Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Grizzlies 121, Sixers 91: Preseason Notebook

Posted By on Tue, Oct 11, 2016 at 10:58 PM

click to enlarge Look out Steph Curry. There's a slightly larger challenger to your 3-point crown this season. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Look out Steph Curry. There's a slightly larger challenger to your 3-point crown this season.

Game Haiku #0C

Zach Randolph for three
Four of six times, ring it up!
No long-range bluffing.

In which the Grizzlies play the Sixers and for two of four quarters look very good

Not really a whole lot to say about this one. The Sixers aren’t the basketball equivalent of radioactive waste anymore, not really. They’re just not quite ready for normal habitation by actual NBA basketball yet. But they’ve got some pieces, enough pieces (mainly Joel Embiid, who looked really good in spurts against the Grizzlies Tuesday night) that they’re a real team now, become real boys like Pinocchio before that weird detour into the amusement park and the belly of a blue whale and wait why did my parents let me watch Pinocchio? Did they know what it would do to my malleable young brain?

Anyway speaking of malleable young brains Embiid struggled against Marc Gasol and did pretty well against Zach Randolph because Gasol’s malleable young brain hasn’t yet learned Randolph’s trick of not really playing defense during preseason[1]. Beyond that, the Sixers didn’t have much of a threat that the Grizzlies couldn’t handle, beyond their own poor defense and reliance on outside shooting, which bit them in the second quarter.

Because of those lapses, the game was tied 53-53 at halftime, but the Grizzlies came out in the third quarter and absolutely hammered the Sixers, with the claw end of the hammer. A 37-13 quarter isn’t something that happens without a little bit of malice involved, and I was happy to see the Grizzlies find that edge even when they all knew the game didn’t matter. Bodes well (as well as preseason can, anyway) for those Tuesday nights in February in Detroit when they need to get a win against a .500 team and still find themselves trailing. Maybe they’ll keep it together during those rough patches, which (under the old regime, obvs.) were as predictable as Daylight Savings Time and Beno Udrih getting slightly out of shape over the All-Star Break.

I don’t have a lot else to say about this game in itself. The rest I’ll save for its own special section because it’s a harbinger of the season to come.

In which Zach Randolph is now a 3-point-shooting center?

Read ‘em and weep. The Grizzlies bully-ball power forward of the last seven seasons has transformed before our eyes and emerged from his cocoon as a beautiful butterfly. His jumpers from 20-ish feet have always been money, so it’s not really that surprising that in a different offense that’s actually designed to give him good long-range looks Zach Randolph can consistently hit 3-pointers.

I mean, it’s not like this is what was happening:

No, this Randolph is a credible shooting threat, and demands that defenses treat him as such. And at the same time, he’s not even really playing power forward anymore. Most of the time against Philadelphia, Randolph was subbed directly for Marc Gasol, and the two of them hardly played together. Sure, Brandan Wright had the game off to rest up, so there wasn’t really a credible backup center to be found other than Randolph (not with Jarell Martin still out, anyway, which just makes me too anxious to even talk about, and he’s even less of a center than Randolph is, really). But it seems like Randolph is going to be the 5 in smaller bench unit lineups this season and that’s going to be his role. Rebounding when he can, posting up when he can, but also running actual real plays to get him open for threes from the wings so he can rattle them in. What a world.

It’s a change for Randolph, to be sure. From 4 to 5. From starter to bench. From inside to outside. But the tools have always been there with Randolph; it’s just a matter of getting him to harness it differently in a way that (1) helps this new Grizzlies team play the way they want/need to play and (2) extends his career by showing he can adapt to the evolution of the NBA, which is a very different place than it was when he first took the court in 2001. That he seems to be on board to it so far is a testament to David Fizdale’s ability to clearly communicate his expectations for Randolph, and to Randolph’s adaptability

Yeah, Zach. Just like an iguana. Just like an iguana.

  1. Back when I was in Boy Scouts (I’m an Eagle Scout) we invented a verb for this: “to cantaloupe.” (We were extremely stupid, but we had fun.) To “cantaloupe” is to give the appearance of working on something while actually standing around talking about cars or girls or, let’s be more honest, arguing about who was better at building campfires. (Answer: me.) Zach Randolph's defense of Embiid in Tuesday night's game? Textbook cantalouping. ↩︎



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