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.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Warriors 100, Grizzlies 84: We (Still) In The Mud

Posted By on Thu, Nov 12, 2015 at 7:52 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

It's counter-intuitive to say that a 16-point loss, the Grizzlies' fourth in a row, was encouraging. And yet, given the way things went the last time the Grizzlies played the Golden State Warriors—the worst loss in franchise history—it's not crazy to say that Wednesday's 100-84 home loss to the best team in the league (and maybe one of the best teams in league history, given the way they've started the season) wasn't all bad news for the struggling Grizzlies.

The first and most obvious thing is the defense: it was recognizable last night. Even with Russ Smith thrown into the mix as the backup point guard having to try and stop Steph Curry (which, as he found out, is less possible that it sounds) and newly-acquired Mario Chalmers and James Ennis behind the bench in suits, the Griz gave the Warriors their best shot on Wednesday night, very nearly held them under 100 points, held Curry to 3 of 10 from long range, and... lost by 16 at home.

All is not right with the Grizzlies, still. But at least last night showed that Monday night's performance—in which they hung tough with the Clippers most of the night despite having no offense—wasn't a fluke, that what looked like serious effort issues to start the season were (hopefully) temporary. Some points of discussion:

Game Notes

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Mike Conley is still not right. After not making a shot in the first half, Conley's third quarter was much improved, but that's like saying "At least my Pinto has a radio." It's still fundamentally not where the Grizzlies need Conley to be if they're going to make the playoffs this year, much less be any good.

Not only is Conley struggling to get his own offense going; he also looks tentative, like he's afraid of getting into the lane and drawing contact, something he's never had an issue with before. I think there are probably two reasons for this, both fairly obvious:

  1. He still worries about the broken face he suffered during the playoffs last year, even though he apparently feels comfortable enough to play without the Rip Hamilton facemask he was sporting for the whole preseason.
  2. More importantly, I think Conley and Gasol both have realized that they simply have to be able to play their best basketball in April and beyond for the Griz to have a chance to do anything in the postseason. Taking abuse every single night during October and November makes that impossible, especially for a guy like Conley, who gets absolutely leveled on a regular basis around the basket (which is kind of the deal when you play the way he plays). Whether this is a conscious decision to take fewer hits or a subconscious aversion to contact, I don't know.

If Conley has changed the way he plays, the team needs to adapt with him, or it's going to be a long, bad contract year for him.

Matt Hrdlicka and others were talking about this last night and during the Clippers game, so I cant take credit for the observation, but Marc Gasol can't bend his knees well. This is a new and bothersome variation on the "Marc Gasol is not in game shape" meme we've all been talking about since the season began, but Gasol's limited movement, poor conditioning, and now his lingering neck issues have combined to make him much less effective than his norm, to say nothing of the Super Gasol we saw in the first half of last season.

I'm not really worried about this as a season-long thing; as long as he listens to his body and doesn't try to force anything—something Gasol is reticent to do as someone who wants to play every game—he'll be fine. The team told him to take the summer off. He apparently took it really off. Like Conley, this may take a while to work itself out.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

JaMychal Green had another good game as an energy/garbage guy: he scored 9 points on 3 of 4 shooting, grabbed 9 rebounds, blocked a couple shots and got a steal. I haven't figured out yet why Green's performances—in which he looks like a really nice hustle-based bench big—result in such poor single game +/- numbers and bad net ratings, too, but on the surface, anyway, Green is playing hard and (maybe this is a little too honest) making me question how much the Grizzlies really need Brandan Wright.

➭ Speaking of the bench, here was a lineup that did really well in the third quarter: Russ Smith, Courtney Lee, Matt Barnes, JaMychal Green, Zach Randolph. I've become a fan of these Z-Bo-as-bench-center units this season, and I think that's where he's headed long term as his career winds down, but even this season he just fits as the 5 in that lineup. The Lee/Barnes wing combo is a new look, like a Lee/Jeff Green combo that can actually defend and knows where to stand, JaMychal Green just floats around and shows up out of nowhere for rebounds and putbacks (and the occasional corner 3, which he hasn't attempted in a while), and Russ Smith only knows how to play basketball at Ludicrous Speed. It's a fun group. There's potential there, so don't be surprised if you see some variant of that 5-man unit logging serious second unit time this season.

Marc Gasol hit a three. Be prepared. Someday soon he's going to start taking them all the time.

Tweet of the Night

This moment of panic from the first half sums up the unadulterated terror of Grizzlies fans while they're playing the Warriors and Golden State is on a run:

Presumably not going anywhere any time soon. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Presumably not going anywhere any time soon.

Up Next

Friday night the Grizzlies face the Portland Trail Blazers at home, in what is the first real test of their improvement as of late. They were always going to play harder for the Clippers game because they strongly dislike each other, and the Warriors game was always going to be a double-digit loss, but Portland... Portland's gotten off to a much better start than anyone expected them to this year, and while their offense has been humming, the Grizzlies should be able to pay them back for the loss they suffered in Portland last week if they defense has tightened up.

Plus it'll be our first look at Mario Chalmers and James Ennis (if he plays) in a Grizzlies uniform, so while most of the Forum crowd, myself included, will be having horrible Tigers/Jayhawks flashbacks, it will also be a chance to see whether Chalmers is actually going to be an improvement over Beno Udrih or not. I think the writing was on the wall from preseason that Udrih wasn't going to be the same guy this season (except for his white-hot midrange game), but Chalmers comes to Memphis with a lot of question marks, beyond the obvious "Is some Tiger booster going to slash his tires on a nightly basis?"

If the Grizzles have really gotten it together, at least on defense, the Portland game should show us that.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Woj: Grizzlies trade Urdih, Stokes for Mario Chalmers and James Ennis

Posted By on Tue, Nov 10, 2015 at 1:04 PM

Farewell, sweet Slovenian Hog & Hominy Prince. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Farewell, sweet Slovenian Hog & Hominy Prince.

In a move that has been rumored in one form or another for a week, but which most people seemed to have forgotten about, the Grizzlies have traded Beno Udrih and Memphis' own Jarnell Stokes to the Miami Heat in exchange for tiger killer Mario Chalmers and athletic forward James Ennis. The trade was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Udrih quickly became a fan favorite here, mostly by genuinely liking the city of Memphis and the fans, and his man-out-of-jail enthusiasm about being released from Mike Woodson's cratering Knicks was hard not to like. But this year, coming off an ankle surgery over the summer that hurt his conditioning, he's been a shoot-first point guard on a bench unit that needs him to find other guys, and he hasn't been shooting well enough for that to make sense as a long-term strategy. Stokes, for his part, was this close to being cut so the Grizzlies could sign Ryan Hollins, and while I still believe he can develop into an NBA rotation player, it won't be here, where there's a crowd in the frontcourt and an organization that doesn't bother to develop play young guys anyway.

Chalmers brings an increased offensive ability at the backup PG spot, theoretically improved 3-point shooting (at least enough that defenses might pay attention to him, unlikely though that may be), and he can play with Conley and the starters in a much more potent version of the Conley/Udrih and Conley/Calathes backcourts Joerger was fond of last season. Ennis, well, he hasn't played much, but when he does, he's been known to eliminate Rasual Butler from this plane of existence:

Seriously, though, Ennis brings athleticism at the forward spot (stop me if you've heard that before) and he's an intriguing, unpolished player who may or may not turn into something. The scouting reports I've read on him since seeing the original Woj tweet about the trade give me a James "Bloodsport" Johnson vibe, though hopefully without the 100% Insanity that made Johnson unplayable once he decided he was important.

The Grizzlies were destined to make a move at some point. This is a minor thing that could open up a few more offensive options and spread out their abysmal floor spacing. It's not a cure-all for the problems they're having right now, especially defensively, but replacing Udrih is probably a step in the right direction in that regard, as well. With 76 games left, we'll have plenty of time to see if it pays off—and plenty of time for the Grizzlies to continue to try to shift the roster.

Clippers 94, Grizzlies 92: Next Day Notes

Posted By on Tue, Nov 10, 2015 at 9:12 AM

Zach Randolph had a big game last night, no doubt fueled by the Griz/Clips rivalry. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Zach Randolph had a big game last night, no doubt fueled by the Griz/Clips rivalry.

Well, the Grizzlies didn't win last night. Usually, with a team that has been through so much for so long, moral victories aren't the kind of thing a fanbase can get excited about—and the Griz aren't out of the woods yet—but at least they made it a close game last night and only lost because of a missed free throw. With 3.5 left and down 3, Marc Gasol made a free throw, missed the second one, and then was fouled while pulling in his own rebound, and got two more free throws and an opportunity to tie.

Alas, it wasn't meant to be, but the Grizzlies showed signs of life last night on the last game of their 5-game-long West Coast road trip, a trip that saw them lose 4 out of the 5 games by 50, 19, and 10 before Monday night's close one.

I'd say that normally one never has to worry about whether the Grizzlies will play hard, but given the lackluster regular season play we've seen from this group since late last season, that's not really true. But last night, against the hated Clippers, they managed to get themselves worked up, and Zach Randolph had an excellent game (26 points on 19 shots, good for 63% from the floor, 9 rebounds, and a lot of those points were in the first quarter) while Mike Conley looked like himself again for the first time all season long. There were signs of progress, signs that maybe not all is lost in the current stretch of coach on the hot seat drama.

Game Notes

➭ For the first time all season, Mike Conley looked alive. After struggling to start the season, last night was the first game that he looked like he was (1) expending maximum effort and (2) was actually able to capitalize on some of the things he's been doing all year that haven't connected. Conley was 6 of 15 for the night, so still not a great shooting performance, but regardless of the final percentages, he looked right (our old friend the Eye Test), and that in itself was reason for hope, because that hasn't been the case yet this season.

➭ If Mike Conley looked alive for the first time this year, Marc Gasol... didn't. Gasol continues to struggle with pretty much every aspect of his game, not moving well, not really defending well, unable to connect on his midrange shots, and just generally not performing up to his usual standard. Even before he missed the game-tying free throw and just walked into the tunnel talking to himself, it was clear that Gasol was off.

I don't think it's honest to blame the whole thing on taking the summer off from basketball. I certainly think that's a factor, but Gasol's conditioning also looks nowhere near as good as it did coming into last year, and couple that with the neck injury he's already struggling with and you've got a recipe for a slow-starting Gasol. With any luck he'll shake whatever's ailing him, but right now Gasol appears to have no interest in facilitating this team the way he normally does.

➭ Jeff Green continues to be a drag on the starting unit, but he's starting to make plays in other areas. He had an excellent chasedown block of Paul Pierce last night:

But he also continues to take ill-advised shots from just about everywhere on the floor, play mostly-terrible defense, create in the lane by dunking on anyone and everyone he can. It's somewhat concerning that he isn't getting to the line much—he only attempted two free throws last night—but like everything else with this team, it's a work in progress.

These sleeved Clippers alternates from last season were terrible. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • These sleeved Clippers alternates from last season were terrible.

➭ Dave Joerger's closing lineup last night, when the game was very much on the line and he wanted to take care of business? Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Matt Barnes, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol. When he needed to make an offense/defense substitution, the wings changed to Barnes and Courtney Lee. I had a hunch this would be the closing lineup by the middle of the season, so it's encouraging to see it deployed so soon. Barnes' +/- numbers last night were pretty bad, but he made some big shots and drew some big phantom 3-shot fouls to put the Grizzlies in a position to win last night, and I expect that kind of play to become more reliable as the season goes on and he gets more comfortable playing with this team. I really wouldn't be surprised to see Lee/Barnes starting some games before long; Barnes has the size of Jeff Green without compromising on defense, and that's where the Griz have been getting torched in these recent blowout losses.

Tweet of the Night

Grizzlies Twitter has been such a dour, Armageddon-predicting place lately that it's been hard not to get caught up in it. That said, after seeing pictures of Zach Randolph's flip phone before the Portland game, this was only right:

Up Next

Mike Conley may not be in a mask anymore, but the Grizzlies will need the intensity of last year's playoff series to win Wednesday night. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mike Conley may not be in a mask anymore, but the Grizzlies will need the intensity of last year's playoff series to win Wednesday night.

The Grizzlies are finally back home Wednesday night to face... the irresistible force known as the Golden State Warriors. One hopes that they can at least bring the energy they brought to last night's game, so they can avoid ever losing by 50 again. The Warriors are off to one of the best 8-game starts in the history of the NBA, so it seems unlikely that their momentum will have slowed any by Wednesday, but one never knows.

The pessimist in me mostly hopes that the Grizzlies can avoid being blown out again, because that sort of a mental blow could stall the progress the Griz have shown over the last two games in evolving back towards the same team we've watched for so long. If the Griz only played well because they hate the Clippers, they're in for a long night Wednesday night, but if the improvements we saw last night (and in the fourth quarter of the Utah game) are real, they might have a fighting chance to hand the Warriors their first loss of the season.

After all, that's why they play the games. Hopefully the Grizzlies show up.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Should Dave Joerger Get Fired?

Posted By on Mon, Nov 9, 2015 at 10:08 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Short version: no, but that doesn't count for much in the NBA.

No one thought we'd be having this conversation in the third week of the season. Sure, people had expressed doubts about whether the team would be able to compete for a championship this year, but the concern was never that they'd get beaten by 19, 30, and 50 points all in the same week, before getting down 20 to the Jazz—too far down to come back from, as it turned out on Saturday night. The concern was that the roster was a little weird, and lacking in a few areas that might hurt them as the season progressed— never that they'd look old, tired, and washed up right out of the gate.

Instead, here we are. The Grizzlies are 3-4 which, given the strength of their early schedule, really isn't that far out of line with what would've been a reasonable expectation. That's not really the problem, though: the problem is that they look like the worst team in the league when they lose. They're currently 29th (out of 30 teams) in offensive rating, 23rd in defensive rating, they're 27th out of 30 in pace—which is how you know any player blaming their poor start on playing too fast is throwing the coach under the bus—and they're last in the league in field goal percentage at .401.

All that being the case, it's not really surprising that ESPN's Marc Stein reported on Friday that Joerger could be fired if things don't get better. In the NBA, when a team that should be good starts playing like garbage, that's usually the first head to roll. But is that the right thing to do?

Continue reading »

Beyond the Arc Podcast #34: Should Joerger Get Fired?

Posted By on Mon, Nov 9, 2015 at 9:00 AM


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

  • What in the world is going on with the Grizzlies? Why are they so terrible right now?
  • Should Dave Joerger get fired for the Grizzlies' poor start? How much blame falls on the front office?
  • Are the Grizzlies too old?
  • Should people really be upset about the Clippers' #didntloseby50 hashtag, or should the Grizzlies just not lose by 50 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.

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:

Friday, November 6, 2015

Trail Blazers 115, Grizzlies 96: Ten Thoughts

Posted By on Fri, Nov 6, 2015 at 9:42 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Last night's game ended very late and I didn't have much time to do a full Next Day Notes treatment—and I'm not sure the Grizzlies' performance deserved one anyway—so instead, here are ten quick reactions to the Grizzlies' third loss of the season (and third by double digits, though 19 ain't so bad when compared to Monday's 50-piece).

1. If Marc Gasol sits Thursday's game out with his neck injury instead of trying to play, this is a different story. Gasol was clearly hampered all night long, could barely move—which greatly exacerbated his already-not-great conditioning so far this year, and he was clearly limited in what he was able to do on both ends. Everything he accomplished, he accomplished by sheer force of will and not by physical fluidity or comfort, and it probably would've been better if he'd just sat out.

2. So far this year, teams are not scared of the Grizzlies' physicality, and they shouldn't be, because the interior defense is garbage. I feel like the Iowa Energy could score 30 paint points on the Griz right now. Between Gasol looking rusty and then getting hurt, and Zach Randolph looking like he may have opened the Ark of the Covenant over the summer and now he's melting, the Griz can't stop anyone inside.

3. It's hard to tell what's wrong with Mike Conley—but whatever it is, the Grizzlies will not be any good until it's sorted.

4. JaMychal Green is a good basketball player and has made progress that no one expected him to make. He sometimes struggles with defensive decision-making once he's switched onto a smaller guy, but that will improve with experience. I can't speak highly enough of his game this season—it's been a bright spot in what might be shaping up to be an abyss of misery.

5. You know, if you're going to lose a bunch of games by a lot of points, it might be time to play your young guys. Jordan Adams, who is still hurt, apparently, is exempt from this somewhat because if he gets re-injured now he won't be able to play later, but is Beno Udrih really a better option than Russ Smith when you're down 20 and not coming back? You know what Beno brings. Russ needs NBA reps. Don't overthink it.

6. The Grizzlies aren't this bad (at least, I don't think they are) but the issues they've had this year have been brewing for a while, and all the smart people who have been watching this team have been saying it: age is an issue, the NBA is evolving rapidly away from a style of play that they can effectively defend and defeat, there's still not enough offensive production from the wings, and they haven't developed their young players very well (hence the gaggle of older trade pieces and free agents). These issues are not temporary, they're just amplified right now. If they go on a 10-game winning streak, these issues will still exist under it all. Don't forget that.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

7. The beginning of this season looks familiar:

Remember that? When the Grizzlies were inexplicably terrible for three weeks and then they went back to Lionel Hollins' playbook because they blamed the "new offense" for how badly they were playing, even though it was also in no small part because guys showed up out of shape and were still adjusting to having their assistant coach be the head coach?

This does look a lot like that, though I'm not sure what the issue would be. Maybe the players (Tony Allen led the charge in 2013-14, but some of what Mike Conley said last night may be starting it up this season) will blame the system soon, but Gasol was quick to point out after the first game that as soon as the new stuff wasn't working, they abandoned it, and still lost by 30. So I'm not so sure.

But there's clearly something going on here—a little too much smoke for there not to be a fire—and given the team's really .500 end to last season from the All Star break on, maybe this is really a continuation of something brewing that we don't yet know about.

8. Jeff Green is starting to look a little more comfortable as a bench scorer, but that doesn't mean the Grizzlies shouldn't trade him. Trick some other team into thinking Jeff Green will solve their problems. I don't think anyone will still give the Grizzlies a first round pick for him, but if they offer it and the Grizzlies don't take it, we should burn down FedExForum.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

9. Without an excellent defense, the Grizzlies are toast. Period. If the defense doesn't come back—and I think it will; it looks like an effort and conditioning issue on defense right now—the Grizzlies will never make it much farther than .500, and they might not manage that. The key to this team has always been defense, and winning games 95-90, and if they can't manage the "90" part, they're still not going to do much better than the "95" part, so they will lose. Often.

10. I don't think it's time to panic yet. The goal all along was to come out of the early part of the schedule a few games over .500, somewhere around Christmas time, and then put together a stretch of wins as the schedule gets easier. That's still very much in play, and I'm not going to truly panic until we get to December and the Grizzlies are still getting blown out on a regular basis. What's happening right now is bad, for sure, but... I just don't think it's time to scrap a 5-time playoff team based on six games. Call me crazy.

That said, if you feel like worrying about it, you're not unjustified in doing so. The Grizzlies look like garbage. They've gotten destroyed three times, one of which was by a team that wasn't supposed to be any good this year. The unease with the team is a valid one.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Q&A: Talking Grizzlies, the West, and Getting Over Losses with NBA on TNT’s Chris Webber

Posted By on Thu, Nov 5, 2015 at 8:00 AM


He's always been one of my favorite TV analysts, so I jumped at a chance to ask NBA on TNT analyst (and NBA great) Chris Webber a few questions about the Grizzlies and this year's Western Conference.

Webber will be on the call with play-by-play broadcaster Marv Albert and reporter Rachel Nichols when the Grizzlies visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night at 9:30 p.m. Central on TNT.

Beyond the Arc: So the Grizzlies have changed some things up this year, but mostly it's the same Grizzlies team that's been in the playoffs the last few years.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Chris Webber: Well I tell you, my first thoughts are Gasol has been, you know, if not the top then one of the top 2 or 3 defensive players in this league the last five years. I'm not just talking about when he won Defensive Player of the Year, and I definitely think teams like the Clippers with their big men have learned from the inside play and passing of those two guys, where they don't play above the rim, but they're still passing, getting each other involved with ducking in, and just the post game of Gasol himself. Any time you have those two guys, and Conley... even though it's the beginning of the season, you're gonna expect great things barring injury and things like that.

I do know coach Elston Turner, he was my coach in Sacramento, and I know he's a hell of a defensive coach—in my mind one of the best defensive coaches in this game—and I know whereas they're trying to become more fluid offensively, you know, that he can still hold them down defensively, and on that sideline. And, you know, Tony Allen... I'm just a big fan of that team and how tough they are, and with the addition of Matt Barnes and Jeff Green.

So I really don't know what to expect with the first week of the season. You see how everybody kind of meshes and gels together. But with their four starters, they have a piece to have a good team for a long time.

Speaking of it being early in the season... This is more a question for you as a guy who played in the league a long time than as an analyst. They just lost to the Warriors by 50 points the other night. The cliche is that you lose like that and just move on to the next game, but is that true?

I'm just thinking about me, personally, that would bother me. I don't know that I'd be able to look past it. What's that like in the NBA, when you lose a big game like that? How do you get past that?

Well, I tell you—if we start with college, or let's say football, where you have a bye week, and you have to sit on a loss, that's terrible, or in college, when you have a loss and you have four days in between. I remember when I first got to the NBA, one of the best feelings was even though it's a lot of games, you can't sit on a loss. Because you have a game the very next day. And that really helps. That focus helps as a distraction.

You can't survive if you're worried about one game. You know, if they're worried about the Warriors, they could make it to the playoffs and the Warriors could be out the round before them. There are no guarantees. There's no way to predict, and those that are strong are the ones who say 'This game is one game.' And as long as it's just one game in the loss column, you have to fix it, and you have to come out and play better—and the next time they play them, I'm sure it'll be in their head—but as far as the next night, no.

Teams that are under .500, that's who they are. When they win a big game, they're still excited about it, and they take back because they can't leave that at home, and vice versa.

I'm like you. I've done it in basketball, but if I were a pitcher, I don't know how I would pitch in a big game after giving up a home run. Friends of mine that are pitchers say the best pitchers have the worst memories. It's a skill that you kind of have to take and hone and make it a skill, because it's not natural.

They are going to remember it the next time they play. If they say they don't think about then, that's not true. When you get blown out, you can not remember it the next day because you can't get that back, but the next time they play, I definitely... especially at home, I bet Memphis looks good.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Warriors, though. They definitely seem to be the team to beat in the West right now. Who are those other teams, to you? That could really win the West and make it past the Conference Finals. Are the Grizzlies one of those teams to you?

I think when you look at the West, you really have to go top to probably seven. So I do think they're one of those teams. I agree with you—the Warriors look great, and Stephen Curry looks like an MVP, but having played in the league I know there are ebbs and flows in the league. And having watched the league you know injuries come into play, road trips come into play, other things. It's not about—you can't win the championship right now. You have to get into the playoffs and your team has to get better and that has to be your focus.

When you look at a seven game series, some would say the Clippers are favored. I would say that they're really good and they can be favored but they may have trouble with Memphis in a seven game series. Or Memphis may have trouble with Houston in a seven game series. Basketball is all matchups when it comes to the playoffs, and none of those are true scenarios I mentioned, but those are examples that teams one through seven in the West, actually one through eight, because you may have OKC who wasn't there last year, or Phoenix or someone else that slides in with momentum. Definitely the top six teams can have something to say about who's going to be champion, and if you take out the favorite, it's a free-for-all.

So that's what I expect in the playoffs. I don't expect to see anybody win series that are 4-1, 4-1, 4-1. We haven't even talked about San Antonio, and they may have one of the best power forwards in the game playing with Tim Duncan, and that pick and roll is so hard to stop.

So I think the West is wide open.

The Grizzlies have been a playoff team the last five years. They've made it to the Conference Finals once, and they've been in the second round a few times, but they've never quite gotten over that hump. When you watch this team, what is it to you that has kept them from being able to get to the Finals and win a championship? What is the one thing the Grizzlies need to do to make that leap? Is it just luck? Do they need to catch the right team?

You know, there are so many factors that play into it. We could ask the Clippers the same thing, or San Antonio a couple of years ago. It's all of that. It's luck, it's magic, it's having the right players. I remember during the series in the Grindhouse a couple years ago—the series they lost to the Clippers in seven games, I think they were going to play a team they'd dominated in the regular season, San Antonio or something.

I think one obvious thing is that defense has been great and they can bang inside and set the tone inside-out, but some knock-down shooters would be great.

But really, they can win with this style. I would say they're one of five teams with an identity. You look at San Antonio, you look at the Clippers because of the high-flying, you look at Cleveland because of how LeBron plays... this team has an identity. I think that's the biggest thing to be proud of in the chase for a championship, because everyone else—a lot of other teams search and search and search. And as a player it's frustrating to be searching, and be part of a new program every year, starting back at ground zero. These guys have had some tough roads, but they've always been consistent with how they play and their attention to detail, and that's really all you can ask.

Maybe some more knock-down shooters, that type of thing, maybe that would spread the floor even more for those guys, but I really don't see a glaring weakness in one of the toughest teams in the NBA. I think that's a pretty good identity to have.

I know when you were playing, there may not have been a lot of people at the games in Memphis, but when you come back to cover playoff games here, does it surprise you how much the fanbase has grown here?

No, not at all. When I played, I loved it. The games I played there were pretty well-attended. I always loved the culture of Memphis, and the museums I would go to—Stax, and the school of music there, and the food. I have family that's there in Tunica nearby, so it's always been great for me. I know people that represent Memphis in sports are very tough, so I'm not surprised. I knew the culture there.

I'm happy that they don't have to be a culture that just loves their team, that they can be a culture that has a really good team that they can support. As a fan, every year for the last five years, I think you can say honestly every year that your team has a chance to win it. You have to feel good about that. As a fan, I think that's all you want, is to be a part of the conversation.

You talked about Gasol and his defense a little bit. Last year was a big contract year for him. He's locked up on a long term deal now, and he didn't play for Spain this summer like he always has. So he's come in a little bit rusty because he took the whole summer off.

When you're a player and you sign a big contract like that, does it change your motivation a little bit? You always hear "so and so is having a big year because it's a contract year", but is that real? Or is that just an excuse people make?

I think it's definitely true for some guys. But that's when you see inconsistent effort, and I don't think you've ever been able to see inconsistent effort in Gasol. And I think, with the new contracts, that you got him for cheap. With the way these contracts are going to happen in the next three years.

I think it's good that he took the summer off. Basketball isn't a year round sport, but because endorsers and camps and what not require you to be that way, you have to rest and play for the NBA. I love him, I love his Olympic team and all that, but he's NBA first. So the fact that he took off this summer, that really shouldn't be controversial, because he's supposed to take the summer off.

I talked to him about it a little bit and he was saying it was weird not playing, that it was the first summer he hasn't played for Spain in years. And I was thinking that has to play into fatigue down the stretch of the season, in April.

You know? Exactly. And think about it. Let's just say if it was four summers, that's two seasons. And if I'm a Memphis fan... I'm just being honest about that. And the same goes for our Olympians.

But I do think, you know, you look at LeBron and his back, you look at other things—it really does take a toll. It's surprising when Kobe gets older and hurt but I remember him playing with broken hands and thumbs... it takes a toll. And the only way for it not to take a toll is with the proper rest and rehab.

I would say that maybe that's the one thing with all the technology and the great way all these guys are working out, all the nutrition, that the old common sense of rest is not being adhered to. So I'm actually glad that he got some rest this summer.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

You played against Zach Randolph. How hard is that? Do you just feel like you got hit by a train the next day? What's it like to face off against Zach Randolph?

He and Marc, but Zach... Zach reminds me a lot of when I first came into the league, the older players I would play against that, after the game, your sternum is bruised because they would take their shoulder right up into your sternum. There's an art to bang in the paint and not foul or get frustrated. He's a frustration artist. Because he doesn't hold, he doesn't...

You know, if there was a tape, on anyone in the league, of how to post up and get open the correct way, that I was going to show kids in middle school, high school, college, it would be of Zach Randolph. He's not the most athletic, he's not the strongest, but he uses his space, his low center of gravity—and just like Bill Laimbeer and some others that maybe didn't have the highest jumping ability, you know, Bill Laimbeer led the league in rebounding because of his positioning. He plays position defense.

It's frustrating playing a guy like that. Because you really have to keep your balance and slow the game down, because the faster he moves and frustrates you, the better. But I love watching those guys play because it's like the basketball I grew up watching. It reminds me of the Bad Boys, and the Bulls, and that stuff. So I like watching those guys play inside.

Big thanks to Chris Webber for taking time to talk to Beyond the Arc. —KL

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Next Day Notes: Warriors Hand Grizzlies the Worst Loss in Franchise History

Posted By on Tue, Nov 3, 2015 at 8:24 AM

Courtney Lee had a historically bad +/- number for the evening. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Courtney Lee had a historically bad +/- number for the evening.

I didn't think the Grizzlies would win Monday night in Oakland. Golden State has started the season on a tear, and Steph Curry was off to one of the hottest starts in NBA history. The Grizzlies had struggled against Cleveland (and by "struggled" I mean lost by 30), before beating two much worse teams.

What I didn't expect was what happened: after fighting back in the first quarter to claim at 22-21 lead, the Griz proceeded to make nine field goals in the second and third quarters on their way to the worst loss in franchise history and also, of course, the worst shooting percentage in franchise history.

Historical Sidebar

The Vancouver Grizzlies were terrible. The first season or two of Memphis Grizzlies were terrible. The team after the Pau trade was terrible. And yet, the following players did not lose this badly in a Grizzlies uniform:

  • Bryant "Big Country" Reeves
  • Ike Austin
  • Javaris Crittenton
  • Darko Milicic
  • Cherokee Parks
  • Juan Carlos "La Bomba" Navarro
  • Greg Buckner
  • Cezary Trybanski
  • Cuonzo Martin (yes, that Cuonzo Martin)
  • Othella Harrington

The list continues, because even on all those 15, 14, 22, 24, and 8 (lockout year) win seasons, no Grizzlies team has ever lost by fifty points. This tweet of mine was wildly popular with Grizzlies fans in Vancouver, where the Canucks actually had "Grizzlies Night" featuring Shareef Abdur-Raheem last night, who are still retweeting and favoriting it this morning.

Warriors 119, Grizzlies 69

Marc Gasol was passive and looks like he's still playing his way into shape. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Marc Gasol was passive and looks like he's still playing his way into shape.

The final score doesn't even look real. What does one even say when a team gets beat this badly? It's not unprededented—teams have lost by 50 before—but it is a bad sign that this Grizzlies team, who by all accounts think they're trying to win a title, has now played both of the teams from last year's Finals and lost by a combined total of 80 points.

And credit to the Warriors: they are an efficient, terrifying basketball killing machine right now. The Clippers have done everyone a disservice (imagine that!) by continuing to insist that the Warriors "got lucky" last year and essentially didn't deserve the title. Of course they've come out on a mission to prove everyone wrong, giving an edge to what was already one of the best teams of the last 25-30 years. Thanks for nothing, Doc Rivers.

But obviously Doc Rivers has nothing to do with the ways the Grizzlies got vicisected on NBA TV last night. Everything that gave the Griz problems against Cleveland reappeared, but against an even better team playing at the top of their game (and how's this for frightening: Golden State's Andrew Bogut didn't even play).

With Zach Randolph in the game and Tony Allen being guarded ("guarded") by Festus Ezeli, every time Randolph or Marc Gasol caught the ball in the paint, he immediately ran into a wall of three tall dudes. The strategy the Warriors used so effectively to overcome the Grizzlies in last spring's playoffs? They still work. Allen was unable to convert his wide-open scoring opportunities (mostly because the only thing available to him, by design, were long-range shots) and so Dave Joerger substituted Jeff Green, who had played really well coming off the bench in the previous two games, but has struggled to find a rhythm with the starters since being traded to Memphis...

...and that didn't go much better. What finally helped the Grizzlies—and got them back into a game that was already starting to look lopsided in the first ten minutes—was when Zach Randolph went to the bench and the Griz rolled out a lineup of Mike Conley, Matt Barnes, Jeff Green, JaMychal Green, and Brandan Wright... and things looked good.

Tony Allen was basically unguarded on offense but couldn't convert the long shots open for him. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tony Allen was basically unguarded on offense but couldn't convert the long shots open for him.

This is an uncomfortable truth that has already reared its head this season: Z-Bo is not in shape, and the team plays a completely different offense when he's not on the floor. It's like watching a different basketball team altogether, one that plays four out/one in and runs spread pick and rolls. Randolph, whether because as he ages he's even less mobile than he was to begin with, or because he's just not in the kind of shape he needs to be in yet, has struggled to defend and has run into walls of opposition on offense. I'm certainly not saying Randolph has outlived his usefulness—I think he's mostly just out of shape—but we knew the day would come where his age would impact his defense, and it looks like that day might be here.

And anyway, the bench unit is clearly playing a completely different style of basketball from the starters. The pace is different, the sets are different, the spacing is different, the types of baskets they're looking for are different. When I said this might be a rebuilding year, this is the kind of thing I was talking about: retooling in place to reload for the future while still trying to be good and make the playoffs this year. These changes are happening right in front of us, and it's only the first week of November.

I'm not really sure it makes any sense to nitpick aspects of last night's game. Literally everything went wrong after the first quarter. This was a game in which the Grizzlies lost by fifty points (again, fifty points!) after attempting 96 field goals to the Warriors' 84. I'm not a fan of single-game +/- stats, but some of last night's are legitimately eye-popping:

  • Zach Randolph: -30
  • Marc Gasol: -32
  • Courtney Lee: -44 (this is actually the second-worst +/- for someone playing under 25 minutes in the last fifteen years. According to Basketball Reference, only Walter McCarty's performance for the Celtics on 1/31/2003 was worse. And McCarty is actually on this particular "top" 10 list twice.)
  • Mike Conley: -41
  • Matt Barnes: -36

So... no one played well, no one looked like they knew what they were doing, everything was terrible, and I never want to watch another game like that as long as I cover the NBA.

The Griz, of course, are still .500, and they can still accomplish the bigger goal of winning 3 out of 5 on this West Coast road trip and surviving. But the fact that they clearly have problems playing the league's top-tier teams is concerning, and is worth paying attention to as they go about the rest of this early part of the season. Time will tell whether last night was really "just a bad night" or whether this team really just can't keep up with the league's top tier. I'm afraid of what the answer is, though.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Halloween Haikucap: Grizzlies 101, Nets 91

Posted By on Sun, Nov 1, 2015 at 4:00 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

JaMychal for three—
Don't leave him in the corner.
Griz have a stretch four?

Lionel Hollins
Halloween, a ghost returns!
The Nets are not good.

This year's Grizzlies bench,
They play four-out basketball.
Revolution comes.

Jeff Green, the starter:
Marc and Z-Bo clog the lane.
Off the bench? Freedom.

The West Coast Road Trip
A looming date with chaos,
A mountain to climb.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Next Day Notes: Cavaliers 106, Grizzlies 76

Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2015 at 7:46 AM

As you can see, there were a lot of Cleveland jerseys in the paint. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • As you can see, there were a lot of Cleveland jerseys in the paint.

Let's just get this out of the way: last night was not a fluke loss, not entirely. In the grueling course of an NBA season, there are always going to be nights where it's just not happening—nights where shots just aren't falling and nobody seems to be on the same page. Some of that was happening last night, and it certainly didn't help that it was Cleveland's second game of the season and the night before they'd lost a close game to the Bulls on a Pau Gasol block of LeBron James.

But "one of those nights" doesn't cover the whole truth about why the Grizzlies dropped their sold-out home opener 106-76 last night. The Cavaliers exposed some real chinks in the Grizzlies' armor, and showed some real problems with the way the Grizzlies played basketball on Night 1 of what is supposed to be Yet Another Dark Horse Run At The Title.

For starters: well, the starters. Jeff Green started at the small forward spot, and while the whole team played so badly that there's no possible way his presence in the starting lineup was responsible for the Grizzlies' problems last night, it wasn't helping. The starters came out flat and stayed flat for the whole 7 minutes Green was in the game. When he was finally subbed for Tony Allen after that, things didn't really get better, but they didn't get worse, and that was their trajectory before that point.

Let's not put it all on the feet of the starters, though: the bench was also garbage. (Surprising, I'm sure, that everyone was garbage in a game where the Griz made 4 field goals in the first quarter and lost by 30.) Beno Udrih was dribbling instead of passing, waiting until someone came open for a shot to get the ball out of his hands. (He wasn't the only one not moving the ball, but as the point guard, those distribution duties fall at his feet.) When Russ Smith finally got into the game at the end, once there was no chance he and Jordan Adams might influence the outcome of the game one way or the other, he wasn't much better, still holding the ball too much, still not making the right passes, still clogging everything up.

  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • :(

The Grizzlies have a lot of guys who haven't played together before. Matt Barnes was still atrocious in the offense. Brandan Wright still isn't used to where he's going to get the ball, and the rest of the Griz still aren't sure where he wants them to pass it to him. Tony Allen made a lot of energy plays and defended LeBron pretty successfully and yet managed to just flat-out lose the ball on two (2) different fast break scoring opportunities—one by falling over and losing it out of bounds, and once by swerving out of his way to run into James and draw a foul and getting called for an (obvious) offensive foul instead.

It was not a good night. And Joerger didn't seem to have a handle on it either. Chris Herrington, who was sitting next to me, remarked at one point that it looked like the Grizzlies were about to be eliminated from the playoffs and he was just throwing random combinations of guys out on the floor trying to find something that worked. Which is a bad sign on opening night of the season when you've theoretically been practicing the same plays and actions for a month getting ready for the first game, right?

Instead, there didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to what was happening, although later he'd defend his no point guard Courtney Lee/Jeff Green/Tony Allen/Zach Randolph/Marc Gasol lineup by saying it "gives us more playmakers" and "allows us to move the ball and get the ball into the post without dribbling" (which mostly just read as an indictment of the poor backup PG play, either that or he's got a really bad idea about how to move the ball that of which last night somehow failed to disabuse him).

Tony Allen played very good defense on LeBron, but that wasn't enough to matter in the outcome of the game. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tony Allen played very good defense on LeBron, but that wasn't enough to matter in the outcome of the game.

The cool thing about last night was that even if the Grizzlies hadn't been playing like a tribute to the Pau Trade Leftovers Grizzlies of 2008, they still would've had problems last night. The Cavaliers are one of the teams that can really expose the Grizzlies' defensive schemes. Kevin Love pulls whichever man is guarding him (and really only Marc Gasol can guard him, but Z-Bo usually has to try) so far away from the paint to the three point line that it opens up a big gap right in the middle of the floor behind him. Randolph has always been a credible-to-decent defender, nothing more, but he's always struggled to guard floor-stretching 4's, and as he gets older, that's only going to get harder for him. When a team can distort the Grizzlies' defensive scheme like that (and what is LeBron but the ultimate Defensive Scheme Distortion), they're usually going to win, or at least make things difficult, and that's exactly what happened.

I wouldn't be concerned about last night—I'd just write it off as "bad first night against angry Cleveland team"—except (1) the Grizzlies are headed to Indiana tonight, to play on the second night of a back to back against another team who plays small and could potentially cause problems for the defense, and that's a trend that's only going to continue to get worse as the league evolves that direction and (2) they can't afford to have very many bad nights in the first six weeks of the season. Given the West Coast road trip that's looming, if the Griz don't take care of business in the next two games against Indiana and Brooklyn, they're going to have a hole to dig out of if they can manage to go .500 on this road trip.

They've got to figure out these issues quickly, because this season, they don't have time to play themselves into shape. And if last night really was about structural issues and offensive problems as much as it was about "just a bad night," they're going to have some catching up to do. Last night was not a good start to the season. But hey, it can only get better from here, right?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Layup Line, Game 1: Grizzlies vs. Cavaliers

Posted By on Wed, Oct 28, 2015 at 11:10 AM

Will Jeff Green look comfortable in the starting unit tonight? - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Will Jeff Green look comfortable in the starting unit tonight?

The Grizzlies' 2015-16 regular season starts tonight, and it starts at home against last year's NBA finalists from the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who lost to the Bulls in Chicago last night in front of the President and the rest of the nation when Pau Gasol blocked LeBron James' potential game-tying layup in a decisive manner:

One assumes LeBron won't be happy about the way that one ended, but Cleveland rolls into town as a team that has certainly not reached their ultimate form yet: first off, Kyrie Irving won't be back for months; Kevin Love is still playing his way into form after the shoulder injury that knocked him out of last year's playoffs; Tristan Thompson wasn't even back on the team until last week. They're not where they will be, but that doesn't mean they're not good.

Things I'll be paying attention to tonight:

  • Safe to assume Jeff Green will be the starting small forward. He probably won't be able to guard LeBron—not even Tony "Give Kevin Durant Nightmares" Allen can do that consistently—but it's more important that he look good tonight than that he drop 35 points or hold LeBron to 10. If Green looks consistent in the flow of the offense, and looks like he's developing chemistry with the starting unit, I'll probably be satisfied with his performance.
  • Zach Randolph used to demolish Kevin Love every chance he got, but the past two or three seasons those tables have turned and Love is a very difficult matchup for him. Who's going to guard Love tonight? Will it work?
  • What will the Cavs do for rest, since they played last night? A road SEGABABA against a Western Conference team in November is probably one of the least important games on the Cavs schedule, so... who will play?
  • Bench rotations. The Grizzlies still have a lot to figure out here, even given the shortened rotation of the last two preseason games. I think what we see tonight will be more of a first draft than perhaps even the coach thinks it is.
  • Does Vince Carter look alive?

The season is here! The season is finally here!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Is This Actually a Rebuilding Year?

Posted By on Mon, Oct 26, 2015 at 10:47 AM

Are the Grizzlies trying to make a run at a title this year or reload for the future? - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Are the Grizzlies trying to make a run at a title this year or reload for the future?

I was prompted to write this by a tweet I saw on Sunday that echoed some thoughts I've been floating in my head for a while now:

I've had the same thought while looking at the Grizzlies' roster headed into this season.

The conventional wisdom is that with Marc Gasol's return on a five-year contract, the Grizzlies are essentially "running it back" this year with the same guys (plus or minus a couple of role players) and rolling the dice to see if they can end up with better seeding and better matchups in the playoffs, thus making it to the Conference Finals or maybe even the Finals. On paper, it looks like that's exactly what's happening.

But I'm not really so sure. Yes, the personnel is mostly unchanged from last year, but while adding Brandan Wright to the bench is a huge deal for what the Griz can do offensively, and Matt Barnes is a proven role player who makes a place for himself no matter what team he's on, outside the "core four" the team is mostly made up of young guys who havent proven themselves, veterans in contract years, and old guys on the verge of retirement (OK, maybe that's just Vince Carter).

Which leads me to the question in the title of my post: Is this really a stealth rebuild with a bunch of roster churn where the Grizzlies try to stay good while flipping pieces around and really loading up for next year?

Let's think through this "stealth rebuild" hypothesis. Obviously, the Grizzlies have been an excellent team for the last five straight seasons. That has to end at some point—people age and their careers end. With Zach Randolph entering the season at age 34, and Tony Allen turning 34 in January, it's obvious that age will catch up with these two guys at some point. Who are the guys who are going to step up if it happens to be this year?1


Exactly. Those guys aren't on the roster right now. There was talk of Jarnell Stokes being "Z-Bo replacement" material, but that was a stretch at best, and now, after seeing his mediocre preseason, it seems like a cute fantasy. So right now, the Grizzlies don't have a backup plan. The way to have a backup plan is to build your next core group while your current core group is still playing. The Spurs did this right around the time that some team from Memphis knocked them out in the first round, and came out of it with future Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. It's worth remembering that they looked completely done in that Memphis series, but all the while some of the pieces that would help win them their next championship (Danny Green, Tiago Splitter) were already on the roster.

The Grizzlies don't have that right now. They've got a bunch of guys who could be that but haven't played much, and they've got some guys who are probably going to be gone after this year (and a couple they'll probably bring back), and then they've got the Core Four and Brandan Wright.

This team has a lot of expiring contracts and a lot of decisions to make this summer. Guys who are free agents after this season (according to HoopsHype):

  • Mike Conley
  • Jeff Green
  • Courtney Lee
  • Beno Udrih
  • Matt Barnes

And these are the guys who have team options after this year, meaning the team can decide whether to pick up that option or to make them free agents:

  • Jordan Adams
  • Jarnell Stokes
  • Russ Smith
  • JaMychal Green

Don't forget, either, that Vince Carter's final year of his contract is $4.2mm on paper but is only partially guaranteed, meaning they don't have to pay him the whole thing if he's waived.

That's a lot of potential for turnover after this year. All nine of these guys are basically going to have to prove their worth this season (well, except Conley, one assumes). Courtney Lee has had a really strong camp and preseason, and Matt Barnes is still finding his rhythm in the Grizzlies' offense, but the rest of these guys? Adams is a question mark, Smith is going to have to show development, Udrih is going to have to prove he can maintain last year's level of play, JaMychal Green is probably a rotation player but the team doesn't seem so sure, Stokes might be playing his way into being replaced by Ryan Hollins, and Jeff Green has yet to prove whether he can actually make this team better as a starter.

There's also health. The last two or three years, Mike Conley has been so banged up by April that it's hurt his play in the postseason. Tony Allen has missed 20+ games with injury the last two years, and that's before you count the hamstring that bothered him all spring and kept him out of Game 6 against Golden State. Gasol's knee injury almost imploded Joerger's first season, and last year, in the midst of his best season since his MCL tear in 2012, Zach Randolph missed several games resting a knee injury to keep it from getting worse. These guys are going to have to play fewer minutes, and I'm not sure there's the personnel or scheme in place to let that happen smoothly this year.

I've said all this and it makes it sound like I think the team is going to win 30 games. I don't believe that. I think, as good as this group of players is, health is the only thing that could keep them out of the postseason. I think the Grizzlies are going to be good this year. (You'll get to read more about that next week in the Flyer's annual Grizzlies/Tigers preview issue.) But I do think we're going to see the start of that roster churn this year, heading into the summer. I think guys are going to get traded. I think they're going to struggle to get it together because there are some interesting depth issues and some real crowds at the forward positions. I think all along, the organization's eyes are probably on being as good as they can this year while trying to build the next great Grizzlies team around Gasol and Conley leading into this summer. This year is when they recharge what they've got while still trying to make noise in the playoffs. It's a rebuild without a teardown. They did say they wanted to be more like the Spurs, right?

  1. I don't think it's going to be this year, but one can't rule it out.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Next Day Notes: Grizzlies 82, Hawks 81

Posted By on Thu, Oct 22, 2015 at 7:52 AM

It was just like this, except in Atlanta, with different Hawks uniforms, and Conley was wearing a mask. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • It was just like this, except in Atlanta, with different Hawks uniforms, and Conley was wearing a mask.

After what was probably the most horrible first quarter of basketball I've seen from this group of Griz players, the Grizzlies came from way behind to beat the Hawks in Atlanta last night, 82-81.

The game was in many ways a "dress rehearsal" for the regular season: the starters (and I'm including both Jeff Green and Tony Allen in that group; more on that in a bit) played heavy minutes in the usual spots of the game, the bench rotation was shortened, and both teams looked like they were actually trying to win, something that seems to always happen in at least one preseason game per year.

After a 7-point first quarter, and a 4-31 shooting start to the game, the Griz defense clamped down and out scored the Hawks 75-57 in the last three quarters to come all the way back. Some notes:

Game Notes

➭ Joerger played eleven guys, but it was really more like nine: Ryan Hollins soaked up the bulk of the minutes at the "fourth big" spot, while JaMychal Green played 2:26 and Jarnell Stokes played 4:42. Hollins played well enough—as he has all preseason—but I'm still not sure I see what makes him a better fit for this rotation than (JaMychal) Green, other than "he's 7 feet tall" and "he plays hard." Last night was the closest thing to a regular season game the Griz have played yet, though, and Hollins was the guy who got the minutes, so I'm bracing for Hollins to be on that opening day roster even though I don't really think he should be.

We'll see what happens in the Grizzlies' next game in Orlando; if that game is another "dress rehearsal" type game and Hollins still gets the bulk of the minutes, Joerger will really be sending the message that he wants Hollins on the roster. If Ja. Green gets the minutes, you'll know he's still exploring his options.

(For what it's worth, Beno Udrih got all of the backup PG minutes last night—Russ Smith didn't play at all.)

➭ Jeff Green started over Tony Allen and, well, the Grizzlies got off to one of the worst starts I've ever seen. In the first quarter they scored 7 points on 3 of 26 shooting (including 0-5 from 3-point range), while the Hawks put up 24. The entire team seemed disjointed and disinterested, and even the guys who looked like they were doing the right thing couldn't hit the basket if it were the size of one of those plastic kiddie pools.

Can't really blame Green for that, though, if everyone on the floor was terrible, starter or not. As the game wore on, especially in the third and fourth quarters, he got better, starting to find his place on the floor and make plays in the flow of the game. If (and it's probably the biggest if for this franchise right now) he can continue to do that, and not bog things down, maybe there's a spot for him after all.

It was worth noting that Joerger almost never changes who starts the second half from the first, and Tony Allen started in Green's place at the beginning of the 3rd and played 7:20 to Green's 4:40.

I get the sense that we'll be talking about whether Green should be a starter for the rest of the time he's on the team, whether that's until December, until May, or beyond.

Zach Randolph put up 19 and 13 last night against the Hawks. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Zach Randolph put up 19 and 13 last night against the Hawks.

➭ In a scary moment in the second half, Courtney Lee left the floor and immediately went to the locker room with some sort of leg injury. Ron Tillery of the Commercial Appeal later reported that it was a knee bruise from bumping knees with Atlanta's Jeff Teague, and Lee wasn't limping after the game. Lee has unquestionably been the best player of the Grizzlies' preseason, so seeing him injured at all was a nice little gut-wrenching moment as I squinted at my bootleg stream of the game from Atlanta's League Pass feed. Glad to hear all is well there.

➭ Marc Gasol hasn't looked very crisp this preseason. I don't want to say he looks out of shape, because that's not true, but he's definitely (1) not quite as lean as he was coming into 2014's training camp and (2) not moving quite as cleanly on the floor.

As has been noted all over the place, this summer was the first that Gasol's ever taken off from playing with the Spanish National Team, and it shows right now. He just looks out of the habit of playing basketball.

My guess, though, is that whatever hit his early-season performance takes from his lack of international play will be more than made up for down the stretch of the season when he's not as fatigued from the constant basketball. As Marc ages, he's got to be more mindful of the mileage he puts on his body, and a full summer of wear-and-tear after so many years of playing into May is quite a bit of work.

Even though he may not look 100% right now, he still looks 90%, and my assumption is that he'll play his way into shape as he gets back into the routine of the season.

Tweet of the Night

I don't think there's any question that this is the part of Jeff Green that we can all enjoy in common. Poor Kyle Korver's face.

Up Next

The Grizzlies' last preseason game is Friday night at the Orlando Magic. Who knows what we'll see—maybe a clear-the-benches blowout where all of the guys unlikely to make the 15-man roster get their chance to shine, or maybe a tight mid-season rotation like we saw last night.

One hopes Jordan Adams will have recovered to the point that he can get some playing time in Orlando, but that remains to be seen. I'm starting to fear that Adams' chance at proving he belongs in this rotation might be hampered by his lack of playing time in preseason, because Lord knows Joerger won't play him in "real" games for a while.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Beyond the Arc Podcast #33: The Thunder Have Gotten Worse

Posted By on Tue, Oct 20, 2015 at 7:28 AM


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

  • The Grizzlies' win over the Timberwolves and just how bad they're going to be for the next couple of seasons.
  • The Grizzlies' bench is better than the Thunder bench, and it's not close.
  • Is Ryan Hollins going to make the team? Is Jarnell Stokes? (from this piece yesterday)
  • How much influence does Dave Joerger have over roster decisions? How much influence do players have over his decisions?
  • Is Jeff Green going to work out? Will we ever be able to stop asking this question?

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

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