Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Grizzlies 112, Wizards 95: Five Thoughts

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

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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.

Now.

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
  • 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

SOCRATES
TWITTER
G.N.G.

Scene

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

bta_004.jpeg


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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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

bta_002.jpeg

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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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.


Friday, November 27, 2015

Ten Grizzlies Things I Am Thankful For

Posted By on Fri, Nov 27, 2015 at 8:22 AM

Now that most of us have awakened (however slowly) from our food comas, and the Grizzlies have a home game tonight against the Atlanta Hawks, I thought it might be nice to spend some time in reflection. Grizzlies fans have a lot to be thankful for. The team has made the playoffs five years in a row, they've made it to the Conference Finals in that stretch, they're still one of the best teams in the West (though this year I think it's pretty clear that Golden State is the best), they've finally managed to grow—organically, through many repeated years of success and through an uncommon identification between the team and the fans—a fanbase that seems like it will persist for years to come.

But those aren't the things I'm thankful for this year—well, they are, but they're not the ones that made my list. Here are ten Grizzlies things I am thankful for.

#1: I am thankful that Mario Chalmers has improved the team since coming in via trade.

#2: I am thankful that I was able to let go of my long-held grudge against Chalmers for what might still be the most emotionally devastating sports loss I've ever had to sit through, by myself in a hotel room in San Jose, California, wearing a Memphis Tigers sweatshirt around the Bay Area all week before that garnering some strange looks. I may not have let go of the loss, but I have come to realize that Mario Chalmers was supposed to make that shot. He is a basketball player. Can't be mad at that. The Tigers' free throw shooting, though...

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

#3: Well, that got off track, didn't it. I am thankful for JaMychal Green, who (even though Dave Joerger says he is a small forward) has stepped up as the first big off the bench in ways I don't think anyone imagined. I'm also thankful that I saw him in Kroger on Union Ave. that one time buying wheat bread at 9PM. Wheat bread is good for you.

#4: I am thankful that Jeff Green has finally started to find a role and a rhythm on this team, because having to watch him amble around the court without a clue what is happening around him is pretty exhausting. His defensive awareness is still only marginally higher than that of, say, a stump, or a small woodland mammal, but when he's finding lanes to drive to the basket, getting free throws, and not taking so many horrific pull-up jumpers, Green helps this team. Resentment is toxic. Being free from Jeff Green Rage has been good for us, as a group of people who watch this team.

That said, I'm sure it will be back. When Zach Randolph slots back into the starting lineup, the space in which Green has been able to operate so well as of late will go away, and he'll be back to trying to improvise without anywhere to go. My hope is that he moves back to the second unit when Randolph returns to the first, so that he can continue playing in more pace-oriented groupings. "More pace-oriented" is one of the least direct ways I could think of to say "Gasol/Randolph don't move very quickly".

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

#5: I am thankful for the time we had with Beno Udrih, as a city. Beno is a guy who gets Memphis. Now we'll see how much of Hog & Hominy's monthly revenue he was responsible for. The Grizzlies may need to offer them some sort of bailout package.

#6: As ever, I am thankful that the Core Four era continues, even as we start to see the cracks emerging around the edges. As the unit that has brought the Grizzlies their first real run of playoff success, they're always going to be legends. As the team starts to transform away from this configuration—and you're kidding yourself if you don't see it happening already—it's going to be easy to say "Get rid of the old guys." And in some sense, that's the appropriate response—the NBA is not (typically) an environment that engenders loyalty to players. Fans cheer for laundry.

But if you're not a little bit wistful about Zach's struggles to keep up on defense, and Tony's out-of-place-ness and commensurate negative net rating—if that doesn't give you a little bit of "Oh man it's finally happening" sadness—I'm not sure I can help you. So I'm glad these guys are still around, even as they start to age. Might as well go on and crown Z-Bo Permanent Mayor of Memphis.

#7: I am thankful for bootleg T-shirts. Come playoff time (assuming the Grizzlies are in it, which seems like a safe bet at this point) I think we're going to try to do some Beyond the Arc shirts. They'll probably be weird. It'll be cool.

#8: I am thankful that Jordan Adams hasn't been traded yet. If there's one thing I wish for the Grizzlies franchise, it's that they might finally get their collective act together and start developing younger players. With Adams, that trajectory has been complicated by his lingering knee injury, but the plan—as far as I can tell—is still to let him get on the floor and start figuring out the NBA game. That's something that hasn't happened in a while: a real commitment to developing a young guy. The past is littered with Grizzlies first round picks who are playing better for other teams (or out of the league, Thabeet). Let's not go back there. Adams and Jarell Martin both have a lot of potential, and they need a fair opportunity to develop it. I am thankful that it appears they'll get that chance. (Watch them both get traded tomorrow now that I've said that.)

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

#9: I am thankful that Marc Gasol re-signed with the Grizzlies. There didn't really seem to be a backup plan beyond "throw money at Kosta Koufos" (which, let's be honest, not a bad backup plan), but more importantly, it keeps a guy who loves this city as much as the rest of us around for the next five years, and gives the Grizzlies time to develop the organization around him so that as he ages and retires, along with Mike Conley, there is a new generation of talent there ready to step up. That's what it really means to be "like the Spurs": to avoid bottoming out, and have guys ready to step up into bigger roles as soon as players start to fall off. Locking Gasol up for the long term not only keeps one of the best in the game in Memphis for a long time—which is a good thing in and of itself—but means that there's now a five year window to start preparing for the future. One assumes that Conley will be re-signed this summer as well (and I will continue to consider that a fait accompli until proven otherwise), which just makes that window even more of a real thing.

#10: I am thankful that the Grizzlies don't have to play the Warriors again until April. Maybe the Warriors will have actually lost a game by then. Hopefully they'll already have the 72-10 record beaten and will take those games off. Holy moly.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Grizzlies 110, Mavericks 96: Ten Thoughts

Posted By on Wed, Nov 25, 2015 at 7:27 AM

JaMychal Green, small forward? - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • JaMychal Green, small forward?

Last night the Grizzlies got a solid win against a Mavericks team that has been playing really well to start the season. The final margin of victory was good enough, but there were points in the night when the Griz were up by as much as 25 before Dallas clawed their way back into the game—and they always seem to claw their way back into the game. It was a great win for the Grizzlies, and several guys had standout performances—seven Grizzlies scored in double figures. Here are Ten Thoughts from last night's win:

Ten Thoughts

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

★ In the absence of Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies rolled with a starting lineup of Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Matt Barnes, Jeff Green, and Marc Gasol. Not the player named Green I would expect to see in that situation, but it worked, and was Barnes' first start. Without Randolph on the floor, head coach Dave Joerger has been experimenting all season long with different lineups and looks, most of which involve Jeff Green and/or JaMychal Green and the "four out" kinds of sets that today's space-loving NBA is using more and more often. One wonders what kind of effect Z-Bo's return will have on these experiments; after a similar stretch of injury time last season, Randolph returned and played his best basketball since his 2012 knee injury. Something to keep an eye on, for sure.

★ Jeff Green had a good night, for the most part. His defense is still questionable, but Green was 8 of 14 from the field (including a three that was so spot-on it barely moved the net) and had a couple of highlight-reel dunks. What was noticeable about Green, though, was the freedom he had to operate without Randolph on the floor. It seemed like he and his fellow Green JaMychal both ended up with more dunks than usual—dunks that weren't in transition, but were a result of a guy being wide open underneath the basket. Something to keep an eye on, because those kinds of easy baskets have been hard to come by in seasons past.

★ Vince Carter continues to get minutes, and do fairly well with them. Last night Carter had 3 points in 11 minutes, but he also played excellent defense against Dirk Nowitzki, and kept the ball moving. Carter played a better game than Courtney Lee, who has struggled off the bench (just like he's always struggled off the bench) and ended last night 0-5 from the field in almost 18 minutes.

★ The Grizzlies are looking much better at a time when that really matters. The Griz have a very tough schedule early, and are playing a lot of division games right now when they and everyone else are still mostly finding their sea legs for the season (except the Warriors, but the Warriors are basically from a different planet at this point). The win over Houston, the win over Dallas—sure, the Spurs game happened, but who wants to talk about that?—and they're only a game back of the #3 seed in the West already. Getting things together quickly was the best thing that could've happened to this team. Now, tonight, they face Houston again with a chance to put even more distances between themselves and the Rockets in the standings. It's good for the Grizzlies to start establishing some buffer space between themselves and the rest of the Southwest now, because the schedule only gets easier for them over the next couple of months. They needed to right the ship quickly after the bad start to the year, and to their credit, they did.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Beyond the Arc Podcast #36: How good is JaMychal Green?

Posted By on Tue, Nov 24, 2015 at 9:21 AM

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

  • What does Mario Chalmers do that makes the Grizzlies better when he's on the floor? Is it sustainable?
  • Something is wrong with the Houston Rockets, and it wasn't the coach.
  • Should Griz fans be worried about Z-Bo's health? What about the other knee problems on the team—Brandan Wright and Jordan Adams?
  • Is JaMychal Green playing above his head, or is he really this good?
  • Jeff Green and Brandan Wright and where they fit into the rotation.
  • A preview of the next week: Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, and Philadelphia.

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. also player FM, add to show notes template

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, November 17, 2015

Grizzlies 122, Thunder 114: Sounds Good To Me

Posted By on Tue, Nov 17, 2015 at 9:23 AM

Jeff Green on one of his many trips to the rim. Green had 8 points off free throws. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jeff Green on one of his many trips to the rim. Green had 8 points off free throws.

The jerseys looked good—really good. After the game Marc Gasol said it was weird to look up and see guys he knew wearing red, but the dislocation and temporary confusion of wearing Memphis Sounds ABA throwback jerseys was well worth it, because they were spectacular. Zach Randolph looked like he was born to wear one.

Alas, even with all of the (deserved) fanfare around the first Memphis Sounds Hardwood Classics night of the season, there was a basketball game happening, and that's what deserves out attention. Some scattered thoughts from last night's 122-114 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder:

Eight Thoughts from Griz/Thunder

★ First things first: Mario Chalmers. Off the bench last night against the Thunder, Chalmers had 29 points on 6 of 13 shooting and got to the line for 15 free throws. He was 4 of 7 from three. A 46%/57%/86% shooting split? From someone on the Grizzlies roster? I didn't think that was allowed. Either way, Chalmers continued doing what he's done since joining the team on Friday: making the plays that are available to him, playing hard on defense, doing what he can do to make the team better without having practiced with them.

Let's be clear about this: Chalmers will regress. There will be nights where he makes 1 of 7 instead of 4 of 7, or where he's pushing too hard and makes mistakes. Even though that's the case, the Grizzlies still made the right decision in trading for him. His defense of ballhandlers—he did a great job against Westbrook last night, or, well, as good of a job as one can do against Westbrook—is just as tenacious as anyone else on the roster. Chalmers is a definite upgrade. Playing him with Conley only makes that more the case, freeing Conley up to defend someone else, and letting him play off the ball some as well on offense.

★ Speaking of Mike Conley, Conley should just wear a Sounds jersey all the time. The +/- numbers don't really bear that out, because Conley was -4 on the night even though he scored 22 points, but he looked better last night than he has all year, hitting 4 of his 5 threes, making the right plays at the right time, just generally doing the Mike Conley Things he hasn't done this year until recently.

Z-Bo got a double double and wasn't on the floor in crunch time. Joerger went with JaMychal Green down the stretch of last night's game, and was justified in doing so—Green's defense was excellent, he hit a 3 at one point, and made life harder on the Thunder in general. Green's emergence as Second Unit Garbage Man is one thing, but his emergence as Crunch Time Power Forward is another. Worth paying attention to. One wonders how many times Randolph will actually be OK with sitting there while someone else brings home a close game.

Jeff Green had a good game... on offense. The Other Green (maybe we start calling him The Second Best Green after the last two games) had 20 points for the second game in a row, shooting 5 of 13 from the floor but getting to the line for 8 free throws and making all of them. This is exactly the kind of play the Grizzlies need from Green. He looks much more comfortable on the floor in the rotations he's had lately, in a rhythm offensively, mostly making good decisions about when to attack and when to pull up (the answer is almost never "pull up"). Like Conley, Green's big game came along with a negative +/- (Green's was -1) so I feel like there might be something I'm missing in the game film, but either way, it's good to be pleasantly surprised by Green's emergence as a contributor. Much preferable to having to find a new way to write him off every recap after another terrible performance. He can keep it up, too, if he keeps making smart decisions.

Russell Westbrook knows when to cover what's important. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Russell Westbrook knows when to cover what's important.

Russell Westbrook is a thing. He scored 40 points last night and pretty much singlehandedly kept the Thunder in the game in the absence of Kevin Durant. Y'know. Same deal as always. But his passing seems to have improved this year, and so now he's even more dangerous. Doesn't seem possible. Now the Grizzlies have a player who beat the Thunder in an NBA Finals, though, so maybe Mario Chalmers will function as some sort of Thunder Kryptonite.

The Grizzlies continue to get out-rebounded. Last night it was 44-34. The slippage of the Grizzlies' rebound rates is worth watching this year, because that's something they've always been good at, especially with Zach "20-10" Randolph on the floor. Not the case this year, though, and along with the early season problems with offense and defense (that was a weird way to phrase that) it seems to signal some sort of decline or shift. It's certainly possible to win games while getting out-rebounded—the Griz have done it more than once this season—but it's clearly not the preferred way to go.

★ One thing I learned last night: there was a Memphis Sounds player named George "Dirty Dingus" Carter. I looked it up: he is in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. What a world.

★ The West is weird this year. Houston lost again last night, and it's starting to look like the split between first tier and second tier teams is a wider gap than previously thought. I'd put the Grizzlies pretty firmly in the second tier at this point, as they continue to work through these issues they've faced since the start of the season, but that second group is still pretty tightly grouped in the standings at the moment. Three teams are .500 (Utah, Denver, and Memphis) and the Warriors and Spurs are really the only two teams who have separated themselves from the 3-10 cluster of teams. Some teams will fall out of that group, and right now it seems unlikely that Portland, the Lakers, or New Orleans will climb back up into it, but it's going to be a close race to get to the 44 or 45 wins necessary to get into the playoffs this year. The Unstoppable West mostly seems to just be parity at this point.

Gasol often had to make things happen among a crowd in the restricted area. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Gasol often had to make things happen among a crowd in the restricted area.

Vine of the Night

At a couple of points late in the game last night, I thought Zach Randolph was about to punch Steven Adams in the face (again). Adams always frustrates Randolph, but last night it seemed to be approaching some sort of boiling point. Earlier in the game, though, Randolph did this to him, which is just as good:

Up Next

Three days (!) of rest, which will allow Mario Chalmers to actually practice with the team—though I guess it remains to be seen whether that will help or hurt his explosive play so far—followed by a back-to-back of a home game against the flailing Rockets on Friday and a road game at the Spurs on Saturday evening.

Bonus Late Addition Tweet of the Night/Day

Monday, November 16, 2015

Beyond the Arc Podcast #35: The Mario Chalmers Trade

Posted By on Mon, Nov 16, 2015 at 9:04 AM

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

  • Mario Chalmers, the trade, and what he brings to the team when he's playing well
  • James Ennis, even though he probably won't play at all
  • This tweet from Anthony Sain and why everyone still hates ("hates") Jeff Green even though he's contributing.
  • Speaking of Jeff Green, what is he doing with the second unit that's working so well the last two games?
  • Why do the Warriors make the Grizzlies look old and slow?
  • Grizzlies/Thunder, Phil's Thunder hatred, whether OKC can win anything without Durant, and whether the Grizzlies will overlook the game since Durant isn't playing.

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.

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 14, 2015

Five Thoughts: Grizzlies 101, Trail Blazers 100

Posted By on Sat, Nov 14, 2015 at 7:37 AM

Marc Gasol finished with 31 points. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Marc Gasol finished with 31 points.

On a night when there were things going on in the world—or in Paris, specifically—that made it feel a little ridiculous to be worried about the outcome of a professional sporting event, the Grizzlies finally played well enough in front of their home crowd for Friday night's game against the Portland Trail Blazers to be what an NBA game is supposed to be: entertainment, an escape, a time to have fun together watching men compete, watching them play.

Before Friday night, the 2015-16 Grizzlies season has been marked by a distinct lack of joy, a sense of pressure and worry and a desperate need to improve. During the game and after—after Zach Randolph tipped in his own miss with .6 seconds on the clock to steal back a win the Griz tried valiantly to give to Portland in the last four minutes—the Grizzlies played loose, with energy, and they looked like themselves.

I don't really have organized thoughts on this game (funny how the last time that happened was also a Portland game) but I did find things to celebrate and things to criticize:

Mario Chalmers came to play. After the game, Chalmers would admit that he was a little worried about how he'd be received, and whether he'd be booed for his Memphis/Kansas heroics, but he got a warm welcome from the crowd and then went out and made stuff happen in his 19 minutes. Joerger said postgame that he ended up playing Chalmers ten minutes longer than he'd planned on because he was doing so well.

It was clear that in absence of any knowledge of the schemes the Grizzlies use on offense and defense, Chalmers was just making up for it by playing as hard as he possibly could. That worked in his favor. He made a three, got some layups, played very good defense, had 2 assists and probably would've had more than that if some shots had fallen for other guys. Heat fans seem convinced that Chalmers is a frustrating player at times, so we'll see, but last night was a good start, and has the potential to be a massive upgrade. The team just moved more fluidly when he was on the floor last night.

JaMychal Green played like his life depended on it. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • JaMychal Green played like his life depended on it.

Marc Gasol doesn't look right and still scored 31 points. The Blazers couldn't stop Gasol last night, as he determined he needed to score, and Scoring Marc showed up—even nailing a wide-open three in the waning minutes of the third quarter. It was a flash of last year's aggression from Gasol, something that's been sorely missed so far this year, and it was good to see.

JaMychal Green's hustle knows no bounds. Green was everywhere last night, and though he didn't have the most impressive stat line—6 points and 4 rebounds in 18 minutes—he was everywhere on offense and defense, and you could tell his strategy was just to outwork everyone on the other team. It works well for him, and in the absence of Brandan Wright (and I heard some rumbles that his knee might be bothering him for a while last night, but nothing I could verify) the team needs its bench bigs to play with that kind of tenacity. Green could probably play even more minutes than that in these sorts of games. He's starting to fit in.

Jeff Green had a pretty good night. It does happen from time to time. Green's 14 points even though he shot 4-10 from the field are indicative of how aggressive he was in trying to get to the rim. He had steals at important moments last night, too, showing a defensive awareness that he sometimes (OK, usually) lacks but that makes his game much more effective. I'm not sure what Jeff Green's future in Memphis is, but every game he plays is not a referendum on it; last night he did well.

Mario Chalmers fit right in last night. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mario Chalmers fit right in last night.

The Grizzlies were bad down the stretch and lucky they won. After building up a double-digit lead, and swapping JaMychal Green in for Zach Randolph when it looked like the 3-point line needed to be covered, the Grizzlies' offense stagnated down the stretch in the worst way. Maybe it was Tony Allen and Jeff Green at the wings, maybe Marc Gasol was tired (Gasol played 40 minutes; no one else played more than 33), or maybe Portland just realized the game was still within reach. Whatever it was, the Grizzlies very nearly lost this game when Zach Randolph didn't close out Al-Farouq Aminu and he drilled a 3-pointer right in Randolph's face to put Portland up 1 with 12.5 seconds left.

After that, Courtney Lee bricked a 3-pointer but Randolph got the rebound, got blocked by Allen Crabbe, got his own Z-bound and laid it in with .6 seconds left on the clock. It was a great play, and exactly what you want from Zach Randolph, putting the team on his back and fighting through three guys to win the game, but a comfortable 10-point win would've been easier on everyone, crowd blood pressure included. A win is a win, but the Griz still have a lot of things to tighten up with this roster and with this team. The season is young. If Chalmers can play like that more often than not, this team is already looking better, but there is still growth and improvement ahead.

PS: I know I have readers in France because I talk to them on Twitter from time to time; I hope you all are safe and my thoughts are with you this weekend. Prayers up, as they say.


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