Thursday, October 19, 2017

Five Notes on Grizzlies/Pelicans

Posted By on Thu, Oct 19, 2017 at 9:50 AM

click to enlarge LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Grizzlies started the season with a win last night, defeating the New Orleans Pelicans 103-91 and creating several new narratives in the process. You can find straight recaps of game action elsewhere—I want to talk about what I think matters from last night.

Five Things

Dillon Brooks is for real. He’s going to have bad rookie games, and maybe even more of them than good ones, but last night showed that his preseason performance wasn’t fool’s gold: he’s an NBA player, and most likely sooner rather than later. Last night Brooks got hot and stayed in the game all the way through the end, racking up 19 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals, and 2 blocks in one of the most impressive rookie debuts by a Grizzly in a long time.

There will be growing pains, of course, and no rookie starts off good and only gets better without some bumps along the way. But Brooks has a confidence about him and a smoothness and ease to his game that make me very hopeful for his future in Beale Street Blue. Last night was a coming-out party for a young guy who is certainly worth watching.

This is Mike Conley’s team, still. The playoffs proved it, but last night was another point of evidence. Conley was masterful, with no sign that it was the first real game of the season—he picked up right where he left off in the San Antonio series. The result was one of the quietest 27 points on 15 shots I’ve seen. Conley was dominating the game without looking like it, while the crowd’s attention was focused on other things. One hopes he can maintain this form all year.

Conley’s night was also a stark contrast to Marc Gasol’s. Gasol’s first quarter was bad, he got things going a little in the second half, and then he fouled out. Obviously, the Pelicans’ big man tandem of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis had something to do with that, especially with Gasol’s new focus on rebounding. But that wasn’t the whole story; Gasol just looked off, as he is wont to do when conditions aren’t perfect. Whether this is a single off night or a bad start to the year remains to be seen, but given the shape Marc is in and that he’s been playing all summer because of Eurobasket, he shouldn’t have those kinds of cobwebs.

click to enlarge LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Chandler Parsons finally looked like a basketball player, if only for a little spell. He came in struggling, missed some free throws, got some boos (which Grizzlies fans seem to love doing early in the year to guys who already have shaky confidence, because Memphis remains inexplicable) but—for the first time since signing a 90-whatever-million-dollar contract last summer—he had a stretch where he played well! (Yes! That merits exclamation points!) After the rough start, over a span of a few minutes, Parsons hit a couple of shots, facilitated some nifty plays with drives and kicks, and even played excellent defense on Anthony Davis, which I’m still not sure I believe even though I was present when it happened.

That’s not to say all is well with Parsons, who pretty clearly will never be a third-piece-of-a-big-Three small forward again because he’s just not fast enough anymore. But last night showed promise: even in a diminished role, the Grizzlies would just be happy for him to be productive somewhere in the rotation making things happen, and ultimately he’s probably more reliable than some of the younger guys would be in the same role. Even that seemed like it would never happen again, and last night it did for a little while. Shelve those career obituaries for a little bit longer.

The JaMychal Green injury could make things interesting. Green left the game early last night after rolling an ankle pretty badly (which, after the Hayward injury in Boston, made everybody’s stomach a little uneasy until he eventually made it back to his feet and they were still pointing the right direction). If he misses any significant time, it might be Jarell Martin who fills that spot in the rotation, and last night he wasn’t ready for that workload yet.

Granted, I’m going to wait until he’s not dealing with Boogie and AD to make a more solid judgement. New Orleans has issues, but the quality of their starting big men isn’t one of them. But Martin, who played his way back from the brink of being cut by demolishing everything in his path during camp, will have to perform against those kinds of players if he has a future as a starting power forward. We’ll find out, and maybe faster than we would have liked.

I remember why I was excited about Brandan Wright. After he struggled with injuries for two straight years, it was easy to forget why the Grizzlies signed Wright in the first place and wish they’d traded his very reasonable contract. But last night, he showed what they signed him for, defending well, making athletic plays at the rim, setting Conley up for pick and roll baskets that no other big on the roster would have facilitated, and more. I hope he can keep it up, because this Brandan Wright makes the Grizzlies better, much faster and more athletic, and more fun to watch.

Tweet of the Night

Up Next

The Warriors, Saturday night. But we can talk about that more tomorrow; for now, let’s bask in the glory of a promising start to the year. My season preview went out in this week's Flyer, and is now online. I have a lot to say about what I think this year's Grizzlies team is going to be, and I said most of it there.


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