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.

I have to admit that Davis' P&R play has me excited for the return of Marc Gasol even more... with the two of them on the floor together, the Grizzlies should (theoretically anyway) be able to shift the offense to a more Spurs-like game, driven by Mike Conley's stellar play so far this year, of pick-and-rolling opponents to death play after play, pick after pick after pick. One wonders where that would leave Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufos, but hey, cross that bridge when you get to it.

Speaking of Koufos and Randolph, and the one Griz big we haven't mentioned yet, Jon Leuer, Chris Vernon tweeted last night that he expects Gasol back in two weeks. Where does that leave the Grizzlies' frontcourt rotation? At the beginning of the season, the thinking was that Gasol, Randolph, and Koufos would shoulder the bulk of the workload, with Davis coming in to spell Randolph and Leuer just sort of fitting in around the edges depending on matchups.

That doesn't seem likely to work now. What was once just a "deep" rotation is now a "crowded" one, with Davis and Leuer especially playing well and Koufos starting to see his minutes waning a bit as the other two continue to play well. Add Marc Gasol back to the mix, and that's a surefire recipe for someone to get left out in the cold through no fault of his own. They're all playing well, but there are only so many minutes to go around.

The Grizzlies have already signed James Johnson and it was reported several places over the weekend that they'll be bringing in guard Seth Curry (brother of Steph Curry, of course) to sign a contract as early as today, both moves designed to bolster the sagging (and injured) wing rotation. As the roster starts to get crowded in the frontcourt and the backcourt, don't be surprised if the Griz start coming up in more trade rumors. Of the big men, I think Davis and Koufos are particularly trade-able, with Randolph only available for a team making an insane offer. At the 2 and 3 spot, Jerryd Bayless is probably the most likely to be dealt—but that's only assuming someone would want him. Davis is probably the Grizzlies' main trade asset at the moment, with Koufos a close second due to how good of a contract he's on for what he can give a team that desperately needs an inside presence.

All these roster and rotation questions will be settled in time, and how they're settled will mostly depend on whether the Grizzlies are able to start putting together enough wins to be within striking distance of a playoff spot at the trade deadline. If they are, I expect the front office to try to make moves designed to bolster the roster for the stretch run. If they're out of it, who knows what could happen—it may be "scrap it and retool for next year" time.

I haven't spoken much about the Jazz game tonight. There's a reason for that: I've watched about five minutes of Jazz basketball all year, because they're one of the worst teams in the league. They've got more losses than anyone, only the Bucks have fewer wins, and the other teams with eight wins are the Sixers, Knicks, Magic, and Kings. They're bad. Unfortunately for all of us who follow the Grizzlies, the Grizzlies are only three wins better at the moment, but one hopes that the shifts in the rotation made on Saturday (and Zach Randolph's 25 and 15) will carry over into tonight's game and help the Grizzlies win one at home—something at which they've been terrible this year—against a team they should beat.

If they do, it'll be a Festivus miracle. If not, maybe then it'll be time for the Airing of Grievances2.

  1. At 8-22, the Jazz wouldn't even be in the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, unlike the 11-15 Griz.  
  2. Grizzlies-themed Festivus idea: The Airing of Greivises. 



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