Saturday, January 20, 2018

Grizzlies 106, Kings 88: Return of the King

Posted By on Sat, Jan 20, 2018 at 8:43 AM

click to enlarge This photo will never not be weird to me. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • This photo will never not be weird to me.

The Grizzlies beat the Sacramento Kings in blowout fashion last night, 106-88, despite being tied at 40 at halftime due to a 10-point scoring effort from the home team in the second quarter. The Grizzlies have now won three games in a row (and four home games in a row), breaking several of the ten commandments for the second half of the season I set out for them earlier in the week. But, despite the fact that rookie Dillon Brooks set a new career high with 22 points, and despite the fact that Ben McLemore played for the first time in a while and scored 21 points off the bench, and despite the fact that the Grizzlies won going away over what is almost unquestionably the (real) worst team in the Western Conference, the outcome of the game last night wasn't the story. This was the story:

Zach Randolph's return to Memphis for the first time since signing with the Kings over the summer was the story. The return of the Grizzlies' greatest era's most important player, the return of a Memphis folk hero in the flesh, a civic fixture and adopted Memphian (warts and all) who somehow finds himself on the other end of the continent wearing purple for the next couple years.

Emotions were high in the building all night—Randolph was announced last in the Kings lineup to a roar from the crowd—but once the tribute video was on the big screen, the place fell totally silent until it ended, at which point the crowd erupted and "Z-Bo" chants broke out.

If the Grizzlies were going to be good this year and make a run at the playoffs based on a Big Three core of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Chandler Parsons, it makes sense (at the basketball level) that they would move on from Randolph. His game is so different from the "modern" NBA (as though 2011 and 2013 and 2015 are so far removed from us... I guess in a way they are) that it's understandable that a new coach with a new system and three younger guys around whom to implement it would be less than enthused about a 36-year-old big who lumbers like a '71 Chrysler but also runs over and crushes smaller men like a '71 Chrysler and looks as good as a '71 Chrysler doing it.

The observers of this team were too optimistic coming into the season. I, and people like me, didn't want to believe the ESPN projections and the other stat-based predictors that had been so wrong so many seasons before. We now know that the guy who was responsible for the inaccuracy of those predictions is currently starting for Sacramento. If the Grizzlies were always going to be bad, you can make the argument that Z-Bo would have been one more vet soaking up minutes that a younger guy should take. But would you rather have Zach Randolph soaking up 20 minutes a night on your bad team, or Mario Chalmers? Zach Randolph, or Ben McLemore? (I guess McLemore's not soaking up minutes if he can't get off the bench, but I wonder if Randolph could've been re-signed by the Grizzlies for something closer to McLemore's deal than what he got from the Kings.)

Bottom line is: sitting there in the arena watching the tribute video last night, I realized I was wrong about Zach Randolph. I don't think the Grizzlies meant to be bad, so I still understand why they decided to move on, but knowing what I know now, and being reminded of how much Randolph meant to this team and to this city—it's easy to forget playoff games from five years ago. Time fades away. Sometimes we have to be reminded what's in front of us, and sometimes we let go of things we should hold on to. Zach Randolph was never going to heal the city of Memphis, or solve all of our challenges, or take our brokenness and put it back together. But he was going to put on a jersey with our name on it, our city's name, and pulverize people on our behalf. Sometimes that's enough. He probably deserved better than he got in the end.

click to enlarge Deyonta Davis was happy to welcome the basketball into his warm embrace. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Deyonta Davis was happy to welcome the basketball into his warm embrace.

Tweet of the Night

Speaking of young guys who aren't bad, Dillon Brooks had a career high, and after the game JB Bickerstaff said he hit the dreaded Rookie Wall and seems to have bounced back from that. The numbers support that assessment:

(Also, the asterisk there is probably necessary but also hilariously rude.)

Tank Watch

click to enlarge Dillon Brooks returned to form with a career night against the Kings. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dillon Brooks returned to form with a career night against the Kings.

The Grizzlies have won three in a row, which is not great for their lottery odds, but they've seen some real growth out of the young guys. Wednesday against the Knicks it was Ivan Rabb. Last night it was Dillon Brooks. It's hard to stay bad when your players are actually, y'know, figuring stuff out.

Tonight against the Pelicans, I expect Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins to eviscerate every Grizzlies big not named Gasol, and he might not have a great time either. (Though he should be rested, since he spent most of his time on the floor last night chatting and laughing with Zach Randolph and then elbowing him a little bit so it would look like they were playing hard.)

Beyond that, who knows what'll happen against the Sixers, but the games against the Spurs and Clippers are probably not going to end well if you're in the "try to win" camp.

I've mostly resigned myself to the fact that the Grizzlies are going to pick somewhere around 10th in the draft, and it seems unlikely to me that they'll be able to pull off some sort of magic to find a Kawhi Leonard-level talent there, so... while I think they should tank, I'm not convinced that they will and so I remain unconvinced that they'll be drafting a franchise-altering talent this summer. I'd love to be proven wrong, but I also believe that past behavior is a good indicator of future behavior.

The fact of the matter is the Grizzlies aren't really bad enough to be at the bottom of the West without severely limiting their young players' minutes. The Grizzlies' developing talents may not be first-rounders, and none of them will be All-Stars, but they're mostly replacement-level players at worst, and that's better than some other teams (cf. Sacramento Kings). It's hard to scrape the bottom of the barrel when your players aren't actually the bottom of the barrel.

Except McLemore.


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