Thursday, January 7, 2016

Thunder 112, Grizzlies 94: Next Day Lamentations

Posted By on Thu, Jan 7, 2016 at 7:56 AM

Courtney Lee was the Grizzlies starting "point guard" against OKC. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Courtney Lee was the Grizzlies starting "point guard" against OKC.

Last night’s game (“game”) against the Oklahoma City Thunder was probably a done deal when Mike Conley was ruled out with an Achilles issue and Kevin Durant was cleared to play, but the Grizzlies sure helped that along by playing like it. With Conley out, coach Dave Joerger opted to start a lineup without a point guard (well, unless you consider Courtney Lee a point guard) and save Mario Chalmers for the second unit, and honestly, even though the Grizzlies weren’t really out of it until much later, you could tell right off the bat, even just from Marc Gasol’s body language, that it wasn’t happening.

I’m not even sure what else to say about last night from a basketball standpoint. Chalmers, though he didn’t actually start, ended up playing 40 minutes and scoring 23 points on 8 of 19 shooting, a standout performance on a night when nobody else was really having them. Nothing else really worked for the Grizzlies, who found themselves right back in the position of defending a team they couldn’t defend (Russell Westbrook was in rare form last night, with some drives to the basket that I don’t think the Griz would’ve stopped at full strength).

In the end, the Grizzlies managed to get the Thunder lead back under 20, but it never got any closer than “under 20,” and the game was even more lopsided than its 18-point margin would suggest. In other words, par for the course against the best teams in the league this year.

Game Notes

★ Jeff Green went 3–12 from the field. Marc Gasol went 2–11 from the field, when he could be bothered to shoot the ball instead of passing into a worse play. Z-Bo went 5–13, hounded by Oklahoma City’s interior defense (well, Steven Adams and Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka, anyway) the same way he always is. Mike Conley was 0–0 because he wasn’t playing. Tony Allen played some solid defense, hit a few shots, and generally Did Tony Things, but those things are always difference-makers in a close game, not the thing that guarantees a Griz win from the word go.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Beyond the Arc Podcast, #40: Negative Nellies

Posted By on Wed, Jan 6, 2016 at 7:40 AM


This week on the show, Kevin and Phil talk about:

  • A rundown of the Grizzlies’ Monday night win over the Portland Trail Blazers and Zach Randolph’s big game
  • Why the Grizzlies’ offense is struggling right now–does the “small ball” starting unit have anything to do with it?
  • Why is the Grizzlies’ defense not as good this year?
  • Do the players respond well to Dave Joerger?
  • How are the Grizzlies above .500 with Matt Barnes as the best wing player on the team on both ends of the floor? How did we get here?
  • Can the Grizzlies take care of the Thunder Wednesday night if Durant doesn’t play? Can they score 95 points?

The Beyond the Arc podcast is available on iTunes, so you can subscribe there! It’d be great if you could rate and review the show while you’re there. You can also find and listen to the show on Stitcher and on PlayerFM.

You can call our Google Voice number and leave us a voicemail, and we might talk about your question on the next show: 234–738–3394

You can download the show here or listen below:

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Grizzlies 91, Blazers 78: Same As It Ever Was

Posted By on Tue, Jan 5, 2016 at 9:57 AM

Some of the faces have changed since this was taken, but the outcome was the same. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Some of the faces have changed since this was taken, but the outcome was the same.

Last night's big (by Griz standards) Grizzlies win over the Portland Trail Blazers happened pretty late, so I didn't outline a full game-recap-type post to go along with it. Once it was clear that the Blazers weren't going to break 80 points—and clear that Zach Randolph was going to have a 20/10 game coming off the bench against his former team—you could already see how everyone's recap was going to go: a throwback game, depended on Grit & Grind to Get It Done In Portland, rumors of Z-Bo's demise are greatly exaggerated, etc.

All of those things are true. The Grizzlies' offense was mostly horrible for a large portion of the game, except for a huge scoring outburst in the third quarter that took place when the injured Mike Conley and struggling Marc Gasol were sitting on the bench, and so that left Randolph to pick up the scoring slack, and that's exactly what he did against Portland's frontline. Randolph shot 61% from the floor (11 of 18), scored 26 points, grabbed 18 rebounds (12 of which were offensive rebounds), made all four of his free throws after struggling to hit them the last couple of games, and generally had A Zach Randolph Game.

If I'm honest, I wasn't sure we were going to get many more Zach Randolph Games, where "oh just iso Z-Bo on the block" is actually a valid strategy for winning an entire game, where everything that bounces off the rim ends up in his hands, when he's licking his fingertips after every rainbow jumper, jab step, and turnaround. It was pretty glorious.

With all of the talk in December about needing to trade Z-Bo for the good of "the future", I decided to look at the year Randolph is having in historical context. I did a search on Basketball Reference for players age 34 and up for whom the following things are true:

  • Offensive rebound percentage—the estimated percentage of available offensive rebounds a player pulls down while on the floor—of 10% or higher
  • Defensive rebound percentage of 20% or higher
  • Usage rate—the percentage of possessions "used" by a player while he's on the floor, a good estimate of how much of the offense runs through a player—of 20% or higher
  • Plays 20 or more minutes a game.

The full list is here, but you can see for yourself that it's a short one, populated by names like David Robinson, Moses Malone, Shaq, and Charles Barkley. (Maybe Hollinger's MACHINE can explain the Kevin Willis Anomaly.) At any rate, that list should make one thing very clear: there's not a player you can trade Z-Bo for who would be an incremental improvement to this team. There are no players who do what Randolph does who would be traded for him—they're guys like DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis, and Greg Monroe. At his age, no one is doing what Randolph is doing right now. Which means this: these Z-Bo games are even more special than Grizzlies fans already think they are.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

So. What wasn't glorious? The Grizzlies' team offense. And no, "hey Z-Bo go make smaller men afraid of you" isn't actually the Grizzlies offensive scheme (anymore). An example of how bad it got from Peter Edmiston:

Gasol ended up with 7 points on 3-12 shooting and Conley had 9 on 3-13, but for most of the game they'd both made exactly 1 field goal. Conley had been questionable to play with a back injury, and Brevin Knight was quick to point out on the broadcast that it looked like his ankle was bothering him, as well. As for Gasol, I'm not sure what was wrong with him, but... it wasn't good. Gasol's been struggling on and off (mostly on) for large portions of the season, outside of a few stretches where he simply takes over games because he has to (as in his triple-double game, the win at New Orleans, the OT win over the Heat). And really, he hasn't been the same since last year's All Star Break, when apparently broke something in his brain, and now he's not the same player, the same constantly-effective offensive weapon.

Marc Gasol had one of his worst games of the season last night, and that's saying something this year. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Marc Gasol had one of his worst games of the season last night, and that's saying something this year.

Gasol's on the first year of a five-year max deal, of course. And Mike Conley is a free agent after this season but seems destined to re-sign with the Grizzlies for a lot of money. The way they've both played this season, you wouldn't know it. Both of them have got to be better if the team is going to go anywhere, especially after this year.

That's not to say it's all their fault, of course. The overall team concept of the Grizzlies this season is muddled, almost beyond recognition. They're a defense-oriented team that starts a small lineup (and a "power forward" in Jeff Green) that isn't great defensively. They're a slow-it-down, play-through-the-post team that tries to play everything through Conley/Gasol high pick-and-roll and a spaced-out small starting unit.

They're trying to be two things right now: the Core Four Grizzlies dependent on the play of Randolph and Tony Allen, with Conley and Gasol filling in the gaps (which is what they've been for years, to great success), and also the New Small Grizzlies building a new core around Conley/Gasol and a new, younger wing rotation (a rotation that doesn't exist, mind you, because Jordan Adams is hurt and all the other young guys are bigs save the dearly departed Russ Smith).

Games like the one the Grizzlies won last night emphasize that this is a transition year between those two identities, and you have to feel like that's part of what's wrong with the Grizzlies' two best players: they know they're supposed to be The Guys now, but they don't know what to do with it. Last night, they played defense and let Z-Bo do the dirty work, but that's not really a valid way forward anymore.

There were lots of other things that happened last night, but that was what I went to bed thinking about: the Grizzlies' offense is a disaster, the defense is finally starting to come along, and even now, in January, they still don't know who they are, how they play, or what their real goals are for this season. I'm not sure when that changes, barring unforeseen roster moves I'm sure they're taking phone calls about right this second. But for now, right now, in this season where they change every two weeks into something else, they're still right where we left them: holding opponents under 80 points, barely able to score 80 themselves, reliant on the post for offensive production, deeply flawed, and beautifully violent.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Grizzlies 112, Lakers 96: Five Thoughts

Posted By on Mon, Dec 28, 2015 at 9:19 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Coming as it did on the heels of the Grizzlies' annoying/avoidable loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night, Grizzlies fans were right to be a little worried about which version of the Beale Street Bears would show up for Sunday evening's game against Farewell Tour Kobe Bryant and the struggling Lakers. It turned out not to be much of a game at all, but finally there was a home blowout that went in favor of the home team. Slowly but surely, the Grizzlies built a 20+ point lead and then Jarell Martin made his home debut. But... you know I'm going to talk about that some more later in the post. Five thoughts on last night's game:

Five Thoughts

★ The "New" Grizzlies starting lineup—the "small ball" lineup—was very effective against the Lakers. Granted, the Lakers were playing some of the worst defense I've ever seen (and Kobe Bryant just wasn't playing defense at all), so I'm not sure how accurate of a measure of effectiveness last night's game was. But still, it was good to see that unit clicking. The chemistry of the smaller sans-Z-Bo unit has been lacking at time, and they certainly don't have much in the way of practice time to figure things out in non-game situations, so these games against bad defenses—the first game against Washington comes to mind, as well—are a good exercise for them in running plays the way they want to run them without much resistance. All five starters shot better than 50% last night.

Kobe Bryant vs. Tony Allen is always a big deal, but last night it wasn't quite what it used to be. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Kobe Bryant vs. Tony Allen is always a big deal, but last night it wasn't quite what it used to be.

★ The Lakers return in February, but who knows what the injury situation will look like then, so yesterday may have been the last chance Memphis gets to see a Tony Allen vs. Kobe Bryant showdown. Bryant has been on the record for years that Allen is the guy who has always guarded him the best—a reputation earned during two Celtics/Lakers NBA Finals all those years ago—and to see them go at it on Sunday, well... it didn't have the same look as it has in years past. Kobe is greatly diminished at this point, and Allen is still struggling to find his groove (though he's back from his knee injury and has been playing better since that point), so last night's Kobe/TA minutes were mostly just a dim reminder of how pitched their battles used to be. Which is normally the point at which my language would elevate and I'd get into some pitched lament about the passage of time. Kobe vs. Tony is the mausoleum of all hope and desire, etc.

★ Adding to the theme of efficiency: Zach Randolph took 8 shots from the floor and made 7 of them—the highest FG% of his career when he takes 8 or more shots—and while Julius Randle wasn't easy for him to back down, the Lakers' frontline in general just didn't know what to do with Randolph. Since moving to the bench, Randolph's rebounding has dropped off, but his ability to get his shots when matched up against other "traditional" bigs hasn't really gone anywhere. Even at this point in his career, he's still Z-Bo, for the most part, and if he's coming off the bench, that's a pretty good guy to have as a reserve.

★ It was genuinely enjoyable to have some garbage time last night, and for the Grizzlies to be on the right side of it. The Grizzlies' injury woes have prevented the young guys from playing much—Jordan Adams still hasn't played, and the murmurs about his projected return date have completely vanished; Jarell Martin is just now able to play in these sorts of situations, and Brandan Wright's absence means that even in blowouts the guys finishing the game have to be the same bench guys who have played the rest of the game. So to see the Grizzlies up by 20 in the 4th quarter was nice, and to see Russ Smith and Jarell Martin get some much-needed run was even nicer. I genuinely enjoy garbage time, and wish the Grizzlies gave us more opportunities to see it this year.

★ Jarell Martin played almost six minutes last night in garbage time, and while he was clearly excited to be making his home debut—and said overexcitement led to several questionable decisions made in the name of playing hard, not smart—eventually he settled down and started making good plays. Defensively, he did well knowing when to switch and when not to, and while he didn't get any rebounds, what was more encouraging to me was to see his activity on the offensive end, where he was active under the basket, and made a pretty long two (long enough that I initially thought it was a three from my vantage point at the other end of the court, but he was inside the arc) with a pretty natural motion—it wasn't a prayer, or a heave; it was a shot—and while it's still very early in Martin's development, he at least looked like an (unpolished) NBA player last night, and that's really all you can ask of a guy playing in front of a home crowd for the first time.

Tweet of the Night

Jeff Green had a chasedown block that was more impressive than this one, but this rejection my JaMychal Green was really great, especially in the building.

Pontification Maximus

Last night's garbage time immediately improved my mood, and got me to thinking: if the Grizzlies were barely above .500 and Jordan Adams and Jarell Martin were regularly getting minutes and developing, would I still be as negative about the season and their prospects for the future as I am? Or is it the fact that without any growth for the young players on the roster, a season full of meaningless, unwinnable games becomes that much more meaningless, and the frustrating losses become that much more frustrating?

I think it is. Seeing Jarell Martin finally hit the floor last night was a welcome sight, and not because I necessarily think he's the future of the franchise. (I have, for whatever it's worth, reversed my draft night opinion of Martin, and I think he can be a good player if he's given the chance to develop.) It was just exciting to see a young guy trying to figure it out, and exciting to consider the possibilities he might bring to the team someday.

And that's why it's fun to watch a young bad team, sometimes. The same principle applies in blowout garbage time... when the young guys are able to play. If Russ Smith, Jarell Martin, and Jordan Adams were able to be on the floor at the same time, the score wouldn't matter much to me; I think I'd instantly feel better about things just to see guys learning the game. That's what I've missed from this season. If the Grizzlies aren't going to be a very good team—and let's face it: at this point, they're not a very good team, just a "decent" one—the season is useless if it's not building towards some future goal. That there haven't been any young guys playing at all has meant there's been no such building. Hopefully Martin can continue to get some run in lopsided games and show us that maybe there is a future here somewhere in here, however vaguely defined.

Monday, December 21, 2015

What the Grizzlies Want for Christmas

Posted By on Mon, Dec 21, 2015 at 9:20 AM

I've been working the back channels for weeks with some of my sources to get my hands on this: a complete rundown of what the Grizzlies want Santa Claus to bring them on Friday morning:

Not sure why I was surprised his face is still bothering him, given how bad it looked in that GSW series. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Not sure why I was surprised his face is still bothering him, given how bad it looked in that GSW series.

Mike Conley: a new face that isn't still numb, and that doesn't make "nerves come on behind his eyeball". The longer Conley struggles to get back to his pre-injury form, the more apparent it is that he's still suffering the after-effects of the facial fracture he suffered during the Portland series last year, when he caught an errant CJ McCollum elbow that caused a really horrible blowout fracture.

I think we—those of us who watch and cover this team, and probably the Grizzlies, and Conley, too—were all a bit too optimistic about his return. The way he's playing makes sense if you think he's tentative and over-thinking things because his face is still messed up; unfortunately for Conley in his contract year, it's starting to look like a blowout fracture is a 12-month injury for him.

Marc Gasol: a better perimeter defense so he doesn't have to run around so much. Gasol's defense is not at its peak form this year, and while some of it certainly appears to be a conditioning/effort issue, the other simple fact is that, due to the roster situation right now, he's got to play 40 minutes a night (in fact, that's a direct quote from Dave Joerger in the postgame presser after the win over the Pacers on Saturday night) and the Grizzlies' defense isn't very good this year so far. That's led to Gasol having to run around more than usual, and, well, we all know "Marc Gasol" and "run around more" aren't phrases that should go together. Gasol won a DPOY by calmly sitting back and watching the play develop before making exactly the right move at exactly the right time to disintegrate the opponent's offense. This year, not so much, and it's not all his fault.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Zach Randolph: his spot in the starting lineup. Z-Bo has been a total pro about getting benched; even his "you've been wanting to do this, Joerg" comment was said with a chuckle and a smile. But he only played 15 minutes on Saturday against the Pacers, and if he continues to play between 15-20 minutes and the Grizzlies can't solidify their hold on an above-.500 record? I expect him to start letting folks know he doesn't think he should be coming off the bench, and that will make the team's dynamic even stranger than it already is. So, if Santa brings him back his ability to play decent defense, maybe he'll also get to start again.

Tony Allen: Another hoverboard, and a knee that doesn't swell up.

Jeff Green: A new contract that overpays him to be a net negative while he's on the floor. Green, as the starting power forward, has now had some really good games and some really bad ones. (The Dallas game on Friday was particularly bad, going 0-7 from the floor in almost 35 minutes, scoring only 2 points on free throws.) But he can create in space, and as the New Smallball Grizzlies try to find their way in the world, he appears to be the guy on whom Joerger has pinned the whole enterprise, for better or for worse. I don't need to remind you that there are years of stats that suggest Green just isn't a guy who moves the needle for any team he's ever been on. but he's in a contract year, and I don't think the Grizzlies intend to be the ones cutting him a check this summer, so he's asked Santa for someone else to throw too much money at him. I assume it will happen, especially as the salary cap starts its rise.

Matt Barnes: I just can't bring myself to make any of the really tasteless jokes that are occurring to me. Besides, for better or for worse, Barnes has been the best wing player on the team and now also the best defensive power forward. For this year's Grizzlies, Matt Barnes Has It All. What does he need Santa to bring him?

Mario Chalmers: A 30-point game. Chalmers has kind of faded into the background after a hot start with the Grizzlies, which is a thing that happens to a lot of guys who get traded to Memphis and eaten alive by the team's offensive kudzu problem.

Courtney Lee: Some quality time with a sports psychologist, or a psychoanalyst, or a hypnotherapist, or whatever it takes to get him to stop passing up wide open shots.

Vince Carter: I don't know. Vince seems like one of those dudes (I fit into this category) who is impossible to shop for because he doesn't really want anything. If he does, he generally just buys it. He's playing sometimes—he played more than 20 minutes in a really good Conley/Lee/Carter/Barnes/Gasol lineup on Saturday—and when he's not, he's probably thinking about the player development gig he's going to end up with once he retires, which will probably be after this season, but who knows? He's got a partially guaranteed year left.

Remember what this looked like? - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Remember what this looked like?

Russ Smith: Buckets. And minutes. But mainly buckets.

James Ennis: Some kind of travel restriction so he stops having to go to Iowa.

JaMychal Green: JaM just wants his minutes back. After starting the season really well, the smallball shift, along with an innate inability not to be called for every single foul, has hampered Green's effectiveness. Par for the course for a guy's first year as a real rotation player. He'll figure it out, assuming Joerger doesn't just cut him out of the rotation altogether. He's under 30, so that's always possible.

Jordan Adams and Brandan Wright: Magical Kobe Bryant German knees.

Dave Joerger: Ah, what do you get the man who seemingly doesn't like any of the things he has? Joerger wants a new roster, a healthy version of the roster he has, to play smallball, to be more "nasty", to rebound, to play defense, and probably really does want that Minnesota job so he can go coach Towns and Wiggins. Joerger is a good coach, and if the Grizzlies start to right the ship, he'll probably be a lot happier with his current situation. But the first part of the season has been tough sledding for ol' Dave and he's been very vocal about it. Maybe a nice bottle of wine from Gregg Popovich and a weekend at some kind of meditation retreat.

John Hollinger: A RAM upgrade for THE MACHINE so it can figure out how to actually get something of value in return for the Grizzlies' big pile of expiring contracts of players that nobody else really wants.

  • Secret Mole in Grizzlies Organization
  • Actual photograph of THE MACHINE.

Robert Pera: The ability to own an NBA team without even once appearing in front of the media or showing his face at a home game. So far this is working out for him this season, but at some point, the guy at the top has to stop being completely absent, right? Right?

Every person covering the Grizzlies: Please, no more home blowouts, and if they have to come, then at least let Jarell Martin and Jordan Adams be healthy enough to play in them. The unremitting darkness of the first seven weeks of the season has taken a toll on all of us.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Beyond the Arc Podcast, #39: Hot Seat Rumor Roundup

Posted By on Wed, Dec 16, 2015 at 7:30 AM

This week on the show, Kevin and Phil talk about:

  • The change to the Grizzlies' starting lineup this week, and what it means for Tony Allen and Zach Randolph to come off the bench
  • Whether TA really hurt his knee or not (he did)
  • Are the Grizzlies going to be buyers or sellers this trade season?
  • What will the Grizzlies' offense look like long term? What's the plan?
  • Why is Mike Conley struggling?
  • Was Dave Joerger really going to get fired if the Grizzlies lost to the Wizards?
  • A preview of the Grizzlies' upcoming Eastern Conference games.

The Beyond the Arc podcast is available on iTunes, so you can subscribe there! It'd be great if you could rate and review the show while you're there. You can also find and listen to the show on Stitcher and on PlayerFM.

You can call our Google Voice number and leave us a voicemail, and we might talk about your question on the next show: 234-738-3394

You can download the show here or listen below:

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Grizzlies 112, Wizards 95: Five Thoughts

Posted By on Tue, Dec 15, 2015 at 9:35 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Last night, the Grizzlies played the second game of the Smallball Lineup Era (after a whole day of "Grit & Grind is Dead" garment-rending from the Memphis media, myself included) and came away with a big 112-95 win over the struggling Washington Wizards.

Both teams started out playing fast—"uncontrolled" fast, not really "fast-paced offense" fast—but the game ended up being played at a pace factor of 95.0 according to Basketball Reference, which is only slightly higher than the Grizzlies' season average (94.4, 23rd in the league) and well below Washington's (98.8, 4th in the league). Still, it looked like the Grizzlies were moving at Mach 3, flying around and finding a steady rhythm on offense that heretofore has only been present in fits and starts.

The minutes (for a SEGABABA) were heavy—Jeff Green and Marc Gasol each played 39, and Green just played 44 the night before in Miami—but it's clear that the Grizzlies are on to something, whether it's sustainable or not. Especially with Matt Barnes in the starting lineup, making this change may actually be the best use of the players the Grizzlies have. We will see.

Five Thoughts

★ For the first time in a while, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol both had a good night at the same time. Conley's struggles and Gasol's lack of mobility (and, perhaps, effort on the defensive end) have been well-documented in these pages, but last night was a return to form for both of them, with Gasol finishing with 24 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists, and Conley with 18 points, 11 assists, and 4 rebounds. The lackluster play of these two has been the real issue with the Grizzlies all throughout their string of blowout losses and miracle wins, and no matter what happens to the starting lineup—whether it stays as-is or moves back to a bigger grouping—if Conley and Gasol can't play like the played last night, the Grizzlies won't get far.

Mike Conley bounced back from a string of bad games. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mike Conley bounced back from a string of bad games.

This year marks a clear transition from the "Core Four" to the Conley/Gasol-centered team so many of us have been speculating about for so long, and it's taking both guys a while to adjust to their new role as the central hub of the team, around which everything else revolves. As they grow into that role—and ride the wave of whatever else is going to happen this year—it's good to see that they both still have it in them to play these sorts of games. For a minute, there, it was questionable.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

★ Using Jeff Green as a power forward with a lot of space in which to operate goes a long way towards neutralizing some of his weaknesses as a player. The starting lineup change (and subsequent stretches of time when the dreaded Conley/Lee/Green/Randolph/Gasol lineup is on the floor afterwards—the Grizzlies' version of "The Death Lineup" except we're calling it that for different reasons) has reinforced that the real issue here may be that Green and Zach Randolph can't really be on the floor together, because for Green to play his best basketball, he needs the space around the rim and under the foul line open for his slashes to the basket.

Green isn't a "stretch 4" in the sense that he pulls defenses all the way out to the three point line. He still shoots below 30% from long range, so defenses are happy to let him have those shots, and if he hits a few from the corner, he hits a few from the corner. But what he does do well is find ways to get to the basket, and he can't do that with Randolph on the floor.

...which is why I've been saying for a while now that Green should be the one coming off the bench as the backup power forward, not starting in Randolph's place. My sense is that this move is also about Randolph's defense, and allowing Barnes and Green to be interchangeable at both forward spots allows Barnes to take whichever defensive assignment is the toughest. But my doubts linger—is moving Jeff Green into Zach Randolph's place as a starter prioritizing the right guy? Green has been scoring more in his starting role, but his offensive efficiency is still below Randolph's, and his Defensive Rating on the season is still higher (which is a bad thing). I guess we'll see.

★ The much bigger deal to me than who starts at power forward is making sure Courtney Lee and Matt Barnes stay in the starting lineup. These two are the best wing combo the Grizzlies have right now, playing solid basketball on both ends of the floor, and compared to the alternatives, they're basically the "least worst" option the Grizzlies have in the wing rotation right now. Even if the Grizzlies go back "big" and move Randolph back into the starting lineup, I think the Lee/Barnes pairing should stay.

★ It's hard to get a feel for how much of last night was the Grizzlies' new-look offense taking advantage of the Wizards, and how much of it was just the fact that the Wizards aren't very good defensively. According to Basketball Reference, they have the 25th-ranked defense in the league (only one spot worse than the Grizzlies at the moment, but hey, who's keeping track?), so this is a team that's easy to take advantage of. Certainly the Grizzlies just decided to change what they're doing and aren't comfortable with it yet, and a team with a more established defense would be able to find the weaknesses in that and prey on them. Not the Wizards. So we're going to have to let the sample size get bigger before we start evaluating whether the small starting lineup is really the "season saver" type move it's designed to be.

★ One more encouraging point from last night: The Wizards made a run to cut the Grizzlies' 20-point lead back down to 11, and the Grizzlies didn't choke it away. This year, the Grizzlies have not been able to hold a lead on anybody, so to see them do it against a Wizards team that has some offensive weapons, was nice. You don't want to believe that they're not mentally tough enough to hang on in any of these games. Nice to be proven right every now and then. Why has it happened in the last two games, though? My theory: fatigue from running more and a reversion to the original offense with which they're all familiar, and mostly the latter. These guys have been running the same sets for six years now. When the going gets tough, guess what plays they're going to run? The same ones they've run for six years.

Tweet of the Night

This tweet from SB Nation's Mike Prada made me laugh, and also reinforces my point about Washington's poor defense:

Dave Joerger: not fired. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dave Joerger: not fired.

Pontification Maximus

The Grizzlies didn't lose last night, but even if they had, I genuinely don't believe anything would've happened regarding Dave Joerger's job status. The rumors were flying yesterday—"League Sources" saying Joerger was in danger and that John Hollinger is "on thin ice"—but I'm not sure league sources knew what they were talking about in this case. It doesn't make any sense to fire Joerger now, unless the front office folks are just mad that he keeps saying the Grizzlies' roster isn't very good. Sure, it's impolitic, but he's not wrong.

Granted, it's not the kind of thing any NBA coach can keep saying for a whole season and not lose his team. Hopefully now that the team is playing better—smaller, but demonstrably better—Joerger feels comfortable enough to lay off the "we're just not good" rhetoric.

As for Hollinger, I think that rumor is even less true than the Joerger one. With any luck, whatever is going on with the Grizzlies front office—my sense is that sure, there are tensions between the basketball ops staff and the coaching staff and the roster, but they're not anything out of the ordinary for a team that is underperforming and getting blown out at home—getting back into the habit of winning games by a little and only losing games by a little will be ameliorative. Time will tell.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Monday Three Pointer: Lineups, Abadi, and Heat, Oh My!

Posted By on Mon, Dec 14, 2015 at 9:30 AM

Zach Randolph came off the bench Sunday evening against the Heat. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Zach Randolph came off the bench Sunday evening against the Heat.

After a week of having a lot of things to talk about, the Grizzlies responded by giving us even more to talk about (and this post doesn't even really cover the Grizzlies' horrifying loss to the Hornets on Friday night, in which they blew a double-digit lead to lose a 24 point game to a Charlotte team that pick-and-rolled them to death in front of the whole world.

So, here we go, with the first Monday Three Pointer in a while, and we're going to talk about the new look starting lineup the Grizzlies rolled out last night in Miami, we're going to (briefly) talk about Joe Abadi and the Grizzlies' front office, and we're going to talk about the Grizzlies' last-second loss to the Miami Heat last night.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Starting Lineup

Last night against the Miami Heat, Dave Joerger tried something that had probably been brewing in some form or another for a while now: a change to the starting lineup. On the floor for the opening tip for the Grizzlies? Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, Matt Barnes, Jeff Green, and Marc Gasol. That's right—for the first time in a long time1, Zach Randolph came off the bench for the Grizzlies, and Tony Allen was moved out of the starting lineup, too. Allen ended up sitting out the game with a knee injury suffered during warmups (after the lineup change).

Situationally—that is, whether it was intended to be a long-term move or not—the move made sense against the Miami Heat. Z-Bo would've had bad matchups on both ends of the floor against Miami's starting unit, being guarded by Hassan Whiteside on the offensive end (and probably paying for it by getting his shot blocked early and often) and then having to guard Chris Bosh all the way out to the three point line on the defensive end. Randolph has still been an effective player this year, but he's clearly diminished a little bit, and lining up his minutes so they came against Justise Winslow and Udonis Haslem instead of Whiteside and Bosh was pretty indisputably the right move.

For Allen's part, it's easy to see that Courtney Lee (generally) does better offensively as a starter, and early offense has been a struggle with the Allen/Green matchup. What Joerger ended up doing was inserting Matt Barnes into Zach Randolph's place in the lineup, playing Green as a power forward on offense but then having Barnes guard Bosh on the other end. A smart lineup decision that paid off in spades early, as the Grizzlies put on a solid performance through the first three quarters.

Continue reading »

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Grizzlies 93, Pistons 92: Five Thoughts

Posted By on Thu, Dec 10, 2015 at 9:29 AM

Mike Conley has not been himself all season. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mike Conley has not been himself all season.

Well, that was certainly an interesting way to end a basketball game. Last night against the Pistons, after grabbing a rebound and heading back the other way, Matt Barnes—with 1.1 seconds left on the clock, and a timeout or two left—did this:

and it went in. It worked. The Grizzlies defended the ensuing Detroit possession and ran out the clock, and it worked. They won.


Was it lucky? Sure. Was it more than a little dangerous, and would everyone on earth probably still be ridiculing him if he'd missed it? It's Matt Barnes. Of Course. But it went in. And the Grizzlies won. And have now won 2 out of their last 4 games (against the Suns and Pistons) on a last-second lob dunk and a half-court shot. The other two games, against the Spurs and Thunder, have been 20+ point blowouts. It's a weird place to be.

Five Thoughts

What is going on with Mike Conley? He ended last night with 11 points and 8 assists, but that 11 points came on 4 of 13 shooting, he missed some wide open 3's he usually hits, his defense of Reggie Jackson usually struggles but last night he got roasted more than once, and... it all adds up to a picture of a Conley who is struggling greatly as of late.

The Grizzlies have always gone as Conley and Marc Gasol have gone, and neither of them have been up to their usual standard—and now Gasol has an ankle injury to add to mobility problems he's been having all season long—but the funk in which Conley has found himself in the first quarter of the season is far and away the worst he's had in years. Makes one wonder whether the "contract year" stuff is getting to him—the same way it got to Gasol a little, even though he'd probably never admit to that—or whether there's an undisclosed injury he's struggling with, in much the same way that Courtney Lee was terrible for a month last year before everyone found out he was playing with a serious hand injury. Either way, it's worth keeping an eye on.

Continue reading »

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Thunder 125, Grizzlies 88: Socrates and the Grizzlies Fan, Pt. VII

Posted By on Wed, Dec 9, 2015 at 7:42 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Grizzlies lost at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder last night, 125-88. It was their worst home loss in history. In these sorts of extraordinary circumstances, we like to dig into the Flyer's vault and publish fragments of a lost work by Plato we bought from a guy at the Cleveland Street Flea Market. This is another such fragment. Nobody's sure how it begins or ends, but the middle part is pretty good.

Persons of the Dialogue



Silky O'Sullivan's on Beale, having sauntered over from a 37-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Socrates. WHAT then do you say? Why have you brought me to this place? Do I seem like the sort of man who associates with alcoholic goats?

Twitter. We need to talk, Socrates. We need to blow this whole thing up. It's not working. It's time to move on. Everything is terrible, life is misery, existence is hopeless, and the Grizzlies' perimeter players aren't very good.

Soc. I'm not one to condone the blowing up of anything, at least not without cause.

Tw. Were you watching the same game I was watching? Did you see how lazy they looked, how disinterested? How Kevin Durant was able to guard Marc Gasol, and guard Zach Randolph?

Soc. Indeed, I did.

Tw. And yet you're not dismayed.

Soc. Not really.

Tw. Clearly time has passed this team by. They don't play like they want to win anymore, and they don't even look like they care that they got beaten by that much.

Soc. And what do you propose they do in response to this?

Tw. I think they should blow the whole thing up. Rebuild. Start over. Trade Zach Randolph and Tony Allen and start over with Conley and Gasol.

Continue reading »

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Beyond the Arc Podcast, #38: Talking About Tony Allen

Posted By on Tue, Dec 8, 2015 at 7:32 AM


This week on the show, Kevin and Phil talk about:

  • Kevin's post about Tony Allen: is this the beginning of the end, or has he just started the season in a funk?
  • What has made the Spurs better than the Grizzlies for so many years? A discussion of execution vs. effort.
  • The Oklahoma City Thunder are in town; can the Grizzlies beat them convincingly?
  • Andrew Bogut's beef with a guy covering the Jazz. Is he right that the NBA gives out too many media credentials?

The Beyond the Arc podcast is available on iTunes, so you can subscribe there! It'd be great if you could rate and review the show while you're there. You can also find and listen to the show on Stitcher and on PlayerFM.

You can call our Google Voice number and leave us a voicemail, and we might talk about your question on the next show: 234-738-3394

You can download the show here or listen below:

Monday, December 7, 2015

We Need to Talk About Tony Allen

Posted By on Mon, Dec 7, 2015 at 9:14 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

One thing jumped out at me in the Grizzlies’ 95–93 win over the Suns yesterday afternoon—one thing besides the perfectly-executed Courtney Lee to Jeff Green lob dunk with .8 seconds left in the game to win it. Tony Allen played a total of 8 minutes, starting both halves. In the first quarter, he played 4:31 before Dave Joerger subbed Courtney Lee for him (Allen and Jeff Green started at the 2 and 3 respectively) and in the third, he played 3:29 before the sub came.

While he was on the court against Phoenix, Allen struggled to contain Eric Bledsoe, a matchup he usually gets up for. On offense, Phoenix did what every other team in the league does against the Grizzlies now: they put four guys in the paint at all times and barely avoid as many defensive 3-second calls as they can, and the Grizzlies really struggled the whole game to punish them from beyond the arc for it.

One rough game wouldn’t be worth talking about in this context—guys have rough games all the time. It’s a long season. But we’re 21 games into an 82 game season now—a quarter of the season is gone—and teams are doing this regularly now, taking away the offensive skills that Allen has: cutting to the basket, grabbing rebounds, making effort plays within 5 feet of the rim. Maybe bigger than that, when was the last time we saw Tony force a turnover and make a big “first down” signal for the FedExForum crowd? When have we seen him make a big play and holler “First team All-Defense” loud enough for the club level to hear him?

Where is the Tony Allen who wanders around during timeouts because he’s so clearly in the zone that he doesn’t need to (or maybe can’t) sit down and listen to what’s being talked about?

I’m not sure whether the change in demeanor is stemming from the way he’s struggled on the court this year or vice versa, but Tony Allen is the Grizzlies’ spirit animal, and his role as the team’s hype man is hard to overstate.

But about those struggles on the court: they are real.

According to the NBA’s media stats site, Allen’s net rating—points per 100 possessions scored with Allen on the court minus opponent points per 100 with Allen on the court—is –3.5. For a guy who (1) is known as an elite perimeter defender and (2) predicates his whole game on how he’s playing on defense, it’s not a good sign for him to actually be a net negative in those minutes.

Of course, the caveat with these stats, as with every Griz stat this season, is that the 50 point loss to the Warriors has its thumb on the scale, but I think the point is still valid, if only because Allen only played 12 minutes in that loss.

In the second game of a back to back, Allen seems to be himself. In those games, his net rating shoots up to +13.8, his eFG% is 48.6%, and he’s playing a lot of minutes. If he’s not able to keep up on defense, his offense suffers, and his offense isn’t the main reason he’s established himself as such an important player on this team to begin with.

I don’t want to speculate about the causes for Allen’s change in demeanor. In the first place, he’s clearly frustrated by how he’s struggled, and that makes sense. The word “passionate” isn’t strong enough to apply to Tony. But he’s just different. He doesn’t seem as engaged, like he’s playing worried. He’s gambling more trying to make big plays, staying home less, and getting burned as a result.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

I’ve said for a while now that when age finally catches up to Allen, things would probably go quickly for him—that his style of play is dependent on his body holding up and when he’s hurt it’s hard for him to go out and do his thing. I hope that’s not what we’re seeing here; I hope Allen is just in a funk. But after missing 20+ games to injury the last two years, maybe he’s finally starting to lose a little bit of his edge, not getting over screens effectively, not able to beat guys to their spots anymore.

If that’s really the case, though, I’m not sure what the Grizzlies can do about it. He’s not in a contract year this year—next year is the last season of his 4-year deal. He’s not particularly tradeable; even when he’s playing his best his skill set is pretty uniquely suited to the Grizzlies and the way they play. You can’t just bench him, because his play and his connection to what’s happening on the court will suffer, and then you’ll probably lose his motivational ability, too. He’s always been sensitive about his minutes. When they get cut, he gets unhappy. In the past, when he’s gotten moved out of the starting lineup, it’s bred discontent. So it’s kind of a tight spot—Joerger clearly doesn’t feel like he can play him much at the moment, but they can’t make a move because (1) a large percentage of the Grizzlies’ fanbase—maybe a large percentage of the population of the Memphis metro area—would show up at the offices with torches and pitchforks ready to burn the place to the ground and (2) there’s not really anything they’d get in return that would be worth the beating they’d take in public opinion.

I get why nobody has written this piece yet. Tony is pretty much universally beloved in Memphis, and no one wants to rain on the parade. Nobody wants to damage the Memphis economy by taking the bootleg t-shirt market down a peg, either. It’s a hard thing to do, considering that a guy you love watching play basketball might not be right this season. It hints at mortality and loss, the avoidance of which drives us to sport in the first place.

Listen: the best case scenario here is that Tony reads this column (Hi, Tony!) and it makes him mad that I’m talking about his bad games as of late and he goes out and gets 72 steals in the Grizzlies’ next game. I’m sure that’s what he wants, it’s what the Grizzlies organization wants, and it’s what the mass of Griz fans in the stands with their Grindfather t-shirts on wants. But that Tony hasn’t shown up yet this season, and the guy playing in his place seems to be missing some of the unbounded joy that makes him so breathtaking to watch when he’s controlling a game. That lack of enthusiasm, coupled with the fact that he’s just not getting it done basketball-wise right now, is hard to watch, and is probably just another signpost that this year is the start of the transition from the Core Four era to the Big Two era.

I’d rather have another season of first downs and “First Team”s instead. At this point, I’m not sure that’s what we’ll get.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Spurs 103, Grizzlies 83: Ad Infinitum

Posted By on Fri, Dec 4, 2015 at 7:54 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Sometimes writing about a game seems exciting, like I can't wait to tell the story of what I just saw, or like I'm going to recapture some mystical experience from the FedExForum in words and return it to you, the reader. Sometimes this job feels like some sort of mission, or a gift, or a calling.

Other times, like last night, I want the whole article to be

The Grizzlies aren't as good as the Spurs. Still.

and I want to post it and go back to bed.

Sure, you can say the Spurs have had it out for the Grizzlies for five straight years now, ever since the 8th-seeded Griz dispatched the 1st-seeded Spurs in the 2011 playoffs. If that's the narrative you're into, you can write that piece about last night's game, and you wouldn't be wrong. But it's simpler than that. It's less dramatic than that, less infused with The Narrative that we all (myself included) get so addicted to from time to time as people who write about basketball.

The simple truth here, though, is something Marc Gasol himself said after the game: the Grizzlies aren't elite right now. The Spurs are. The Warriors are. The Cavaliers are. The Grizzlies can't beat those teams right now, not when they have to catch the other team's best shot. It's not just about the offense not having the firepower, either; these teams are better than the Grizzlies in every aspect of the game.

About that offense, though: last night, as usual against the Spurs, it didn't work. The Spurs have an excellent defense this year, better than in the past few years, and the rise of Kawhi Leonard has a lot to do with that. The Griz couldn't get the shots they wanted last night in the paint, and on the perimeter, they had to resort to an awful lot of 3's from the wings when no other shot availed itself. Everything from the perimeter funnels down into the paint, where Tim Duncan played defense far better than any 75-year-old had a right to, but the Grizzlies seemed to forget that from time to time and tried to challenge him directly with a wing or with Zach Randolph. It never worked.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Gasol has some success against Duncan from time to time—the head-to-head matchup between those two is one of the most purely enjoyable things in all of pro basketball to watch, two incredibly skilled players deploying their full range of tools and tricks against each other—but he also had five turnovers, at least four of which came in the paint. Gasol would get ready to gather and make some kind of move towards the basket, and the Spurs immediately doubled with a guard from the top, swarming Gasol while his back was to the basket. Four times this resulted in a strip or a steal, and probably the fifth one, too, but I don't remember when that fifth turnover happened. I remember the other four because it kept happening. It was unavoidable. The double always came, and always ripped the ball right out of his hands, or caused him to bobble it and drop it.

I'd say "someday the Grizzlies will be better than the Spurs and the tables will turn" but, y'know, I'm not really sure I believe that. It doesn't feel true, anyway, not with this group of (Hall of Fame-bound) Spurs and this group of Grizzlies. There's a methodical sense of execution there that the Grizzlies have never had—this configuration of the Griz has always won by playing harder and tougher, not by picking apart opponents by systematically attacking weakness until it fails. Last night was just another track on a CD (remember those) that's set to "REPEAT ALL" and no one has stopped it. It keeps playing, we keep hearing it, and we're all so used to it that we barely notice anything about it anymore other than its unwavering presence. The Grizzlies aren't as good as the Spurs, and the Spurs now have a good four years of institutional knowledge of how to dismantle the Grizzlies like they're an aircraft in the Mojave boneyard. Piece by piece, system by system, possession by possession, rivet by rivet.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Beyond the Arc Podcast, #37: Why Are the Sixers so Bad?

Posted By on Tue, Dec 1, 2015 at 9:00 AM


This week on the show, Kevin and Phil talk about:

  • Matt Barnes, who is finally starting to find his rhythm, and who has stepped in as a starter as of late.
  • The Grizzlies are picking up the pace and moving the ball around more than in the past.
  • The impact that steal rate and defensive effort have on the Grizzlies' offensive production and the Grizzlies' poor 3-point defense.
  • The Sixers almost got their first win against the Grizzlies because they don't play as hard against bad teams.
  • Why the Philadelphia rebuilding process seems to be going off the rails: What are they doing that isn't working?
  • Why having leadership on a team full of young guys is important for player development.
  • Philadelphia's GM came from Houston; is the lack of leadership in Philadelphia's locker room similar to Houston's leadership problems with Howard and Harden?
  • Should the NBA adopt relegation? (Phil said "regulation" but we were both pretty tired so we'll let that slide) How would that work?

The Beyond the Arc podcast is available on iTunes, so you can subscribe there! It'd be great if you could rate and review the show while you're there. You can also find and listen to the show on Stitcher and on PlayerFM.

You can call our Google Voice number and leave us a voicemail, and we might talk about your question on the next show: 234-738-3394

You can download the show here or listen below:

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Next Day Notes: Hawks 116, Grizzlies 101

Posted By on Sat, Nov 28, 2015 at 10:17 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

On a night that started out with an offensive explosion, it was the Grizzlies' defense that just flat-out never showed up on Friday night against the visiting Atlanta Hawks, and as a result, they lost 116-101.

This recap will be brief, because there isn't really much to say; despite an unbelievably hot shooting start—the Grizzlies had hit 8 three pointers and were shooting 52% at halftime—the defense was never really there, giving the Hawks a lot of open looks that weren't converting. The Grizzlies were only up 5 at halftime even with the out of character long range barrage, so when the Hawks started hitting the shots in front of them, they had two straight 30-point quarters, and the Grizzlies couldn't keep up, putting up a more "Grizzlies" stat line of 4 three pointers and 35% shooting after the break.

It was a disappointing end to a game that started with promise, but behind it was a bigger disappointment: the Griz have now played all four teams from last year's Conference Finals and only beaten the hapless Rockets, and the other games have all been lopsided. A win over OKC without Kevin Durant stands as the Grizzlies' "quality" win right now, and that's not saying very much.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

In the continued absence of Zach Randolph, Dave Joerger went with the Conley/Allen/Barnes/Jeff Green/Gasol starting lineup again, and I continue to like what Barnes brings to the table there—especially nights like last night where he hits 3's in the flow of the offense. It's what we thought Barnes could bring to the table in a best-case scenario. Until Randolph returns, I think starting Barnes at the 3 is the way to go, with the two Greens (Jeff and JaMychal) swapping in interchangeably at the power forward spot.

The Grizzlies' poor defense last night was a bit alarming. Teams have been able to work the ball side to side for open shots all year long, and Atlanta is a team whose entire system is predicated on such shooting, but even so, the slippage in defense has been a theme this year (the Grizzlies are currently 20th in defensive rating, according to Basketball Reference) and is only improving slowly.

Tony Allen also had a pretty poor defensive outing last night. Allen continues to be a net negative in his minutes this year (he's got a net rating of -8, again according to Basketball Reference) and it's hard to tell how much of that is situational—that is, dependent on the lineups he shares the floor with—and how much of that represents an actual slippage in his ability. More than his defense, though, I think the real negative here is his offense. Teams are continuing to scheme Allen the way the Warriors did—that is, pretend he's not on the floor on offense and defend the other four Grizzlies with all five of their players. With that many people in the lane, it also cuts out Allen's chief offensive skill: cutting to the basket. He's great at it, but he can't run through three guys to do it. It's a conundrum, one that I don't see getting better as the season wears on. Worth keeping an eye on.

It was a disappointing night, mostly because the Grizzlies still haven't beaten a "top tier" team. After the first quarter last night it seemed like they might be ready to make a statement like that, but it wasn't meant to be.

Tweet of the Night

This one, only because I still can't believe Joerger said JaMychal Green is a small forward:

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Up Next

The Philadelphia 76ers come to town on Sunday, and if they lose, it'll be the worst start to a season in NBA history. Generally, this kind of thing means the Grizzlies are going to lose, but we'll see. The Sixers are really bad. But they have come pretty close to winning a couple of times recently. What I'm saying is this: the Sixers are going to want to do everything in their power to avoid the worst start in history, and this group of Grizzlies has a long, storied history of playing down to the competition and barely beating terrible teams. It's a recipe for a disaster with the Grizzlies' name all over it. "The Team The Sixers Actually Beat" is not a title the Griz want attached to them, not in this season where everyone has already said they're old and in the way.


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