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.
The most interesting things going on tonight were the lineups, especially the ones Coach Joerger threw at the Bucks involving three "point guards" at the same time (applying the term loosely here to Bayless): Mike Conley, Jerryd Bayless, and Nick Calathes all on the court at the same time, with Jon Leuer and Marc Gasol in the frontcourt. Later on we'd see the three-guard look again, but with Gasol and Ed Davis briefly and Davis and Leuer briefly. As Joerger explained in the postgame presser, the three-guard look allowed the Grizzlies to drive the ball into the paint pretty much at will, and on defense it didn't cause too many problems (except maybe against athletic freak and very skilled rookie Giannis "The Alphabet" Antetokounmpo). I would expect that the three-point-guard lineup is something that we're going to see Joerger pull out of his back pocket from time to time this season as the matchups call for it. It's certainly a look that's harder to defend. Switch Calathes out for Tony Allen or Jamaal Franklin and the lineup still retains some of its interesting size-matchup properties, but gets less effective at moving the ball.
Jon Leuer continues to play very, very well. If he keeps this up, I think we're going to have to have a conversation at some point about who that 4th big off the bench will be this year (assuming Kosta Koufos will be the 3rd big in the rotation, coming in to spell Gasol, which is a safe assumption since Koufos started 81 games for a playoff team last year): will it always be "Power Forward of the Future" Ed Davis, or will it be Leuer when the matchup favors him, or will Leuer—obviously a much different player than Davis, in terms of skillset— play his way all the way into that spot? I've always been a believer in Ed Davis' potential to be the starting power forward for the Grizzlies, but that this point, this early in his Grizzlies career, it's still just potential. Leuer is already signed to a long-term deal and he's playing really well now. It's worth keeping an eye on.
We have to talk about this Bucks roster. What are they doing? Why did they trade for Caron Butler? Are they trying to build a contender in the Heat-laden East with a backcourt of Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo? Why did the sign Zaza Pachulia? Is Larry Sanders worth the money they paid him? Are they going to pretend they're not going to trade Ilyasova, or just get it over with? Luke Ridnour? Carlos Delfino? (Worth mentioning that Delfino, Ilyasova, Pachulia, and Gary Neal—yes, the Bucks also signed Gary Neal—were all out with injuries on Tuesday night.)
I kind of figured the Bucks would tread water and coast into the 8th seed in the East this year with 35 or 38 wins, but after seeing them in person, even injury limited, I dunno about that. The roster just doesn't make any sense to me. I don't understand what they're trying to do, or what kind of team they're trying to build. Maybe they're playing chess while I play checkers, but it feels more to me like the Bucks are the team that went to the thrift store and bought a bunch of awesome stuff and got home and realized they'd bought six paper grocery bags full of sweaters so hideous Bill Cosby wouldn't put them in his backup sweater closet.
And where does Luke Ridnour fit on the All-NBA North American White Dude Team? He's on the roster, right? 11th or 12th?
Quincy Pondexter is playing like a man with something to prove this preseason. Since playing for the first time Sunday against Maccabi Haifa, he's attacked the rim relentlessly, and while he's still using the three-point shooting that he improved so dramatically last season, he's now driving straight at the hoop every opportunity he gets, and converting most of his attempts. Plus, he drove straight at John Henson and elevated and dunked it right on Henson's head, and if I hadn't remembered at the last possible second that I was sitting at the scorer's table, I would've jumped up and yelled. It was great.
Pondexter is a guy who finished the season with a lot of buzz last year, and his name is coming up more and more as someone who could potentially start in the place of Tayshaun Prince at the small forward spot. I still think Pondexter's defense is weaker than his offense, and needs to improve before I'd feel great about starting him, but I definitely think that if he keeps playing the way he's playing, he's going to make the "Should Pondexter start?" question one that has to be asked in the Grizzlies' coaching meetings as seriously as it's asked in the media.
Melvin Ely played 10 minutes tonight. I keep wanting to call him "Marvin Ely" and I don't know why. I apologize for that, Melvin Ely.
Also, I tweeted this at one point during the game tonight:
Stephen Graham yelled "And one" really loud as he went up for a layup that he bounced off the backboard and straight to Melvin Ely.
— Kevin Lipe (@FlyerGrizBlog) October 16, 2013
...and it was favorited by a Twitter account for Melvin Ely fans, which is apparently a thing that exists. I don't know what Ely's chances of making the final Griz roster are—I'd assume they're pretty low—but he played hard and made some good plays tonight in the minutes that he got, and for a "training camp roster" type guy, that's sometimes more than you can ask for. I hope he at least sticks around until I can stop wanting to call him "Marvin."
I started off my Beyond the Arc career saying that there were a lot of questions surrounding the Grizzlies as they started this season, and that we'd hopefully begin to answer some of them as the season approached. We haven't. Not in my mind. I don't even feel like we've replaced them all with better questions yet. This team is still 100% enigma. The fact that not everyone has even played yet hasn't helped. It's been impossible to make any sort of actual judgements based on preseason play so far, beyond very limited scopes.
And that just makes me that much more excited for the actual season to get underway. The preseason is doing nothing to satiate my (and hopefully your) curiosity about what kind of a team the Grizzlies are this year—what makes them tick, how they perform under pressure, what happens when a big game is on the line, and what happens on a Tuesday night in Sacramento when no one is watching? I want to be in the real season. These preseason games are just making me wish the games counted already. Give me basketball. Real, for-keeps basketball. That's the good stuff. Preseason is fun—like Larry Sanders getting called for an offensive foul, running down to the other end and slapping the Grizzlies backboard as hard as he could during a dead ball, drawing a technical (I mean, what did he rationally expect to be the outcome of that action?). But it's not the good stuff.
The good stuff is two weeks away.