding past defenders—appeared to be running a pretty tight rotation until somewhere in the third quarter when Rose headed to the bench for the last time, having played 23 minutes.
So last night wasn't much of a game in terms of "are the Grizzlies as good as the Bulls" or anything larger than "how does the team look?" or "how does Player X look this year?" and to my mind we got some pretty good preliminary looks at what to expect out of the Grizzlies' reserves this year.
For starters, the Dave Joerger offense really does move much faster. That was apparent from the get-go, with the team getting into sets much earlier in the shot clock than in years past, and more movement off the ball. It appears that Coach Joerger was Not Bluffingtm about that one. It was interesting to see Zach Randolph moving much faster than he usually does (than he used to?) getting to his spot in the post, instead of walking up to his defender and simply pushing him out of the way. Those kinds of things are going to make it easier for the Grizzlies to score all year long.
Speaking of scoring, the Grizzlies started out on an 11-2 run by shooting somewhere in the vicinity of 75%. Remember that, because it will not happen often. Joerger's new offense is one thing, but there's no way he's miraculously turned the entire roster into an elite shooting team.
As for players? Here are some notes on what we learned about the guys playing last night:
Tonight, we get what we've been waiting for so impatiently all these many months since the Grizzlies played their last home game on May 27th: real NBA basketball, played between real NBA teams. I would say "in a real NBA arena" but tonight's game is a little bit out of the ordinary: the Grizzlies are taking on the Chicago Bulls in St. Louis, Missouri, in a game that's technically a home game for the Bulls.
The Grizzlies spent a good portion of the offseason trying to grow their regional fan base, sending Quincy Pondexter out on tour all across the Mid-South and then holding training camp last week in Nashville (where they apparently packed the house for an open practice on a Saturday afternoon during college football season). Playing an exhibition game in St. Louis is certainly in keeping with that strategy—I've always thought it was a little puzzling that St. Louis didn't have an NBA team anyway. Maybe someday the Grizzlies can have a fierce rivalry with the reborn Spirits of St. Louis.
At any rate, the location of the game fits into the Grizzlies' overall plan to grow the Grizzlies "territory" beyond the boundaries of the Memphis area and out to the whole region. But. That's not why tonight's game is exciting, not by a long shot. What's exciting about tonight is that we can finally stop speculating and talk about actual basketball that has been played. If that doesn't get you excited, I don't think I can help you.
Herewith, some things to watch out for tonight as the Grizzlies and Bulls face off.