Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Road Recap: The Lessons of Last Night's Loss to the Bulls

Posted By on Tue, Oct 8, 2013 at 9:15 AM

Questions about whether Nick Calathes would play well when not wearing this jersey were answered last night.
  • Questions about whether Nick Calathes would play well when not wearing this jersey were answered last night.

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:

• Nick Calathes would appear to be the real deal. Last night he made some nifty passes, got to the rim on some nice drives, and generally did good work. For the first time in recent memory, the Grizzlies may actually have a good backup point guard who can manage a game while Conley's on the bench. He wasn't perfect—especially on the defensive end of the floor—but fears that he wouldn't be able to handle the transition to the NBA game were probably misplaced, as Calathes looked comfortable commanding the offense. Certainly a better point guard than Bayless Wroten Dooling Arenas Mayo Tinsley Pargo Selby Lowry Vasquez okay I'll stop listing point guards now because that's depressing. Long story short: Calathes looks like a legitimate backup point guard, already. No "he might be a backup point someday." He looks like he's already there.

• Ed Davis had a pretty good outing. He's definitely been working on some facets of his game this summer, especially offensively. My main concern for Davis is one that's going to be harder for him to fix: he's still undersized, and there are times when he's still getting pushed out of position in the post. When he's able to slip behind his defender, he does a good job (better than last year, anyway) of finishing at the rim, but there were a couple of times last night when Davis tried to post up Taj Gibson and simply got shoved out of the paint. That's not something that's going to be easy for Davis to fix unless he has another growth spurt, or something, but I don't think it's anything to be too worried about at this point. Let's see how he does as the preseason and regular season progress; it's still too early to tell what kind of a leap Davis is making with his game this year.

• Jon Leuer quietly had himself a solid game, racking up 9 points, 4 assists, and 5 rebounds in 23 minutes of play. Leuer was clearly looking to get his outside jumper going, and that he did, showing his abilities as a floor-stretching big who can't be left unguarded from the elbows. If Leuer is able to consistently play at that level in the regular season, making the occasional big play on defense while knocking down jumpers, it'll go a long way toward replacing Darrell Arthur's production (or, at least, the production DA would have had if he were healthy). Leuer played with confidence last night—obviously having a coach who isn't Lionel Hollins and a long-term contract is a better situation for him than being dumped onto the Grizzlies' roster from Cleveland in January.

• Jamaal Franklin looked... like an NBA player. In the recent past, rookies brought in by the Grizzlies have been of the "project" variety, guys who look as out of place on an NBA court as I would on Dancing with the Stars. Franklin didn't seem to have those issues last night. Sure, he made some rookie mistakes and turned the ball over once, but he appeared to be playing with a comfort level and a basketball IQ level that have been missing from "the Wrotens and the Selbys of the world" and that's going to be a good thing for the Grizzlies. Clearly the kid can play basketball. I hope he's able to work his way into the rotation sooner rather than later, because I think his unique athletic gifts make him a valuable asset.

One thing bugged me last night: I tweeted this:


...and I was met with a cascade of "Rudy who?" replies.

Which is all kinds of disingenuous. You may still hold a grudge against Rudy Gay for the way he acted after being traded to the Raptors last year. Certainly he should've handled it better. You may still not like Gay's game and you may still be mad that he was literally unable to see the rim and yet still refused to wear contacts. Those are valid feelings, and I won't deny them to you. But to act like you never liked the guy, and like it never meant anything to you that he was in Memphis for as long as he was? C'mon. Don't act like some of y'all don't still have Rudy Gay jerseys in the backs of your closets. The dude was here for a long time. He wore #22 that whole time. You can claim to not like him now, but don't pretend you never liked him. You did. We all did.

Thus concludes that rant.

• Jerryd Bayless did all kinds of aggressive things last night, shooting whenever he felt like it (which is almost all the time), attacking the rim whenever he got a chance, making some crazy steals and gambles on defense that sometimes paid off... basically Bayless ran around doing Bayless things last night. It may sound like I'm criticizing him for that, but I'm not: Jerryd Bayless is at his best when he's comfortable on the court and he's playing with attitude and fearlessness, and that's what he did last night. Sometimes that's not going to go well and he's going to miss a ton of shots. But that same fearlessness is what makes him want to be the guy to take the game-winner, and sometimes he'll do that too.

Plus, that fearlessness is what made him almost kill Ray Allen dead that one time:

All in all, it was a good first look at some of the Grizzlies players we've had questions about for a long time now. I anticipate getting an even better look tomorrow night at the Forum against the Mavericks, and maybe we'll see Gasol/Allen/Prince/Pondexter get some minutes, too. At any rate, it looks like the answers to those questions are starting to emerge, and it looks like this is a Grizzlies team that's coming into the season in a good mental space, and that's hard to feel bad about, no matter what the actual score of the game was.

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