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.
Jamaal Franklin looks like a legitimate NBA player still. He shot too many threes Wednesday night, going 1-5 from beyond the arc (not the blog), but he played a very good game, especially in that 4th quarter when the Griz closed the gap with Dallas. He looks like a good facilitator, and someone whose hustle is going to make him a factor on defense. He just looks like he belongs. I have high hopes for Franklin's future, even if he takes a while to reach them.
Overall this is still a team with a lot of things to work on. We saw flashes of brilliance from Nick Calathes in the passing game, hitting guys with no-look passes timed to be in the right place at the right time, but that chemistry is going to take time to develop, and so sometimes his targets aren't where he thinks they're going to be. The turnovers (the Grizzlies had 17 of them) were problematic, as the Grizzlies are being too lax with the ball while trying to force the issue with the tempo (which, I gotta say, didn't seem to be all that much faster Wednesday night—much less noticeably so than Monday). It's all a work in progress, which coach Dave Joerger stressed in his postgame presser.
But we're not going to know what sort of shape this team is in until we see them play with the full complement of starters against another team's full complement of starters (and play hard—meaning Zach Randolph and Samuel Dalembert aren't casually strolling down the court making smalltalk and catching up with each other while theoretically "getting back on defense"). The offense is coming along, sure, but we still haven't seen Marc Gasol in it, much less been able to tell whether it really builds off the Gasol/Mike Conley tandem the way we expect it to.
Long story short: Wednesday night's game against the Mavericks showed us a few things about some of the Grizzlies' bench players—and definitely showed us that, as Dave Joerger said in the postgame, there's going to be some competition for roster spots and for playing time this year, because the Grizzlies find themselves in the unusual (for them) position of having too many bench players who can actually play. Turnovers are a problem at this point. Fluidity in the offense, currently nonexistent, can reasonably be expected to develop over time.
The extreme constraints posed on the two games we've seen so far—the lack of starters, end-of-the-bench guys going up against the other team's starters, the odd lineups on the floor to see what works—have made it hard to get a read on where this Grizzlies team really is. There are some promising developments, and some nagging issues, but until we really see the team at full tilt, all of this is conjecture, because we're only able to see a subset of the roster in action at a time. We just don't know yet. Games like last night's aren't useless, but they're not exactly revelatory.
Unless you're Jon Leuer.