Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Grizzlies 91, Bulls 95: The Horror, The Horror

Posted By on Tue, Dec 31, 2013 at 9:05 AM

Dave Joerger got Thibodeaud last night, plain and simple.

You want to know what Colonel Kurtz sees at the end of Apocalypse Now when he utters those words? Highlights of last night's Grizzlies-Bulls game at FedExForum. The Grizzlies were missing Marc Gasol (and Quincy Pondexter) and the Bulls were missing Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, and as a result they played a disjointed, ugly game of runs in which the Grizzlies took more field goal attempts than the Bulls, didn't make a single 3-pointer, and only scored six points in the first eight minutes of the third quarter.

I'm not really willing to blame the ugliness of this game—especially on the Grizzlies' end—on the injuries. The Grizzlies just played a game Saturday night where they hung 120 on the Denver Nuggets and did it while looking pretty comfortable on offense. Part of last night's problems were caused by the Bulls' defense. The other part was this putrid Grizzlies offense that pops up from time to time this season, incapable of doing anything.

The stretches where the Grizzlies did well were stretches in which they were forcing the Bulls into turnovers. The stretches where the Bulls did well were stretches where the Grizzlies were turning the ball over—they turned the ball over 20 times, something you may remember from early November when they were getting creamed by the Raptors and other Eastern teams—and not converting layups at the rim into the easy points they so desperately needed.

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Monday, December 30, 2013

Auld Lang Griz: Grizzly Goals for 2014

Posted By on Mon, Dec 30, 2013 at 9:48 AM

Someones minutes will get squeezed when Marc Gasol returns. Probably not this guy.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Someone's minutes will get squeezed when Marc Gasol returns. Probably not this guy.

I wanted to make sure and start this week off right with something other than the normal preview/recap loop it's so easy to get stuck in. I spent some time over the weekend thinking about setting goals for the upcoming year—something I do every year, because it's always interesting and enlightening to look back at those goals at the end of the year and see what you accomplished and how your goals changed—and since the new year is approaching for the Grizzlies, too, I figured I should tell the Grizzlies what their goals for 2014 should be.

1. Bring in outside shooting, like, for real this time.

O.J. Mayo provided a little bit of it, but honestly it was more Shane Battier in 2011. Gilbert Arenas provided it for two or three games. Wayne Ellington shot the lights out three or four times and shot pretty poorly up until he got traded with Marreese Speights and Josh "Lionel Was Right About Me" Selby for Jon Leuer.

Mike Miller has certainly made some noise shooting the three-ball, but he's struggled to find his spot in the offense in Memphis, partially because he's still the only "shooter" on the roster (at least until we see what Seth Curry looks like in an actual game) and partially because early this season Dave Joerger used him like a security blanket, playing him 30 minutes a night no matter what.

We've been talking about this for years: the Grizzlies need consistent 3-point shooters, "3 and D" guys, at the wings to cash in all the open shots generated by Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph drawing defenses into the paint. And yet the Grizzlies, under two different front offices now, continue to pass up guys in free agency, presumably because they're too expensive, and hoping somebody scraped off the bottom of the barrel will help (sorry, Wayne).

Let's figure this out. When Quincy Pondexter gets healthy, let's glue his feet to the corner so he can't do anything but shoot from there. Put him in one corner, and Mike Miller in the other one. Or (radical thought) don't start two wings (Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen) who defenses don't really have to guard. Anyway, I don't want another summer of "The Grizzlies just need a shooter or two." Three is enough.

2. Use that draft pick wisely.

Strangely enough, the Grizzlies actually have the rights to their own first round draft pick this year. They should resolve not to do the following things with it:

  • Trade it
  • Draft a project center from Tanzania
  • Draft someone just because they played well against the Tigers in the NCAA tournament (lookin' at you, DeMarre Carroll)
  • Sell it to the Mavericks for cash
  • Draft Drew Gooden instead of Amar'e Stoudemire or Caron Butler or Nene or Tayshaun Prince or...
  • Seriously, don't trade it

3. Be more transparent, to the extent possible.

I talked about this a little bit in an earlier post about the possibility of trading Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies' new ownership group has done some things exceptionally well—regional marketing, revitalizing the "in game experience" (read: food) at FedExForum—and I generally think they've made smart moves basketball-wise, but there's one thing I think they still haven't done a great job with: convincing the average Grizzlies fan that they know what they're doing.

A large part of this is "narrative." The national narrative after the Grizzlies traded Rudy Gay was that they were idiots, that their new ownership group—remember when Adrian Wojnarowski called John Hollinger "a statistician from a cable company"?—was a bunch of cheapos who didn't know how to build an NBA team and was just in it for the money. Whether or not that's true (and honestly, I don't think anybody but the Maloofs buys an NBA team just for the money...) it's the narrative that got circulated through the national media, and it still does on occasion.

But you notice no one said the same thing when the Raptors traded Rudy Gay to Sacramento for an even crappier return package.

The problem here is messaging. I know the Grizzlies aren't going to come out and explain every move they make and why they're making it, but they've clearly got to do something to get the casual fan back on their side (and that "something" could even just be winning basketball games). Until that happens, they're always going to look like a bunch of newcomers who are moving pieces around without a plan, because no one knows what the plan is.

Maybe this whole issue goes away if Marc Gasol doesn't get hurt and the Grizzlies completely right the ship after their 4-0 road trip in November. But, alas, that's not where we are, is it?

4. Figure out the rotations and stick to them.

This is more a resolution for Dave Joerger than for anybody else. But... don't play 12 guys when you don't have to. When a lineup works, go back to it from time to time. Try not to play Jerryd Bayless as the backup point guard as much (Nick Calathes will get better with playing time, I promise—his court vision is too good for him not to).

Most importantly, the Grizzlies are going to have a frontcourt problem when Marc Gasol returns from his injury (possibly as soon as a couple of weeks from now): Zach Randolph, Kosta Koufos, Ed Davis, and Jon Leuer are all playing well, and each appears to have settled into a role on the team and figured out how to be effective within what the Grizzlies are trying to do. When Marc Gasol comes back, he's going to eat up a lot of minutes from some or all of those guys, and something is going to have to shift in the way they're deployed.

It would behoove the Grizzlies to make whatever trades they're going to make as soon as possible after the return of Gasol, because this team needs every extra minute it can get to gel if they're really going to make a push for the 8th playoff spot (they're currently 12th). Get these lineups and rotations figured out. They can't be in flux all year long, can they? Can they?

What resolutions would you make for the Grizzlies for 2014? (Please don't say "Bring back Lionel Hollins.")

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Recap Sonnet: Grizzlies 120, Nuggets 99

Posted By on Sat, Dec 28, 2013 at 11:03 PM

This picture is from the Raptors game, but Ed Davis did a bunch of this against the Nuggets tonight.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • This picture is from the Raptors game, but Ed Davis did a bunch of this against the Nuggets tonight.

IN commemoration of the Grizzlies' first 120-point game since January 21st, 2012: a sonnet.

When Johnson plays, the Grizzlies run the floor
With pace unseen when Tayshaun is checked in.
The chains of age have bound up greater men
Than our fair Prince, yet Joerger plays him more.
The question then: should Prince be shown the door?
To some fans Rudy's trade is still a sin
That will not be absolved until again
A Grizzly at small forward gives us more.

Hail Johnson, Leuer, Davis, hail them all:
These athletes, wearing Memphis on their chests—
A bench that runs and scores: An answered prayer!
The season's hopes have surely tak'n their fall,
And yet, while these reserves still give their best,
These Grizzlies give us reason still to care.

For you English nerds, this is Petrarchan, not Shakespearean.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Next Day Game Notes: Grinding Up Short in Houston

Posted By on Fri, Dec 27, 2013 at 9:44 AM

Mike Conley is playing at much less than 100% still.

Last night did not go the way the Grizzlies wanted it to, and there are several reason why. Overall, though, it was more encouraging than not to see the Grizzlies go on the road and fight out a close game while at some obvious disadvantages. Houston is a good team, and the Grizzlies have historically struggled to win there. That makes last night's game both easier to take and harder to take; it felt like it was right there for the Griz to secure at points, and still managed to end up a loss.

Three Things I Liked

•  Zach Randolph had a good game, for the most part, because he was either being guarded by Dwight Howard—who racked up fouls just as fast as he probably racked up Christmas candy—or Terrence Jones, who is a good basketball player who's probably about 33% too small to guard Zach Randolph. Z-Bo ended with 23-17 on 20 shots, and both the field goal attempt and rebound numbers were probably inflated by what seemed like a larger-than-normal number of Z-Bounds.

•  James Johnson (again) infused athleticism and energy into the Grizzlies' wing play coming off the bench, playing pretty good defense, cleaning up around the rim, and—let us not forget—doing this:

That'll do. Johnson is fast becoming an important part of the Grizzlies' roster, providing some much-needed desperation, toughness, and wild card play-making at the small forward spot. I think so far my favorite deployments of Johnson have come in lineups that also feature Mike Miller as a 2-guard. That seems to open up the floor a little more for Johnson to be able to attack the rim with reckless abandon—which is fun to watch. It's easy to forget Johnson was a first-round pick who played quite well for Toronto two years ago before struggling with the Kings last year (and, frankly, who didn't struggle with the Kings last year?), but he's earning a permanent spot on the Grizzlies' roster. I'd be shocked if they waive him instead of letting his contract become guaranteed for the rest of the year.

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Quick Preview: Grizzlies @ Rockets

Posted By on Thu, Dec 26, 2013 at 9:21 AM

Now that we've all awoken from our holiday-meal-induced slumber, the Grizzlies are back in action tonight, too, in a nationally-televised road game against the Dwight Howard, James Harden, and the Houston Rockets. The two teams have only played one time so far this season, and that game was at FedExForum the Monday after Marc Gasol's knee injury sidelined him indefinitely. Needless to say, it did not go well.

Kosta Koufos is one of the weapons the Grizzlies have to use against Dwight Howard tonight.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Kosta Koufos is one of the weapons the Grizzlies have to use against Dwight Howard tonight.

Tonight, the Grizzlies are coming off their first two-game winning streak since the last two games of the mid-November West Coast road trip. The problem (if you choose to call it that) is that those two wins have come against the Knicks, who are maybe the only other team in the league as injury-riddled as the Grizzlies, and the Jazz, who are (1) not very good and (2) still managed to make it a close game.

Tonight will be the real test. The Rockets just beat the Spurs, and it was against the Rockets in the preseason that the Grizzlies had a big blowout loss that started people asking questions about what was going on with this year's model Grizzlies team. Here are some things to watch for:

  • Managing Dwight Howard will be difficult without Marc Gasol to anchor the middle of the defense, but not impossible. The Grizzlies have other defenders who each have a single attribute that helps in containing Howard (Koufos with size, Davis with athleticism, etc.) but none with several of those attributes in one player, which means coach Dave Joerger will have to choose his lineups wisely. Ed Davis started at center against the Knicks, and Koufos got the start against the Jazz on Monday, so it's anybody's guess.

  • Tony Allen has got to guard James Harden like his life depends on it. Fortunately for the Griz, Harden is one of the "big name" players for whom Allen is always guaranteed to turn up—unlike the spot-up guys that it seems like he's been helping off since last year's playoffs (lookin' at you, Gordon Hayward's 16 points on Monday night. The interior defenders are going to have their hands full, so keeping Harden as contained as is possible—keeping him from getting to the rim—is going to be vital to the Grizzlies' chances tonight.

  • James Johnson has been very solid in his two starts at the small forward spot. Look for that to continue, and even though his shooting was poor in the Jazz game Monday, he ended with four blocks, some of them spectacular, and he used his athleticism around the rim to get rebounds and putbacks that are sorely needed by a Grizzlies team that has to scratch and claw for every point they score. Johnson has a legitimate shot at locking up the starting job at the 3, and I'm sure he realizes that.

  • Z-Bo gotta Z-Bo. I assume Dwight Howard will be guarding him, but no matter (easy for me to say, I know): Zach Randolph needs to get the inside game going for the Grizzlies. Drag the Rockets into the mud.

It'll be interesting to see how the Grizzlies—potentially featuring the newly-signed Seth Curry—will do tonight against a Houston team that has been playing pretty well as of late. (Except for that 33-point loss to the Pacers on Saturday...) (And that loss to the Kings in Sacramento on the 15th...) My point is that the Rockets are a good team, but they're certainly not unbeatable. The Grizzlies have always struggled to win in Houston, even completely healthy. But this Griz team is fairly solid on the road and shaky at home, so maybe this is the year that they flip the script. It's going to take an all-around good game from the Grizzlies (with none of those ten-minute dead stretches we've come to know and loathe this season).

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Next Day Notes: Grizzlies 104, Jazz 94

Posted By on Tue, Dec 24, 2013 at 8:26 AM

A Z-Bo who scores efficiently is a Z-Bo worth keeping for a few more years.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • A Z-Bo who scores efficiently is a Z-Bo worth keeping for a few more years.

This one will be brief, not least because the Jazz are so bad I got a migraine during the halftime break of the game last night. For those of you who don't know, I get the fun migraines "with auras" that basically render me unable to see for thirty minutes or so, so... I'd say my defective brain did me a favor since I didn't have to watch Richard Jefferson play any more after that point.

The Grizzlies looked like they were pretty locked-in last night. Even though the Jazz are bad, they have some good young players, some of whom posed matchup problems for the Grizzlies. If the Grizzlies want to stay in the hunt for the 7th or 8th playoff spot in the West, the Jazz are one of the teams they can't afford to lose to—one of the teams they do not want to be grouped together with. And so they did come out and take care of business, leading for most of the game. The Jazz were able to make it close a few times, but the Grizzlies always pulled back away.

Home wins of that type have been few and far between this season, so even if it was just against the lowly Utah Jazz, I think Griz fans everywhere can consider last night's game an early Christmas gift. Herewith, some thoughts:

Game Notes

   • Mike Conley is still feeling the after-effects of his thigh contusion. Conley was 2-11 from the floor in his 36 minutes, and he was struggling to get his game together, limping a little bit, and just generally not moving with the jerky warp-speed quickness Griz watchers are accustomed to. The two days of rest between last night and the upcoming Thursday night TNT game at Houston are going to be good for Conley. Here's hoping he gets a thigh massage for Christmas from the team.

   • James Johnson can block shots. I didn't hear much mention of his shot-blocking abilities in the scouting reports that surfaced when the Grizzlies were talking about signing him, but last night he ended up with 4 blocks (in addition to his 9 points and 5 rebounds). Johnson's athleticism and his flat-out hustle give him an edge at the small forward spot that the Grizzlies haven't had since the Rudy Gay trade, except Johnson didn't take 22 field goal attempts last night. His shooting percentages could be better—especially from three, where he was 1-5 on the night—but with Jerryd Bayless 4-5 from long range and Mike Miller 3-3, it's not as big of an issue as it could have been. My gut tells me Johnson will stick with the Grizzlies past the point in January when his contract becomes guaranteed, and that he may be on his way to earning himself a permanent starting spot for this season.

   • Kosta Koufos was back in the starting lineup after coach Dave Joerger started Ed Davis on Saturday against the Knicks. Koufos played well for the most part (especially on a couple of nifty high/lows with Zach Randolph early in the evening) but he struggled when guarding Jeremy Evans. Evans was able to use his quickness to get around Koufos multiple time for backdoors and putbacks and even one alley-oop from Gordon Hayward. Evans is the kind of player that Koufos (and also Marc Gasol, who isn't exactly Carl Lewis on a basketball court) have trouble with, so it was good that the lineup changes were made as necessary to contain the athleticism of the Jazz inside.

   • Enes Kanter was supposed to be a good basketball player, and he is not.

   • After struggling mightily for a few games, including an outing against the Lakers where he shot 7-22 from the floor, Zach Randolph has been much more efficient in the Grizzlies' last two games, scoring 22 on 14 shots last night, and 25 on 18 shots Saturday in New York. That kind of play is what's going to keep Z-Bo indispensible to the team. More shots than points is never a good place to be, especially on a team like the Grizzlies that has to fight and claw for every point they get. As long as Z-Bo can keep pulling down double-digit rebounds and scoring more points than he takes shots, I think the Grizzlies have no choice but to hold on to him.

   • Thursday night's game is in Houston, and it's on TNT in front of a national audience. The Grizzlies have not fared well against the Rockets this season (or preseason) so it'll be interesting to see how they do on the road, which seems to be their home this year. It'll also be interesting to see what Charles Barkley has to say about the Grizzlies, whom he championed as dark horse contenders last year. At least that game won't be blacked out on every possible media outlet.

(Also, as a little end-of-the-year self-spam, if you're not already aware, you can follow the blog on Twitter where I live-tweet from home games and generally prognosticate about basketball the rest of the time. Thanks for making my first season with the Flyer great so far, and happy holidays to all of you.)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Grizzlies vs. Jazz: A Festivus miracle?

Posted By on Mon, Dec 23, 2013 at 10:20 AM

Should Marc Gasol really return in two weeks, someone will be crowded out of the Grizzlies frontcourt.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Should Marc Gasol really return in two weeks, someone will be crowded out of the Grizzlies' frontcourt.

Tonight, in what certainly counts as a Festivus "Feat of Strength," the Grizzlies are back home to face the Utah Jazz, one of two teams in the Western Conference with a worse record1.

Fresh off the heels of a Saturday afternoon victory over the Knicks in New York, this pairing of crappy teams has the potential to send the Grizzlies home for Christmas with a little bit of holiday cheer: a two-game winning streak for the first time since November 18th and 20th.

Saturday's game was an interesting one for two reasons: the lineups deployed by Dave Joerger, and Zach Randolph's big game against his former team. The lineups and what they portend for the rest of the season (and especially the rest of the season post-Gasol's return) are more worth examining a little more in-depth.

Due to the knee injury to Tayshaun Prince (who is still listed as "questionable" for tonight's game), and presumably to add some athleticism and quickness to a starting lineup also regaining Mike Conley for the first time since the Minnesota game last Sunday, new Grizzly addition James Johnson started at small forward, and in a slightly more surprising change, Ed Davis jumped center instead of Kosta Koufos. Against the Knicks, this proved to be a good idea—and Davis' elevated level of play as of late has certainly shown him to be more than capable of shouldering the burden.

Davis' early-season struggles have many Griz fans still skeptical of his ability to contribute on a regular basis—and especially skeptical of the "power forward of the future" talk floating around him since he came to Memphis by way of Toronto in the Rudy Gay trade. I think it's safe to say that those expectations are probably not realistic at this point, but also that Davis has played very well in the absence of Marc Gasol, particularly in the pick and roll, where Peter Edmiston pointed out yesterday that Davis is the most efficient player in the NBA right now, converting 80% of his attempts.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday 3-Pointer: the Mavericks, the Knicks, and staring into the void

Posted By on Fri, Dec 20, 2013 at 8:11 AM

Bayless as scorer? Sure. Bayless as point guard? Not so much..

About That Mavericks Game

I wasn't able to watch the Grizzlies/Mavericks game on Wednesday night as it happened; I had to watch the whole thing on DVR in three sessions yesterday. A big part of the reason it took so long for me to get through my viewing of the game was the depressing nature of what I was watching—especially on the heels of being at the Lakers game on Tuesday night and the Timberwolves game on Sunday.

I think it has to do with my expectations for the season. Before everything got going this year, I wrote that the Grizzlies would face tougher competition this year and that they had to (1) stay healthy and (2) solve some of their issues on the perimeter to contend for a championship this year. I'm not a dummy; I knew last year's Western Conference Finals team had overachieved to an extent and at the same time caught a fortunate break with the injury to Russell Westbrook.

That team was good—very good—but the memories of the deep playoff run seem to have made everyone forget how much of a roller coaster the regular season was: a 12-2 start, and then .500 ball for months while Rudy Gay turned into a taller Nick Young with a lower eFG% and the trade rumors started to swirl. A salary-dump trade that got rid of Speights and Ellington and brought back Leuer, in whose basketball ability nobody believed at the time. Losing three straight games by 20 points. The Rudy Trade, a stretch of magnificent basketball through addition-by-subtraction, the injury to Zach Randolph against the Heat, and then The Playoffs.

All that is to say: last year was rough while it was happening, but it felt nothing like this.

This is brutal. Watching new guys get injured every other game and then watching the guys who are left standing (some of them playing through injuries of their own) get beaten by teams they were supposed to be vastly better than this year is a whole 'nother level rough.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Recap: Lakers 96, Grizzlies 92: The Walking Wounded

Posted By on Wed, Dec 18, 2013 at 9:55 AM

Mike Miller (pictured here with hair) was the latest Griz player to be injured last night.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mike Miller (pictured here with hair) was the latest Griz player to be injured last night.

When does it stop?

When do Grizzlies players stop getting injured?

Last night, the Grizzlies, still without Marc Gasol for several more weeks, and missing Mike Conley to a thigh contusion suffered on Sunday evening against Minnesota, came out and battled—without much organization and lacking any sense of offensive flow, but it cannot be said that they didn't fight for it—and in the end they couldn't pull off a victory. In the process, two more players went down with injuries: Tayshaun Prince, who left the game at halftime with a sore left knee, and Mike Miller, who turned his ankle so badly he fell over on the court, got up and tried to run it off down the tunnel to the locker room, but fell over halfway through the tunnel holding his ankle.

This season is a never-ending meat grinder of injuries. The list of Grizzlies players who have missed at least one game with an injury now, assuming Prince and Miller can't go tonight in Dallas? (That's right: the Grizzlies have to go on the road to play the second game of a back-to-back after last night's intense and ultimately draining loss to the Lakers.) It'd be easier to list the players who haven't missed time: Jamaal Franklin, Jon Leuer, Nick Calathes, Kosta Koufos, and... James Johnson.

It's possible that the Grizzlies could be down to nine healthy players again tonight in Dallas, right back where they were last week when we were saying "soon they'll be back on track." The nightmare continues.

I don't think it's time to give up on the season yet. The team is 10-14 right now, which is nothing that can't be brought back to .500 by a good week or two. The problem is that they're never going to have that good week if they keep having nine healthy players on the roster, getting guys back from injury only to lose another two guys the next night. And when they do have almost everybody (sans Gasol) they're still not able to execute.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Preview: Grizzlies play Kobe Bryant, some other guys

Posted By on Tue, Dec 17, 2013 at 11:15 AM

The Grizzlies will take on the Lakers without Mike Conley tonight.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • The Grizzlies will take on the Lakers without Mike Conley tonight.

Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers are in town to take on the Grizzlies for the first time since the Grizzlies defeated them in L.A. back in November as the first game of their undefeated West Coast road trip. (Remember that trip? It feels like a mirage, like something that happened a year ago, to a different basketball team.)

The fact of the matter is that the Grizzlies and the Lakers are in the same boat right now: not doing very well, affected by injuries (the Lakers literally don't have a healthy point guard on the roster) and trying to figure out if they're a dark horse 7- or 8-seed or one of the few Western Conference teams that's genuine lottery fodder.

In case you've been living in the mountains of Peru without access to radio transmissions, Kobe Bryant has returned from the Achilles injury he suffered last year—only seven months ago. The question at this point is still "Should he have?". Bryant has nineteen turnovers in three games since returning, his left calf muscle has atrophied to the point that it's visibly smaller than his right one, which has robbed him of some of his signature moves. The Kobe Bryant that has returned to action is decidedly not the Kobe Bryant of old, and he may never return to that form again given his age.

Meanwhile Mike D'Antoni and Pau Gasol have been taking shots at each other in the media, with Gasol publicly complaining about not getting touches in the post and D'Antoni (correctly) asserting that the worst thing the Lakers do on offense this year is post up. Gasol, who is a free agent after this season, doesn't seem to be enjoying the Mike D'Antoni Era of Lakers history in the least, and he may see himself traded before the deadline if things don't turn around.

All that is to say this: the Lakers aren't in great shape, but they've got a better record than the Grizzlies. Memphis has been bad at home this year, but the Lakers are the type of team they need to be able to come out and beat if they're going to have any hope of making a push for the playoffs once Marc Gasol returns from injury.

There's a problem with that, though: at the time of this writing, Mike Conley was unable to participate in shootaround today and will not play tonight. Conley suffered a thigh contusion against the Timberwolves after a collision with Dante Cunningham's kneecap.

The injury bug has bitten the Grizzlies hard this year, and continues to do so. Without Conley, whose level of play this year has been off-the-charts ridiculous, it's going to be tough sledding for the Grizzlies again, as Conley has picked up his scoring and passing and all around elevated his game to try to make up for the lack of Marc Gasol in the middle. Either Jerryd Bayless or Nick Calathes will get the start (my money is on Bayless) but neither of them is preferable to an uninjured Conley.

Should be an interesting night: a team of injured and/or hobbled and/or disgruntled Lakers against a team of injured and/or unmotivated Grizzlies. The good news for the Grizzlies is that there has to be a winner. The bad news is it doesn't have to be them.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Grizzlies sign forward James Johnson from D-League

Posted By on Mon, Dec 16, 2013 at 12:09 PM

Quincy Pondexters season-ending injury appears to have prompted the Griz to sign forward James Johnson, of whom I dont have a picture.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Quincy Pondexter's season-ending injury appears to have prompted the Griz to sign forward James Johnson, of whom I don't have a picture.

The Grizzlies have officially announced the signing of James Johnson of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the NBA D-League. From the official Griz press release:

The Memphis Grizzlies signed forward James Johnson of the NBA Development League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the team announced.

Johnson (6-9, 245) joins the Grizzlies after averaging 18.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.90 steals and 3.40 blocks on .496 shooting in 29.9 minutes in 10 games (all starts) for Rio Grande Valley this season. The 26-year-old is the only D-League player this season to rank in the top 15 in scoring (14th), rebounding (12th) and assists (14th) by average. He also places third in the D-League in blocks per game and is tied for seventh in steals per game.

Another useful place to go for info is Johnson's Basketball Reference entry.

Last night when I got word that the Grizzlies were interested in Johnson, I asked my friend Andrew Ford of SB Nation's Grizzly Bear Blues—who has worked on NCAA coaching staffs and loves scouting NBA prospects—for a little bit of a scouting report on Johnson, and here's what he said: Johnson is a tweener (but I would have to assume the Grizzlies are primarily interested in playing him at the 3) who has "a pretty complete offensive game" in that he can face up and create off the dribble, but also work with his back to the basket if he has an advantage. He can use his quickness and footwork to get a good shot against a bigger man in the post. His passing is also "very underrated, good for one or two assists a game."

If you look at his per-36 numbers, he can score and rebound, but his shooting percentages are, well, less than stellar. He's a career .273 from three, with a .461 eFG% for his career.

Overall Johnson sounds like a guy who can come in off the bench and contribute something. He's been performing well in the D-League and is neither (1) old nor (2) out for the year with an injury. This signing is certainly an admission that the small forward spot has been a problem for the Grizzlies, and hopefully Johnson can come in and contribute and put out the dumpster fire at the wing positions for the Grizzlies.

Weekend Recap: Grizzlies drop two more to Pelicans, Wolves

Posted By on Mon, Dec 16, 2013 at 8:05 AM

Griz fans panicked when Mike Conley left Sundays game with an injury, but it wasnt serious.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Griz fans panicked when Mike Conley left Sunday's game with an injury, but it wasn't serious.

Friday night, the Grizzlies headed down to New Orleans to take on the Pelicans (sans Anthony Davis) and Sunday evening they faced the Minnesota Timberwolves at FedExForum. Neither game turned out the way the boys in Beale Street Blue wanted it to.

In New Orleans, the Grizzlies added Tony Allen and Ed Davis back to the rotation for the first time in a week—Allen was injured during the December 3rd game against the Suns, and Davis was injured on December 5th against the Clippers—and it seemed to help them out greatly in the first quarter, as they jumped out to a 34-26 lead after one. That same first quarter lead didn't do much to stop the bleeding when the Grizzlies turned in an 11-point effort in the third quarter, though, allowing a massive run by the Pelicans.

I watched the game on DVR (the Flyer Christmas party was Friday night) and my wife passed through the living room when the Grizzlies were only trailing by one (63-62). A little while later she came back and it was 84-65 shortly after the start of the fourth. I may not be a great purveyor of basketball analytics, but I'm pretty sure scoring three points while one's opponent scores 21 points is an indicator that both the offense and the defense are non-existent.

The Grizzlies made a run to make it a close game on the backs of the "bench" guys (Leuer, Calathes, Davis, and Jerryd Bayless, who had 7) but couldn't ever get closer than 5 or 6, and the Pelicans won.

Sunday night against Minnesota was the same sort of story, only the Grizzlies had their now-customary terrible quarter first. The Grizzlies only scored 17 in the first frame, while Minnesota came out and started hitting everything they took from beyond the arc—by the end of the game, Kevin Love, Corey Brewer, Ricky Rubio, J.J. Barea, Robbie Hummel, and Alexey Shved all hit triples for Minnesota—and it never really came back to them from there.

The Grizzlies, in the third and fourth quarter, showed a great deal of heart, fighting to keep the game close, and hanging around threatening to grab a lead, but every time they got close, something would happen (or, as Dave Joerger would say in the postgame, "Something wouldn't happen; we would make a mistake") and the Timberwolves would end up extending the lead. It felt like every Grizzlies missed three led to a Minnesota transition basket. We won't even speak of the Alexey Shved layup that turned into a goaltend on Kosta Koufos and a Flagrant 1 foul on Ed Davis and possession for Minnesota, which turned into another foul on Davis. (I guess I just spoke of it. It was bad.)

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Are the Grizzlies going to trade Zach Randolph?

Posted By on Fri, Dec 13, 2013 at 11:02 AM

Uncertainly about Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph is starting to creep in around the edges.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Uncertainty about Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph is starting to creep in around the edges.

The rumor mill is starting in earnest now, with yesterday's Bleacher Report story on a rumor that the Grizzlies and Pelicans were discussing a trade of Zach Randolph for young sharp-shooting forward Ryan Anderson. While not likely to happen (according to Chris Vernon, anyway), the fact that another actual rumor has been reported is another sign that the Zach Randolph Rumor Mill is starting to get going.

With the Grizzlies struggling to get anything accomplished while missing four players due to injury, two of them (Marc Gasol and Quincy Pondexter) for extended stretches of time, and Zach Randolph approaching a $16.5 million player option for next year, it was bound to be this way. Here are three reasons the Grizzlies should trade Zach Randolph, countered with three reasons they shouldn't.

Reason to Trade Zach Randolph #1: The Salary

Randolph is aging, and while his production hasn't dropped off the way some feared it would, the Grizzlies also owe Marc Gasol $15.8 million next year (the final year of his current contract), they owe $8.7 million to Mike Conley, $7.7 million to Tayshaun Prince, $5 million to Tony Allen, and other deals for Quincy Pondexter, a team option for Kosta Koufos, and Jon Leuer and Jamaal Franklin on sub-$1 million deals. Ed Davis becomes a restricted free agent at the end of this season.

So... the Grizzlies don't want to fill up $16.5 million of next year's salary with Zach Randolph—they have to either work out a longer-term deal for a lower yearly salary with Randolph, or trade him now before he can pick up the player option. This is a team that desperately needs to add talent at the wings going forward. The Conley/Gasol/Randolph trio are going to continue to get beaten by teams that clog the paint until the Grizzlies acquire a credible wing threat or two to pull defenders away from the rim and keep them honest: that's a fact.

If Zach Randolph is making $16.5 million dollars for the Grizzlies next year, it severely limits the free agents they can sign, and it means that those wing players they would presumably acquire will have to learn to play in the Grizzlies' current plodding, violent style. With Randolph off the books, swapped for a young power forward and/or a young wing player who can make threes, defend at a high level, and create off the dribble when the need arises (basically, who can be what Rudy Gay could have been if he hadn't become a first class 19-foot Brick Machine), the Grizzlies can continue to build their offense around Mike Conley and Marc Gasol and contend more effectively against teams like the Spurs, who are going to keep beating this team until they can hit an outside shot.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Grizzlies 100, Thunder 116: Welcome to the Fourth Level

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

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

Look. There are four types of NBA teams:

  1. Good teams that are very exciting to watch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 9, 2013

Grizzlies 94, Magic 85: Somehow No One Got Seriously Injured

Posted By on Mon, Dec 9, 2013 at 10:14 PM

Jerryd Bayless was one of 5 Griz players who hit at least 1 3-pointer Monday night.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jerryd Bayless was one of 5 Griz players who hit at least 1 3-pointer Monday night.

In a day that saw the Grizzlies announcing that Quincy Pondexter is "out indefinitely" with a stress fracture and a game in which Tony Allen and Ed Davis both missed yet another game due to lingering issues, the Grizzlies' bench came up big and powered the team to a win over a (pretty terrible) Magic team that refused to go away.

As has been the story in Griz wins since Marc Gasol went down with an MCL sprain two weeks ago, the Grizzlies' bench bigs (in the form of Jon Leuer and Kosta Koufos, who technically isn't a "bench big" anymore since he's starting in place of the injured Gasol) came up big tonight. Leuer played 27 minutes and grabbed another double-double, with 16 and 12. Koufos only shot 3-10 for the game, but ended with 7 points and 11 rebounds—and both of them played great defense on Orlando's Glen "Big Baby" Davis down the stretch.

Zach Randolph got his tonight, too, ending the game with 19 and 12, but early foul trouble meant Randolph was a non-factor for long stretches of the middle of the game.

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