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.