Thursday, December 12, 2013

Grizzlies 100, Thunder 116: Welcome to the Fourth Level

Posted By on Thu, Dec 12, 2013 at 8:02 AM

I don't even know what to write about these games anymore. This picture encapsulates most of it:

Look. There are four types of NBA teams:


  1. Good teams that are very exciting to watch.

  2. Good teams that are boring to watch, but still good.

  3. Bad teams that are very exciting to watch because they have potential.

  4. Bad teams that are boring and ugly to watch.

The problem with the Grizzlies right now is that with Marc Gasol out until at least January, Quincy Pondexter out for the year, Tony Allen out for multiple games with a hip contusion, and Ed Davis out for multiple games with an ankle sprain, the Grizzlies are mostly #4 on that list: ugly to watch, and not very good. Last night was another example of that.

Without Gasol on the floor, opposing teams are putting their tallest, biggest man (sometimes also their most athletic man) on Zach Randolph and leaving him there, which is exactly the matchup Z-Bo doesn't want night after night. With Z-Bo having to do that much work just to make a basket and/or get a rebound, it takes him out of his game, and when the team keeps going inside to Randolph even when he's struggling that mightily to produce anything around the rim, the rest of the offense stops, too.

The problem this team already had with creating offense—even when everyone was healthy, the question was always whether the Grizzlies could hold their opponent to a low enough score to win, rather than outscore them—has become that much worse without Gasol. Pondexter wasn't playing well, but last year, when locked in and healthy, he was a credible threat with his corner 3's. Now that's not coming back this year, leaving Mike Miller as the only semi-consistent 3-point shooter on the team. (Side note: the way things are going, do you think Miller, in his quiet reflective moments, wishes he'd signed with the Thunder over the offseason instead of this injury-riddled Grizzlies squad?)

Kosta Koufos is playing very well, but his skill set is completely different from Gasol's. Koufos is more comfortable close to the basket rebounding and working from the blocks than Gasol, and when he's sometimes forced into situations where he has to be a distributor, the offense as a whole suffers. That's not really his role, or, at least, it wasn't until Gasol got injured.

The grim fact of the matter is that the Grizzlies don't have the personnel to accomplish what they want to accomplish on offense when they're missing these four guys. Yes, this was supposed to be the deepest team in Grizzlies history, but that was the deepest bench. A starting lineup of Mike Conley, Jerryd Bayless, Tayshaun Prince, Zach Randolph, and Kosta Koufos is already going to be challenged offensively, and while Jon Leuer has played very well off the bench, Jamaal Franklin and Nick Calathes are rookies who are still adjusting to the NBA game, and Mike Miller has been mostly inconsistent on offense and mostly a net negative on defense. Those nine players, without Gasol and Allen especially, but also Davis and also Pondexter, just aren't that great of a roster.

That's not to say that the Grizzlies' problems are completely external, a result of injuries and nothing else. Last night I watched the worst 3-on-1 fast break I've ever seen in my life, involving Conley, Tayshaun Prince, and Jamaal Franklin. Simply stopping the play and handing the ball to the Thunder at center-court would have been (1) more to the point and (2) less vomit-inducing. Dave Joerger commented in his postgame presser that the Thunder were able to make backdoor cuts to the basket all night long. The Thunder have some very talented young players—Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson among them—who torched the Grizzlies on defense. Hasheem Thabeet got to play 5 minutes with a stat line of all zeroes. The Grizzlies who are on the floor aren't a cohesive roster that makes sense, and on top of that they're not playing very sharp basketball.

Which is a problem, because it means that (1) they're not going to win any games against elite teams in the West like Oklahoma City in this (hopefully brief) current configuration, and (2) the games are 100% horrible to watch. It's hard to enjoy the little things, like Franklin playing good defense against Kevin Durant, when the Grizzlies are getting clubbed like a baby seal. If the limited roster currently available can't figure out how to play sharper basketball and execute better on both ends of the floor—after all, Wednesday night's game was a 3-point game after the first quarter before the Thunder started making runs the Grizzlies couldn't match—it's going to be a long stretch before the return of Marc Gasol.

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