Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Heat 107, Grizzlies 82: One Thought

Posted By on Tue, Dec 12, 2017 at 7:46 AM

  • Joe Murphy (NBAE/Getty Images)
  • Chandler Parsons

Last night's game between the Grizzlies and Heat was a close one until the fourth quarter, when things really got out of hand. During the final twelve minutes of action, the Grizzlies managed to give up 37 points to Miami, including 8 of 9 from 3-point range. It was an abysmal performance to cap what had been an uneven (but not terrible) game to that point, with the Grizzlies starting out on top before slowly surrendering the lead to the Heat and then very slowly losing ground right up until they hit the breaking point at which they apparently decided they wouldn't win and throw in the towel.

I usually have five thoughts after games this season, but honestly, there's not much to say about what happened last night. Interim head coach JB Bickerstaff already said it in the postgame presser: the effort wasn't there. For a team with a long and storied history of winning close games at a pace that statistical analysis could never quite figure out, last night was a kind of opposite, the bizarro reflection of a beloved playoff team caving in on itself on a Monday night in a building that was 2/3 full.

One Thought

The Grizzlies are bad. They just are. At this point, it doesn't matter when Conley comes back, because—even though there's no doubt that he will make the team better, and more cohesive—the damage has already been done. Not necessarily to the season. New Orleans and Oklahoma City both lost last night; even as bad as they've been the Griz aren't really out of the playoff hunt yet. But they've been exposed.

They have a lot of players that just aren't very good. A team that has to rely on Mario Chalmers and Ben McLemore to soak up major minutes at the guard spots will not win basketball games. A team that has to rely on Jarell Martin's defense to make it through stretches of bench play will not win basketball games. A team that has to rely on Marc Gasol to do everything everywhere and somehow keep his faith in his teammates intact will not win basketball games. To refer back to the OKC game, a team with three guys who miss a collective four free throws, each of which could've won them the game, will not win basketball games.

There's not much in the way of analysis that hasn't already been done at this point. The Grizzlies are bad.


That's the fun part: we already know why. That part has already been discussed to death here and elsewhere on the basketball intertubes. They don't have enough good players. Since moment one of the regular season, they've been missing at least one projected starter, and with Conley missing as much time as he has, it's usually been at least two.

The late lamented David Fizdale's rotations didn't make a whole lot of sense once Conley went down. But while Bickerstaff's are different, he's facing the same fundamental problem: the depth that a lot of us, myself included, talked ourselves into during the preseason simply isn't there. This team isn't good enough to play 11 guys when Conley and Selden are both out; they simply don't have enough real NBA players to pull off that long of a rotation. Mario Chalmers, Ben McLemore, and Jarell Martin shouldn't be playing at all, and yet, through necessity and, in McLemore's case, the desire to get something out of him and prove he was worth the bad contract to which the Grizzlies signed him, they're playing. (Important to note here that Martin was only in for the final 1:52 last night, after playing a bigger role in the OKC game and getting a DNP-CD in the Toronto game. His spot, at least, seems to be vanishing out from under him as he continues to fail to distinguish himself as a player with any NBA skill.)

The problem now, as illuminated last night by the team's total collapse down the stretch of a very winnable game, is that they look like they know they're not very good. They folded last night, and it was obvious. Bickerstaff conceded as much after the game. But that doesn't help Gasol's mental state, it doesn't help the young guys gain the confidence they need to play through these sorts of stretches (which are bound to happen to every team in every season, if not to this degree), and it doesn't change the fact that this was a mediocre team this year even if everything went right. Everything has not gone right. So while I'm not sure it makes sense to lament the possibilities of the 2017-18 Grizzlies, who were probably bound for a seven or eight seed and a first-round exit in the best case scenario, it's certainly true that they weren't supposed to be this.

This is the worst Grizzlies team since 2008-09, minus the promise of Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, OJ Mayo, and Marc Gasol maybe becoming something someday. It's a dead end right now. There are young guys who could be good in a couple of years, but there's no future core being established, no Three Year Plan. They're just bad right now. And they know it. And that's why they folded last night. I don't see any reason to expect anything different from them, if that's how it's going to go.

Tweet of the Night

Mario Chalmers is, indeed, washed.

Up Next

Misery. Suffering. The rending of garments. Weeping and gnashing of teeth. Having been cast into outer darkness.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Thunder 102, Grizzlies 101: Five Extremely Dumb Overtime Thoughts

Posted By on Sun, Dec 10, 2017 at 9:28 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Grizzlies lost in spectacular fashion on Saturday night after leading by as many as 20 points, before turning in a 9-point third quarter and one of the most mystifyingly mindless fourth quarters I've ever seen from a Memphis team. Then, after Marc Gasol, Tyreke Evans, and JaMychal Green each missed at least one free throw, the game went to overtime, where the Grizzlies again played bad basketball—and make no mistake, the Thunder were every bit as bad, if not worse—and lost in overtime.

Defensively, the Thunder are very good this year—second in the NBA coming into last night. That's certainly part of why the Grizzlies struggled so mightily on offense, but it's not the whole story. As ever, the Grizzlies made things hard for themselves as much or more than the opponent did, and so yet again they lost a game they should've won. Dallas, Brooklyn, and now this; when they miss the playoff by three wins, this particular encounter will seem even more frustrating than it did as it happened.

But I have five thoughts on what happened, which is all I could think to do in response.

Five Thoughts

It doesn't matter who the coach is if the players make dumb plays. At some level, a lot of the Grizzlies' mistakes last night Have to do with low basketball IQ. Making a bad pass. Shooting bad shots. Making poor decisions in the flow of the offense. Some of this is coaching: guys have to know the scheme so they can fall back on it when times get tough. The coaching flux has made some of that harder than it should be, but it's not the whole explanation. You only have to look as far as Ben McLemore's abysmal missed 360 dunk against Toronto: it's one thing if he's wide open on a break and tries that and misses, but there were two (2) Toronto defenders closing in on him. He didn't even have time to attempt that dunk in the first place. That's a sign of a player who makes bad decisions.

The Grizzlies are a young team, and most of that youth is made up of guys who weren't highly-ranked first round guys. They're guys the Grizzlies have taken a flier on, and while they all seem to show some sort of promise, they're not players who are great at improvising on the fly, falling back on the scheme or the system to know what to do. When things go wrong, they improvise, and they're just not good at it. That's not a good sign for the Grizzlies going forward, because these guys need to play in a more cohesive way, but they're learning it all on the fly without any time to practice under a new coach. Unless they start playing both smarter and harder, they're still not going to win many more games, especially against teams able to take away the first and second options of the pretty simplistic offensive sets they're running right now.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Tyreke Evans is a good starting point guard. Part of this is a comparison to the other alternatives on the Grizzlies. But the other part is Evans stepping up to a challenge. After being a ball-stopper when he was coming off the bench, Evans has actually passed the ball well upon being moved to the starting lineup. Last night he finished with 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists. I think he'll probably get a triple double at some point this season. Evans is a massively talented player when things are going right for him. And while I still think he could do more to get other guys more involved, his transition into being the facilitator the Grizzlies need him to be at this point in the season has been encouraging, and if he can keep growing into the role and developing his chemistry with Gasol (we saw some of this in their two-man game in overtime), he may end up putting up exactly the same kinds of numbers Mike Conley would.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

★ Speaking of point guards, Mario Chalmers is really bad. It comes from a good place—he's trying to help the team win—but Chalmers' play has been disastrous. He's taking bad shots, he's not running pick and roll cleanly, he's making bad passes, he's not finishing at the rim at all, he's not defending, and he shows no signs of getting better at any of those things. He's been struggling all year long, and Fizdale no doubt felt a special connection to Chalmers because of the time the two of them spent together in Miami, but... it's bad. Several people said this to me on Twitter last night and I agree: Toney Douglas last year was better. That's not a typo: Toney Douglas.

The Grizzlies' third quarter struggles are mystifying. It's like they've yet to make a halftime adjustment all season, while the other team always makes the right one. Last night, the Thunder held the Griz to NINE POINTS in the entire third quarter. The whole time, the Grizzlies had no answers, no options. They'd been totally strangled by the Thunder's halftime adjustment. It happens every game. No lead is too big for the Grizzlies to choke away in the third quarter by coming out of the break totally lax and unfocused. I don't know if they all need to be rendered to some kind of intelligence agency black site and deafened by heavy metal music until they've been reprogrammed to play hard after halftime, or what. If I were Robert Pera, that option would be on the table.

As bad as both of these teams are, neither is really out of the hunt yet. The second half of last night's game was one of the dumbest, worst things I've seen in all my time covering the Grizzlies. Both teams tried to choke away the game on several occasions, and neither team could manage to lose until the very, very end of overtime. But. As crappy as it looked, both of these teams could still make the West playoffs. It's less likely for the Grizzlies than it is for Oklahoma City, but both of these teams have gotten off to significantly worse starts than expected, and such is the state of the Western Conference that neither has fallen so far that the season can't be salvaged. Give the Grizzlies another couple of weeks, and my 44-win prediction for the season may become totally impossible to reach instead of just very unlikely. But for two potential playoff teams, the Grizzlies and Thunder sure both looked like two lottery teams last night.

Tweet of the Night

It's probably not the solution to the Grizzlies' backup point guard problem, but it's hard to imagine he'd be worse, and they've barely put a dent in the number of days he can be called up to the big club, so I fully endorse this hashtag from Caleb McNiece:

Up Next

The Heat are here on Monday, they travel to DC to play the Wizards on Wednesday, and then it's another Friday/Saturday home back to back against the Hawks and Celtics. At this point, I'd call the Hawks game the only one they should win, but "should" is mostly meaningless in the context of this year's Grizzlies. They've only won one game since breaking an 11-game losing streak, and they've got a new 3-game streak going. I'm not to "tank the season" territory yet, because I'm not sure what that even looks like on a team with Conley and Gasol on it, but it would appear that they're tanking the season quite by accident all on their own.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Hustle Dispatch: Week 5

Posted By on Thu, Dec 7, 2017 at 3:08 PM


The drama never ends; at least the second game didn't have a single digit gap?

The Hustle eked out a hotly contested victory by three points. But is that even news? If anything, these incredibly close encounters are almost becoming routine. It would be nice if, down the stretch, the Hustle could comfortably see out the game. But hey, a win’s a win, and the victory against the Delaware 87ers made it two on the bounce last Saturday. Included among the standout performers were local boy Austin Nichols, who put up 18 points on 8-15 shooting, and included seven rebounds for good measure.

Against Delaware, the word of the day was efficiency. Not always the Hustle’s strong suit, they managed to make more field goals than the 87ers, even while taking 20 less shots (Memphis’ 41 of 85 vs Delaware’s 39-105). In addition, the Hustle went 8-18 from three point range while Delaware put up a shocking 9-38. That meant plenty of wasted possessions for the 87ers, which the Hustle used to good effect early on when racing out to a 10-2 lead, ending the first quarter up 27-19. Delaware tried to keep pace for most of the second quarter, but Omari Johnson’s 10 points during the quarter helped extend the Hustle’s lead to 14 at the end of the half.

Trahson Burrell exploded for 11 points on 100% shooting in the third quarter, leading the Hustle to their biggest lead of the night at 81-61. The quarter ended with the Hustle holding a 17 point lead, and that was where things got dicey. I’m sure that, in a line of fine print on each Hustle players contract, is a mandate that each contest be as close as possible. That, certainly, is a more palatable explanation than a late-game collapse which almost saw the victory slip away. It’s not the first time we’ve seen this from the Hustle, but they still held on for the win. One of the main factors was the inability to shut down Delaware’s Chris Wood, who scored 13 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter. His dunk to make it a three point game with the clock edging close to zero made the end more nervy than it should have been. To their credit, however, Memphis never relinquished their lead the whole game.

In the end, the victory was an important step to settle a changing team. It’s tough with Grizzlies players coming and going, but it was a big loss for the Hustle when our parent team called up Ivan Rabb to help with the Grizzlies’ injury crisis. While he wasn’t at his best after the concussion, Rabb had been one of the top performers for the Hustle in the early season, and his absence leaves a bit of a void. His consistency would have been helpful for a team that struggles in the fourth quarter. But, you can’t claim that the Hustle don’t ‘hustle.’ The graft and hard work luckily led them over the finish line this time. But the mentality needs to improve when game momentum shifts. But like above, a win’s a win.

Less appealing, however, was the Hustle’s next game against the Oklahoma City Blue.

“Finally,” one might exclaim, “ a Hustle outcome with a large scoreline margin!” Unfortunately, the 10 point gap favored Oklahoma City. All the damage at the Cox Convention Center was done in the first quarter, which Oklahoma took 34-24. For the rest of the game, each team scored the same amount of points in each quarter, with the Blue never looking back and holding a steady lead.

The Hustle’s loss against Oklahoma on Tuesday can be traced partly back to poor shooting. Trahson Burrell shot 2-7 and only contributed five points. Omari Johnson pitched in with 15, but only on 5-14 shooting. Marquis Teague, a strong veteran presence to keep the team competitive through their losing streak last week, put up 17 points on 5-13 shooting. For fans of homegrown talent, Austin Nichols had a decent game with 12 points on 5-7 shooting accompanied by three blocks and eight rebounds.

‘Tis the season of giving, so we’ll go ahead and ‘give’ this one to the Hustle and look forward to our winnable next game against the 4-9 Greensboro Swarm, before we have a chance at revenge against the Blue on our home turf. Rounding it out next Wednesday are the familiar foes Iowa Wolves. Make it three wins in a row, and we’ll have ourselves a positive record.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Beyond the Arc Podcast #89: They Won a Game!

Posted By on Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 7:30 AM


This week on the show, Kevin and Phil talk about:

  • The Grizzlies' win over the Timberwolves—they won a basketball game!
  • Phil was in attendance when the Grizzlies almost won against the Cavs.
  • What if David Fizdale wasn't as good as we thought he was?
  • The resurgence of Andrew Harrison under JB Bickerstaff
  • Gasol's much-improved communication with his teammates over the last four games
  • Ben McLemore still isn't very good and it doesn't seem likely that he'll get better
  • Deyonta Davis has played really well in Brandan Wright's absence
  • Should the Grizzlies trade Mike Conley and re-sign Tyreke Evans this summer?
  • Can the Grizzlies get a win over the Knicks on Wednesday night?
  • A home back-to-back this weekend against the Raptors and Thunder.

The Beyond the Arc podcast is available on iTunes, so you can subscribe there! It'd be great if you could rate and review the show while you're there. You can also find and listen to the show on Stitcher and on PlayerFM.

You can call our Google Voice number and leave us a voicemail, and we might talk about your question on the next show: 234-738-3394

You can download the show here or listen below:

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Grizzlies 95, Timberwolves 92: Five Thoughts

Posted By on Tue, Dec 5, 2017 at 7:57 AM

Andrew Harrison came up big when the Grizzlies needed him to. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Andrew Harrison came up big when the Grizzlies needed him to.

It finally happened on Monday night: the Memphis Grizzlies won a regular season basketball game for the first time after losing 11 straight. Their last win was on the road at Portland on November 7, and their last home win was October 28 against the Houston Rockets. To say it's been a while is to undersell the depth of the pit into which the Grizzlies fell over the last few weeks.

And when the smoke cleared, and the buzzer sounded on last night's 95-92 win over an underperforming Minnesota team, it was like they'd won a playoff series. Players spontaneously embraced, the crowd erupted, and it felt like some great dark cloud had finally lifted. Enough that Marc Gasol let one slip on live television:

It wasn't a pretty win by any means. The Grizzlies had to fight through some of the same struggles they've seen throughout the string of losses, and they finally caught a break by being able to beat a team having its own set of issues (much like the games they should've won against Brooklyn and Dallas). But, alas, a win is a win, and I have five thoughts about it:

Five Thoughts

JB Bickerstaff got his first win as Grizzlies interim head coach. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • JB Bickerstaff got his first win as Grizzlies interim head coach.

Last night was Tyreke Evans' best game as a passer in a Grizzlies uniform. Evans started at the point, and even though his Grizzlies tenure has seen him be a bit of a ball-stopper (which is not to say that's a new development; that's been his game since he was a Memphis Tiger), last night he was very good, better than the box score indicates. Evans had 16 points, 9 assists, and 5 rebounds—a very "Conley" stat line, to be sure—but that number doesn't account for hockey assists, or great passes to a guy who missed the shot. Evans facilitated the Grizzlies' transition offense really well last night, and it made a big difference. They're still not a good half-court team in Conley's absence, but if Tyreke's going to facilitate like that and still score in the high teens or low twenties, it may not matter.

Marc Gasol was Marc Gasol, and sometimes that's all that matters. Gasol was active on defense, constantly talking, and even though the offense seemed to stagnate in the halfcourt with him on the floor, he was still good for 21 points, 5 assists, and 7 rebounds, a very "Marc Gasol" stat line. He was good when it mattered, and so was the rest of the team, and... frankly, if he'd been even 80% this good over the last month they probably win at least three games out of the losing streak. With some of the other players and lineups starting to come around, the Grizzlies don't need Gasol to play at an MVP level; they just need him to play like Marc Gasol. Last night against the Wolves, that was enough.

The young guys stepped up in a big way last night. None of them were perfect, but Dillon Brooks, Andrew Harrison, and Deyonta Davis all played crucial minutes in the win last night—exactly the kind of minutes you want to see from young players you're hoping to develop. Brooks defended well on some tough assignments, played within himself, limited the number of dumb mistakes he made, and contributed on both ends.

Harrison, with the ball in his hands, steadied the defense, made some heady plays on offense and put himself in a position to succeed. Harrison was abysmal as a shooting guard, but since the coaching change, JB Bickerstaff has kept Harrison on the ball, and that's been all the difference. He's still too slow to make decisions on offense, but he makes up for it on defense and by using his size and his intellect to make plays no other point guard on the roster can (or will, anyway) make. With Mario Chalmers struggling to get much done, Harrison might be the Grizzlies' best shot at a stable backup who won't cost them possessions, for better or for worse.

Davis played great defense to end the third and start the fourth quarters, and with Gasol on the bench and the Griz down 5, it turned the game around. If he'd been bad, the Grizzlies would've lost. Instead, he got a great putback, made a five-or-so-footer that he would've missed last year, altered shots, grabbed some rebounds, and generally steadied the frontcourt while the starting tandem of Green and Gasol got a rest. Davis has really stepped up in Brandan Wright's absence. After the game Bickerstaff said he's been encouraging Davis to play to his strengths—the shotblocking, rebounding, his transition play—and so far, it's working (and, to be fair, worked under Fizdale too). He might be on his way to making Wright expendable.

Mario Chalmers struggled to get anything done last night. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mario Chalmers struggled to get anything done last night.

Mario Chalmers looks cooked. He's not running the offense well, he's taking bad shots that he thinks he should be able to make, and he's trying to play with "veteran savvy" when really he's not that kind of player. I'm not sure what exactly is going on with Chalmers. It's clear that he's lost some speed and isn't comfortable finishing at the rim, but he's also lost confidence in his ability to make the right play. Instead he freezes up, always picks up his dribble after coming around a screen, and generally makes poor decisions that lead to wasted possessions. Chalmers may have played well enough in camp to stay on the roster, or maybe Wade Baldwin was just that useless, but either way, it's been clear from the jump that Chalmers isn't what he was in 2015-16. That's not necessarily his fault—though I do think he could be playing better with his diminished skill set—but it's got the Grizzlies in familiar dire straits with respect to the backup PG spot.

Ben McLemore was bad. He made some good plays in the Spurs game at home—he's good for that every now and then—but last night McLemore struggled on both ends. I was not a fan of this signing when it happened, especially not when guys like Thabo Sefolosha were still available for roughly the same money, and McLemore hasn't really done much to change my mind. Does he have the ability to be an NBA player? Sure. Will he put it together and stop costing the Grizzlies possessions? I'll believe it when I see it. Last night, no.

Tweet of the Night

Before the game, this was pretty much the only real analysis left to be made:

Up Next

Wednesday night the Grizzlies take on the Knicks in New York, in another very winnable game. It's an East team and a road game, always a rough proposition for the Grizzlies, but the Knicks are not as good now as they were earlier, especially with Kristaps Porzingis still listed as day-to-day (he missed their last two games).

The Grizzlies should grab that New York win if they can, because this weekend they're home for a back-to-back against the Raptors and the Thunder, two teams they'll have a harder time with. The losing streak may be over, but that doesn't change the fact that the Grizzlies are currently in one of the toughest stretches of their schedule. When Conley gets back, the worst may be over, and they'll know how deep of a hole they have to climb out of.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Hustle Dispatch: Week 4

Posted By on Sun, Dec 3, 2017 at 8:42 PM

  • Memphis Grizzlies

Let's be real: a four game losing streak isn't comparable to the Grizzlies much longer streak, which will likely reach ten games by the end of the weekend after a doubleheader against the Spurs (why did it have to be that matchup?). However, after a decent start to the season, it's not ideal that all of professional Memphis basketball is mired in a slump. The Hustle, however, finally have a win on the board after four straight losses.

Last Friday, the Hustle got to play their first game at the FedExForum. Unfortunately, in front of a larger audience, Memphis dropped the game to give the Stars their first victory of the season. True to form, however, was the whiplash nature of the game. The two teams consistently traded baskets, leading to 12 ties and an overwhelming 14 different lead changes. While it's good that the Hustle are always hustling and keeping the game close, the statistics showed pretty clear daylight between them and their opponent. The Stars outrebounded Memphis 44-37, put back 21 second chance points to the Hustle's eight, and even forced 18 turnovers. With the Hustle usually dominant on boards, an inability to compete with the Stars on that front was ultimately reflected in the final score. In what emerged as a pattern over the course of the week, however, was Marquis Teague stepping up to the plate, posting 19 points in the 100-96 loss.

Back at the Landers Center, the Hustle installed a new defibrillator set for fans to combat any heart problems in another loss that this time featured 15 ties and 19 (!) lead changes. The Hustle could count on a huge contribution from their bench, but were let down by poor free throw shooting and defense, with the Erie Bayhawks shooting 53.7%, just .1% short of their season best. For the Hustle, Kobi Simmons led the scoring with 16 points; the bench, featuring standout performances by Trahson Burrell, Ivan Rabb, and an in-from-the-cold Dusty Hannahs, contributed over half of the team's score with 61 points. The real nadir for the Hustle, however, came in the next game in Ontario, California.

There are few things a Memphis fan hates more than losing to the Clippers. Sure, it wasn't Grizzlies vs. Los Angeles, but the Hustle vs. Agua Caliente Clippers is the next best thing, and a hard-fought performance came up just short. The teams played even until the third quarter; with the score tied at 81-81, the Clippers went on a 10-2 run that gave them enough breathing space to hold off the Hustle. Once again, Memphis found it hard to shut down their opponent's best performers. The Clippers' Tyrone Wallace put up 30 points on 13-19 shooting, and the rest of his team outshot the Hustle by 20 percent. However, Memphis' depth did show itself again, with seven players scoring in double digits, and Marquis Teague in particular continuing his good form during the rough patch with another 19 point game and eight rebounds.

After the skid, something had to change. The Hustle channeled the Ghosts of Grizzlies past and harnessed the power of Zach Randolph to overpower the Clippers in their second matchup and emerge with (surprise!) yet another down-to-the-wire victory. With the score at 93-92 in favor of Agua Caliente, Hustle player of the week Marquis Teague hit two free throws with 3 seconds remaining and held on for their first victory in five games.The final 94-93 scoreline, however, could have been avoidable after a stellar opening quarter. The Hustle opened with a 12-0 lead and led 38-17 after the first quarter without committing a single turnover. However, they hit an almost seven-minute scoring drought in the second quarter, allowing the Clippers to close the gap to 51-44. The third quarter saw an exchange of runs between the two teams, with the Hustle holding true to their penchant for intense, unnecessary drama. In an effort to give their opponent a sporting chance, the Hustle graciously shepherded their opponents through a 20-4 run which left the score at 93-91. But, the ending worked out in our favor to seal the victory.

So what's up with the Hustle? Other than a 14 point loss to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Hustle have kept all their contests close. An inability to shut down an opponent's lead contributor has played a factor, but the Hustle need to work on solidifying their defense and not throwing away big leads. As of now, the Hustle are at 2-6. Next up are the Iowa Wolves again. Eventually, I'm going to run out of nails to chew on.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Beyond the Arc Podcast #88: Farewell, Fizdale

Posted By on Wed, Nov 29, 2017 at 10:06 AM


This week on the show, Kevin and Phil talk about:

  • David Fizdale got fired, and most of the national media has been totally wrong about the situation.
  • The Sunday night loss to Brooklyn in which things finally boiled over between Fizdale and Marc Gasol
  • Where the team goes from here on the court.
  • Should Chris Wallace be next, or is he safe?
  • The week to come, which could get very ugly for the Grizzlies.

The Beyond the Arc podcast is available on iTunes, so you can subscribe there! It'd be great if you could rate and review the show while you're there. You can also find and listen to the show on Stitcher and on PlayerFM.

You can call our Google Voice number and leave us a voicemail, and we might talk about your question on the next show: 234-738-3394

You can download the show here or listen below:

Monday, November 27, 2017

Grizzlies fire David Fizdale

Posted By on Mon, Nov 27, 2017 at 3:45 PM

  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • David Fizdale

After the Grizzlies' eighth straight loss last night, in which things finally boiled over and David Fizdale sat Marc Gasol for the whole fourth quarter, the Grizzlies have fired David Fizdale. Associate head coach JB Bickerstaff will serve as his interim.

Fizdale came to the Grizzlies as a highly-regarded coaching prospect, and he probably remains one, but he and Marc Gasol never really meshed—I guess we can start talking about that more now—and the disconnect between the two of them, and between their philosophies, has been apparent on the court throughout the Grizzlies' losing streak (and maybe also before). Now, it seems, the Griz organization has sided with Gasol.

My sense is that we're not getting the whole story on what happened behind the scenes between last night's press conferences and this news, and we may not for some time yet. Things had to have deteriorated quickly for this to be the move the Grizzlies made, and I cannot yet say that I understand why it was necessary. The Grizzlies are now on their third head coach since the end of the 2013 season when they didn't renew Lionel Hollins' contract.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news on Twitter, and it was confirmed by team sources. Bickerstaff was most recently the interim head coach for the Houston Rockets, and is a highly-regarded coaching prospect himself. Hollins was the Grizzlies' last interim coach.

The Grizzlies' Losing Streak: Where's the Bottom?

Posted By on Mon, Nov 27, 2017 at 7:42 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Grizzlies lost again Sunday night, falling to the Brooklyn Nets 98-88. After that loss, the Grizzlies have now lost eight games in a row, their longest losing streak since the 2008-09 season (when they had a 12-game skid). At this rate, given that their next two games are against the San Antonio Spurs, it seems possible (only because I'm reluctant to say "likely") that the streak will extend into the double digits. It's been a long time since this fanbase was exposed to such an extravagant display of basketball suffering, and it seems like the end is not yet in sight.

Naturally, this has been taxing on the fanbase in general, and especially on the fans who have only ever known the Grizzlies to be a playoff team. There's a subset of folks who are nonchalantly dusting off their Drew Gooden water bottles and Juan Carlos Navarro jerseys, but they're the exception rather than the rule. Times are tough in Grizzlyland, and the fans are out for blood.

But who's fault is it? Who is to blame for the Grizzlies' current woes, and how long are they going to continue? The answer to the first question is everyone. Let's share the blame among all parties who deserve it, shall we?

It's the Front Office's Fault

This is true on some level. Mike Conley is hurt, and Chandler Parsons is recovering still (and all we know about his injury against Brooklyn is that he felt tightness and didn't return as a precautionary measure). Wayne Selden is still hurt. Ben McLemore's on the floor but missed all of camp with an injury.

But part of the reason the Grizzlies are struggling right now is that too many of the guys playing major minutes just... aren't very good. Jarell Martin played his way onto the roster over Rade Zagorac, but he can't defend and doesn't rebound, and his offensive game is still mostly upside. Andrew Harrison made the 15-man over Wade Baldwin, but Harrison's been terrible and Baldwin seemed like the least likeable guy the Grizzlies have ever drafted.

I was challenged by one of my colleagues before the Nets game to come up with the Grizzlies' best defensive lineup, with Conley/Selden and without. Neither of the five-man groups I came up with was satisfying. Couple that with an offense built round scrappy second-round picks, Tyreke Evans' ball-stopping scoring explosions, the slow/creaky crescendo of Parsons' return to action, Mario Chalmers' continued bravado in the face of diminishing physical ability, Marc Gasol's predictable post possessions and unpredictable mental state, and you've got a team that just doesn't fit together very well.

Dillon Brooks has played well, but few of the Grizzlies' other young guys look ready to play. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dillon Brooks has played well, but few of the Grizzlies' other young guys look ready to play.

The Grizzlies had to have all of their injury-prone guys play well all season to be good. They also needed some (if not all) of their bets on young guys to pay off. They've been more fortunate than not in both areas, given that only Conley is hurt, and that Dillon Brooks and (only recently) Deyonta Davis are playing well. But what happens when Parsons or Gasol or Evans, all of whom have big injuries in their pasts, miss a chunk of time? What happens when Brooks hits the rookie wall? When Brandan Wright goes out for three months, again? Who fills in those gaps?

Given how many times—practically the whole Joerger era—the Grizzlies tried to run it back with the Core Four, and how many times they eschewed going younger to bring in veterans who the dang coach would actually play would push them over the top, it's a minor miracle that they even have as many halfway-decent young players as they do. But at the end of the day, halfway-decent young players are still only halfway decent. And therein lies the rub.

And there are fit issues even in that area. How well can Tyreke Evans and Marc Gasol ever really coexist in an offensive system, given how dramatically different their concepts of the sport of basketball are? Just how badly did the Grizzlies gamble on whether Mario Chalmers would be able to play just like he did before his Achilles injury (which happened 18 months ago, causing him to miss over a full season of basketball)? What's Ben McLemore's role, and how quickly is he expected to stop being Sacramento Ben McLemore and start being Platonic Form of Ben McLemore? Because that's not something that happens right away, and shouldn't have been expected.

The way this team is constructed is the same way a lot of teams nearing the end of long playoff runs are constructed: trying to use whatever is left in the bare cupboard to reload a young team on the fly and hope it hangs together for a couple of seasons. It works, to varying degrees of success. But right now, with Conley out (which was always going to happen at some point, because it always does), there just aren't enough good rotation players to go around. (And I didn't even mention the Chandler Parsons contract, which was already regarded as a sunk cost before the laser toner set on last year's Playoff Media Guides.)

It's the Coach's Fault

A question that can be answered for almost every good basketball team: what kind of offense do the Grizzlies run? What are the principles of their offensive system? However many games in, and I'm not even sure the Grizzlies themselves have it down. Sure, JaMychal Green and Ben McLemore missed training camp and now they're playing major minutes, but the rest of the guys didn't. There's no chemistry at all on offense without Mike Conley, and when he was playing, it only existed with Conley and Gasol. No one looks like they know what they're doing, or like they can predict how anyone else on the team is supposed to move without the ball. There's a lot of waving, a lot of questioning eye contact, and not a lot of slick movement.

Fizdale has seemed as lost as the players at times, with a disjointed offensive look and strange lineup decisions. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Fizdale has seemed as lost as the players at times, with a disjointed offensive look and strange lineup decisions.

This is an exceedingly bad halfcourt offense this year. If it's not Conley/Gasol pick and roll (hard to run without Mike Conley), everything the Grizzlies generate is an open three, Tyreke doing whatever Tyreke's going to do, a Gasol post-up, or maybe something in the midrange between defensive players. There's no easy way for this team to get a bucket once the defense is set.

Speaking of defense, there are only ever two or three guys playing the same defense at the same time. Communication seems to be a constant issue, with Marc Gasol sometimes going all out only to find no one backing him up, and other times playing disconnected and tentative because he doesn't know whether to trust the guys out in front of him. If they're not getting easy baskets by getting stops, the offense doesn't work, and when the offense doesn't work, the defense goes quickly, too.

And even if the players looked organized, Fizdale has struggled—especially during the losing streak—to actually put his best players in a position to succeed. Against Dallas last week, Deyonta Davis played a huge first half and then only saw 3 minutes in the second. James Ennis has moved from starting to coming off the bench, but with no clarity about his role (and that move from starter to bench has historically thrown him totally out of rhythm). Andrew Harrison gets point guard minutes that should probably just go to Tyreke Evans, even though he's not a good facilitator. Jarell Martin and Ben McLemore both get lost on defense and cost the team dearly, and yet they're left on the floor in lineups together while the game gets away. It doesn't seem like Fizdale has a good feel for which guys to play where, and it doesn't seem like he's developing a feel for it, either. Instead, he coaches by feel, the Lionel Hollins method—the same method that saw Hamed Hadaddi and Dante Cunningham on the floor together in the close fourth quarter a home Game 7 in the playoffs.

But what, exactly, is Fizdale telling these guys about getting shots and staying confident? After the Dallas game, in which Dallas intentionally left Griz shooters wide open knowing they'd brick the uncontested shots, Fizdale said before the Denver game that he'd reviewed the film and was happy taking all of the open shots. "I'd rather have that than have them drive into traffic," he said. But when the three point shot isn't working, why keep taking shots you can't make and keep getting killed, when you could at least get into the lane and get to the foul line? Is "shoot through the slump" the Grizzlies' entire offensive philosophy?

In the fourth quarter of the Brooklyn game, while letting a lineup of young guys attempt to bring the Grizzlies back, Fizdale benched Gasol for the entire fourth quarter, either to teach Gasol a lesson or not realizing that it would look like he was teaching Gasol a lesson, something that I believe was a grave miscalculation. After the game, Gasol seemed baffled by the move, was frank about how angry and frustrated he was by the move, and seemed genuinely hurt by it to boot. On a team where communication seems to be a constant problem on both ends of the court, what kind of communicator is the guy running the show? Is the communication problem coming from the top, or from the bottom? Why doesn't anyone on this team seem to know what they're doing or why?

It's the Players' Fault

Mario Chalmers has struggled to run the team in Mike Conley's absence. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mario Chalmers has struggled to run the team in Mike Conley's absence.

I've made this a bulleted list because there's plenty of blame to go around, and this is only a brief overview (I'm sure I've left guys out who deserve a demerit):

  • Mario Chalmers has lost confidence in his ability to get to the rim, for good reason, but he's settling for bad shots and pulling up his dribble in the pick and roll instead of trying to facilitate around it.
  • Marc Gasol frantically alternates between trying to do everything, and doing none of it well, and trying to do nothing, because trying to do everything doesn't work either. It's hard to blame him for being frustrated, but on a night like Sunday when he only has 1 assist, he's clearly off his game and not with it mentally.
  • James Ennis has been a non-factor since moving out of the starting lineup, whereas before he was a decent defender and got tons of putbacks on Conley and Gasol plays.
  • Ben McLemore has very few moments where he looks like a good basketball player, and more typically looks like a guy who looks like a good basketball player. He's got the Jeff Green "if this guy ever plays to his potential..." vibe. He ain't playing to his potential.
  • JaMychal Green has actually been pretty OK since returning from injury.
  • Jarell Martin shouldn't be playing because as hard as he plays and as much real progress as he's made on the offensive end, he cannot be on the floor much if any because he can't defend at all. By no stretch of the imagination should he be playing 10 minutes in a close game, because he's just not there yet.
  • Tyreke Evans has been the Grizzlies' savior on offense, but when he's not scoring he's a black hole. It's easy to see why teams on which he's the best player have never been good: how do you run an offense when the ball is almost always in the hands of the guy who can't/won't pass? It's not 2009 college basketball. Evans has to learn how to function within an offense rather than being the sum total of the offense.
  • Andrew Harrison is still only ever going to be a low-tier 2nd or 3rd point guard. That's a fine ceiling, but we should all agree by now that that's his ceiling. His floor is depressingly far below 2013 Keyon Dooling, and he spends a lot more time performing at his floor this season.
  • Larry Kuzniewski

There are more, but I only have so much pent up frustration, and so much time to actually write this thing.

You should get the picture right now: the front office put this team together, the coach and his staff are responsible for implementing the principles they deploy in the game, and the players themselves are responsible for executing those principles. At every level, there are flaws with the 2017-18 Grizzlies, and that's why they're in a tailspin right now.

Where's the Bottom?

So let's tackle the second part of the question: how bad are things going to get?

In the short term, with two games against the Spurs coming up, it seems likely that the Grizzlies will lose at least 1 of those, so they'll come into next weekend at 8-13. Beyond that there's a road game at Cleveland, a home game versus the Timberwolves, a road game at the Knicks (who are, for some reason, not terrible). By the end of next week, they've also played home games against the Thunder and the Raptors. Things could get dire. It's totally possible that they can't beat a single one of these teams, or may only beat the Spurs once because Gregg Popovich decides to rest the whole team and play the Austin Spurs for the Memphis half of the home-and-home. In a more generous scenario, the Grizzlies still only win three or four of these games.

Beyond that, the next stretch of December sees them take on Miami, play a road game in DC (the Grizzlies seem to always lose in DC), home against the Hawks and Celtics, and then away at the Warriors and Suns.

I think I feel good about, like, four of the games I've mentioned so far? And that's being generous, because right now, this Grizzlies team can't beat anybody if they can't close out the Nets or the Mavs. It's entirely possible that the Griz get to Christmas 10 games under .500, at which point all hell breaks lose with Gasol trade rumors, for better or for worse.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

And what happens if Conley misses two months? What happens if Parsons misses serious time with the knee tightness he felt against Brooklyn? What happens when Tyreke finally tweaks something and has to sit a while? If the Fizdale/Gasol relationship starts to get more frayed as a result of the coach's desperation benching on Sunday night? There's not much to trade for. There's not much to be done. This team is headed to a dark place very rapidly unless they start figuring things out on the fly.

But they need the coach to figure out who his best players are and how to deploy them. They need to get it together while he gets it together, and it's hard to spring forth with the chicken and the egg at the same time.

Things are going to get worse before they get better for the Memphis Grizzlies. There is no path forward to a better future that does not lead downward through this period of strife; if anything, that path forward won't even be revealed until Conley returns from injury and the Grizzlies see what they've got. By that point, if they continue this skid, it's possible that they'll be out of touch with the 7 and 8 spots in the West and those 35-win predictions from ESPN that were so unpopular in the preseason turn out to have been the right ones all along. I still believe they'll figure it out, because I still think if the right guys are healthy and playing well this is a good team, but if this team is going down a 2008-09 path and a 2008-09 timeline, it might be 2020 before we reach it. Break out the Darko throwbacks.

Correction: The 2008-09 Grizzlies' biggest losing streak was 12 games, not 9 as previously stated.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Mavericks 95, Grizzlies 94: Five Grumpy Thanksgiving Thoughts

Posted By on Thu, Nov 23, 2017 at 9:57 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Grizzlies' losing streak continues, as last night they lost (on a gut-punch of a banked-in buzzer beater 3 by Harrison Barnes) to the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas is now 4-15 on the season, which means fully half of their victories have come against the Grizzlies. After running up a 17-point lead at halftime (mostly on the strength of a 27-12 first quarter), the Grizzlies then seemed to lose all interest in (1) playing defense and (2) actually running plays, instead attempting to trade 3-point baskets with the Mavs by shooting over the defense early in the shot clock.

That strategy might work for, say, Houston, but it was clear that after the half the Griz found themselves wide open from long range by design (they're 29th in the league in 3PT%), and they fell right into the trap laid for them, giving up 35 points to Dallas while only scoring 16 of their own.

There's a lot to take away from this game that's emblematic of the Grizzlies' bigger problems during this losing streak, and on this Turkey Day I have, of course, Five Thoughts about them:

The end of the game should never have mattered. JaMychal Green had a great putback to put the Grizzlies up 94-92 with .5 seconds left, but even though Dillon Brooks had a great closeout on Barnes, Barnes banked in a gamewinner over him. Granted, the Griz should've kept Barnes from being able to get to that spot, but that's not really the issue. If the Grizzlies had even pretended to play well in the third quarter, the game's a blowout and none of it happens. So, sure, for fans, the end of the game was exciting and then it was extremely not exciting. But to chalk up the Grizzlies' loss to a last second "Hail Mary" (Fizdale's words in the postgame presser) instead of the 12 minutes where they played completely disorganized, garbage basketball and let an inferior opponent rack up 35 on them. It wasn't the last play that lost them the game, period.

Mario Chalmers was bad. He was one of the chief offenders settling for bad shots after halftime (as was Marc Gasol), and even though he's got an impossible role to play as "replacement Mike Conley," his willingness to shoot first and run the offense second has hampered the Grizzlies more than it's helped. It's like he knows at the start of the game whether he'll be able to get to the rim or not, and if he can't, he's content to just never venture inside the 3-point line. Chalmers is an OK backup at this point, but mostly that's only the case because Andrew Harrison has been a disaster and they determined Wade Baldwin was so hopeless they had to cut him. Chalmers won by default, and his limitations are such that he's not able to carry the Grizzlies in Conley's absense in the same way he did in 2015-16.

Marc Gasol cannot be that passive for three quarters against a bad team. With Conley out, Gasol's got to be willing to carry the team and not just facilitate. I've said this so often over the last seven years of writing about this team that I'm sick of it, but that doesn't make it any less true. Through the first three quarters last night, Gasol was 2-9 with 4 points, which is unacceptable. When he sees that the team is settling for bad shots, he should be going to the rim and trying to get to the line, and instead, he did not attempt a single free throw until the final frame, in which he also scored 10 points. That's too little, too late. And he's right that the Grizzlies' defense has been lacking, but to call out what the team is doing as "embarrasing and sad" and then not be willing to put in the work on the offensive end to keep a lead over a crappy team is yet another example of Gasol's peculiar basketball philosophy getting in his (and the Grizzlies') way. He's just got to be better in these games. There's no one else to do it.

David Fizdale, as the game slipped away, probably pondering why he didn't play Deyonta more in the second half - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • David Fizdale, as the game slipped away, probably pondering why he didn't play Deyonta more in the second half

Deyonta Davis had a great first half and should have played more in the second. Davis had 14 point in 11:53 in the first half, played great defense, and altered the game in the Grizzlies' favor. There's no reason for him to play 3 minutes in the second half—that's on Fizdale. When a young guy is doing that well against a bad team you leave him out there. Maybe he would've provided some of the defensive intensity that the Griz were lacking in the third quarter?

At any rate, if Davis keeps playing like this—and he plays noticeably better when he gets involved in the offense early, which keeps him engaged—he's going to make the Grizzlies forget about Brandan Wright and capitalize on some of his untapped potential. Some of that relies on having a coach who recognizes when he's playing out of his mind and lets him get more run. His absence when things were going wrong, after the first half he had, was inexplicable.

The Grizzlies cannot settle for bad shots or they will lose. Period. You remember when Tony Allen would be wide open in the corner because teams weren't guarding him, and Gasol would kick it to him anyway because it was the "right" play? Teams are starting to leave the entire Griz roster open like that, and they don't have many guys who can capitalize on it right now. If they aren't smarter about it—if they try to shoot through the slump instead of getting better shots—they're going to keep losing games.

Tweet of the Night

Dennis Hopper was equally baffling in this film, but the tweet still works:

Up Next

The Grizzlies' losing streak may not abate yet. They're traveling to Denver for a one-game road trip Friday night, at altitude, the day after a major holiday; it's a textbook "schedule loss." After that, Brooklyn comes to town on Sunday, and the Nets aren't good, but they are young and fast, and if the Griz don't play defense they'll lose to the Nets, too. (They did it last year.) Things are not looking good in Grizz-land, and conditions may continue to deteriorate in Conley's absence.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Blazers 100, Grizzlies 92: Five Thoughts

Posted By on Tue, Nov 21, 2017 at 8:34 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Grizzlies played a much better game Monday night against the Portland Trail Blazers than they did against Houston on Saturday, but the ultimate result was the same: a 100-92 loss. The Grizzlies are now 4-6 in their last 10 games, and they sit tied for 8th in the Western Conference with a 7-9 record. This current homestand has not been kind to the Grizzlies; they've lost five games in a row going back to the road loss in Houston on November 11. Last night showed some glimmers of hope, but the Griz also fell victim to some recurring problems. Here are five takeaways from last night:

The defense and offense were both improved, but neither was consistent enough. Portland is one of the many competitors for the last couple of West playoff spots this year. I'd put them roughly in the same quality tier as the Grizzlies, so this was a pretty evenly-matched game last night. When the Grizzlies were able to play defense well and get stops, they kept up fine, but outside of transition baskets—the thing the Grizzlies have lived by all season long—the halfcourt offense wasn't there.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

On the other hand, when the offense was working—usually with Marc Gasol taking it to the block against Jusuf Nurkic and bulling him Z-Bo style for a bucket down low, or with Tyreke Evans carving through a scattered Portland defense for a transition layup—it was like the offense took so much focus and effort that the other end of the floor, the arguably more important (for this team) defensive end, nothing came together.

Unless the Grizzlies can somehow get back to getting stops defensively and using that as the point of initiation for the whole offense, they're just not going to beat anybody halfway decent. You can't be a winning NBA team and only concentrate on one end of the court or the other. (Maybe the 2012 or 2014 Grizzlies would beg to differ, but even they had Zach Randolph to just dump the ball to when the offense broke down, which happened regularly.)

James Ennis is not good right now. Griz coach David Fizdale said as much at the presser after the game last night: Ennis is struggling. It's been a common occurrance during his tenure with the Grizzlies; he's really only able to play well when his role is defined very concretely. When the lineups start to shift and it's not extremely clear what Ennis' minute load will be or what type of expectations he's carrying, he struggles to find his place in the offense and in the defense, and that showed last night. Ennis only played 7:47 and didn't make a shot, and got blown by several times on the defensive end.

Even with Chandler Parsons moved to the starting lineup, that's not enough production from Ennis. It can be hard to operate within constantly changing parameters—trust me, I work in the newspaper business—but Ennis has got to be able to find some sort of internal anchoring to be able to play well no matter what role he's playing or for how long. Otherwise, I'm not sure he'll even be able to stick in this rotation, the way things are going.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Deyonta Davis made me forget about Brandan Wright last night. Wright's been having a good year, but Davis, who was previously getting minutes for the Hustle after an unimpressive summer, came in and played 13 and a half solid minutes last night. His defensive instincts are still top notch, and while he only notched 3 rebounds and 2 steals (the Grizzlies' rebounding in general was atrocious last night), Davis had a positive impact on the game for the Grizzlies, something that seemed unlikely even a couple of weeks ago. If he can step in and play better defense than Wright, that clears up some problems rotationally for the Grizzlies, though Wright's ability to make baskets appear out of nowhere in pick-and-roll situations is certainly missed. Davis may turn into a real NBA player yet, which would be a big win for the Grizzlies and would justify how much time and energy I spent constructing this giant Deyonta Davis International Super Bandwagon™ last season. (You're all welcome to hop back on.)

It's cool that Chandler Parsons is starting, but I miss the good bench. Injuries have dictated the situation, for sure, but I can't decide whether I'm excited that Parsons—whom I was told straight up by a Grizzlies executive was not a small forward anymore—is now starting in that spot and getting good minutes, or whether I'm sad that the magic of the Chalmers-Brooks-Evans-Parsons-Wright bench unit is no longer with us. Probably the latter. Parsons struggled to find his shot last night, and clearly needs to spend some more time in the lab developing some chemistry with this starting unit sans Conley, but... any good thing Parsons accomplishes this season is mostly a win, considering that the contract to which he's signed is a sunk cost either way, one that it looked like they might have to write off last year.

The chemistry of the Grizzlies is totally out of whack right now, as could reasonably be expected with Conley injured and Green, McLemore, and Selden all returning from injury (though Selden was back out last night). The units that started the season playing well together are not the units being rolled out right now, because with Green back in the starting lineup and McLemore out there as a bench wing, everything is shifted around to accomodate, and all the while Mario Chalmers is out there trying to do his best Conley impression (which maybe would have been more convincing in 2013 or 14). Parsons' move to the starting unit is part of that; it's yet another variable being tweaked on the fly. Green and McLemore, you'll remember, didn't even participate in training camp. It's a work in progress, and that's a big part of why they're so uneven and frustrating through this stretch.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Sitting around .500 probably shouldn't be as frustrating as it is. I just keep telling myself that we knew this was going to be the season: shuffling guys in and out of rotation spots trying to find a good match, dealing with whatever injuries happen to Conley and Gasol (and they always end up missing time with injuries), trying to figure out what this team is going to be in the future with a coach who's still only in his second year on the job and a locker room full of personalities that don't necessarily mesh at first blush.

So why is it so frustrating to watch them struggle, when we all knew coming into the season that they were going to struggle? It's impossible to complain about their hot start, but that's definitely a factor here: they found some early chemistry when some of the good teams they played were still feeling some things out. Now the Grizzlies are the ones trying to adjust on the fly while everyone else is starting to settle into what they're going to be this season, and it looks like they're falling apart when really, they're just in the situation we all already knew they'd be in.

It's hard to explain, and this is certainly not an argument for pretending everything is fine when it's clearly not; there are definite long-term issues that this team has to figure out in order to be any good this season and beyond. But maybe some longer-term thinking is needed here. If you'd said in August that the Grizzlies were two games under .500 at Thanksgiving and asked whether that was a positive or a negative, I'd have said they were overachieving my expectations. That that's not true anymore says more about how well they started the season than about my expectations going into it.

Tweet of the Night

Let us never forget that Marc Gasol is always going to pass the ball to the open guy in the corner, no matter who that guy is and how well he shoots:

Up Next

A rematch against Dallas, who have played the Grizzlies better than they have any right to. (I blame Rick Carlisle's warlock and magic excellent coaching acumen.) After that, it's a one-game trip to Denver for a Friday night matchup against the Nuggets at altitude (also known as "a schedule loss") and a home game Sunday against the Nets (also known as "maybe another loss if they don't play hard). The Grizzlies are only going to break their losing streak if they show up for these games focused on both ends of the floor, which is something that hasn't happened in a couple of weeks (to the point that Gasol issued those "embarrassing and sad" quotes). At this point, whether they'll figure it out in time is anybody's guess.

Correction: this column originally said the Grizzlies were 7-6, which is incorrect. They're actually 7-9. The NBA standings page has outdated data and I didn't catch it while I was writing. We regret the error.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Hustle Report: Week 2

A coiled viper strikes; the Hustle pick up first road win.

Posted By on Thu, Nov 16, 2017 at 4:04 PM

  • Memphis Grizzlies

I’m no doctor, but if you’re a passionate and devoted basketball fan from the Southaven or Memphis and have heart problems, I highly recommend you avoid watching any more Memphis Hustle home games. Last Friday, November 10, at the Landers Center, the Memphis Hustle fell to a 138–136 defeats against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. And what a game it was; both teams took full participation in a vicious tug of war that neither side was ever able to hold on to for an extended period of time. It was the third straight Hustle home game in which both teams led by at least nine points, and the third straight game decided by four points or less. If this keeps up, Hustle fans will hold the record for shortest fingernails by the time playoffs roll around.

Memphis seems to be growing into its strengths as a team. Interior play is excellent; after Friday’s matchup, the Hustle led the league average per game in rebounds (51.3), offensive rebounds (16.7), and blocked shots (9.3). As an added bonus, the team even made a G-League single-season record high 55 baskets in one game. And yet, despite all that, the Hustle still lost this game. The loss can be directly traced to the team’s three-point shooting percentage, which makes for grim reading. Only 12 of the Hustle’s 136 points came from three-point shots, with the team going 4 of 22 from beyond the arc. The Vipers went 13 for 30 and that, ultimately, is where the difference lies. The game was tied at 136 apiece when Kobi Simmons missed a go-ahead free throw with four seconds remaining. The Vipers took it down the other end and Briante Weber hit a floater to win the game. With some better three point shooting, hopefully the Hustle can avoid such last-minute drama.

The loss was disappointing, but at least fans were treated to an offensive exhibition. Ivan Rabb had another outstanding game with 27 points on 10 for 12 shooting and eight rebounds, and Trahson Burrell had his second straight double double. Wayne Selden and Deyonta Davis, on assignment from the Grizzlies this game, scored 15 points apiece.

But, like Hustle’s first competitive outings, the team absolutely did not want to lose two games in a row, and duly traveled to Canton, Ohio yesterday and won by more than four points. Former Canton point guard Jordan Crawford put up 11 points against his old team; how a 5’6 player can make heavily contested layups in traffic, I’ll never know, but I’m glad he’s on our side. Canton exploded out of the blocks with a 37-point first quarter, but the Hustle kept pace until they embarked on a 29–11 run in the third quarter, eventually extending their lead to as many as 13 points. From there, they didn’t look back.

Wednesday’s game was the only matchup between the two teams this season, so if you know anyone in Canton, enjoy your bragging rights until next year. This time around, the Hustle weren’t as haunted by poor three-point shooting, going 8 for 22. Ivan Rabb had his third double-double, and seven players scored in the double digits to take the team past Canton and 2008 NBA champion Kendrick Perkins (remember him?) on the way to the franchise’s first ever road win.

Ivan Rabb’s consistent production is a boon, but having the scoring spread around made it difficult for the Charge to shut down any one player. Hopefully there’s more to come, but we’ll probably need to work on those three-pointers first. The Hustle surprisingly lost the rebound head-to-head (but only barely, 41–40), but were able to pull out a large enough lead regardless.

At 2–2, the Hustle have made a promising start to the season. It’s good to see the character coming through, with the team refusing to lose back to back games at this point, but tomorrow’s game will prove to be a spicy matchup. The Memphis Grizzlies’ former G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves (formerly known as the Iowa Energy) arrive in town. Hope you’ve got some fingernails left.

Miscellaneous Notes:

Today is hometown forward Trahson Burrell’s birthday, so give him a shoutout on twitter: @TBurrell_2

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Pacers 116, Grizzlies 113: Five Thoughts

Posted By on Thu, Nov 16, 2017 at 8:40 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Grizzlies did not win last night, and the fact that they didn’t lose by fifteen or twenty points is something of a minor miracle. The 116–113 final score doesn’t reflect the fact that without Mike Conley, the offense was stagnant and ineffective for most of the game, that the starting lineup continues to be a black hole while the second unit carries the team, or that the Grizzlies spent the first three quarters of the game utterly disinterested in playing defense.

The score doesn’t reflect those realities because of a furious attempt at a fourth quarter comeback, led by Marc Gasol (who had a great game that was swamped by the team’s difficulties, similar to that of Tyreke Evans in Monday night’s loss at Milwaukee), Mario Chalmers (kinda) and, of course, a still-rolling Tyreke Evans. But what happened? Why did it take three quarters? You know the drill by now; I have five thoughts about that:

Adding three injured guys back to the rotation at the same time is a little too much too fast. They don’t have a choice, but with Ben McLemore, Wayne Selden, and JaMychal Green all coming back at the same time, the Grizzlies have three new guys on the team, one of whom didn’t even go through training camp and preseason. It makes for some interesting chemistry-on-the-fly experiments. Green’s the only one who has seen the floor in a regular season game, and that was only a few minutes on opening night. It showed on the court. The Grizzlies played several lineups that haven’t been seen at all this year, and there were times when it looked exactly like that: guys who haven’t ever played together. Fortunately, it’s still November, so there’s plenty of time for them to work it out, but hovering around .500 after their hot start applies some pressure that maybe shouldn’t be there (and wouldn’t be, if they’d started the season out beating bad teams instead of good ones).

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Marc Gasol had one of the quietest “great” games I’ve seen. Gasol finished the night with 35 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 blocks, and until the fourth quarter it didn’t really seem like he was doing that much. Gasol was doing his part to get the Grizzlies back in the game, but they were having such a hard time gaining any traction that it just didn’t seem like it. After the game, he was fuming to Wayne Selden about the team’s defensive mistakes, and then repeated the same rant to assembled reporters—cleaned up for television, of course. The whole team was unfocused defensively, and because they lost in that way, Gasol wasn’t in any way happy about the stat line he put up.

Mario Chalmers wasn’t bad. This is newsworthy, because he has been bad lately, and with Mike Conley out for now (and from the sound of his injury, out for a good stretch of time while the Achilles heals, but that’s not the official prognosis) he’s going to have to carry a lot more of the team’s minutes at point guard. Tyreke Evans has been scoring so well that moving him to be the primary ball handler seems like a mistake, and Andrew Harrison has already shown that he’s just not any good this year so far. If Chalmers can step up his play, the Grizzlies should get by OK without Conley. If he struggles the way he was a week or two ago, things will not be good.

Defense generates everything for this team. And, as a corollary, when they don’t play it, they’re not good. The offense was stagnant last night because the Griz weren’t getting stops. When they get stops, they can get out and run and use their newfangled youth and athleticism. They’re just not a half-court team anymore, really; they’re not built to play the old Hollins-style ground-and-pound game. But they only way for them to avoid getting stuck in immobile half-court sets waiting for Gasol or Evans or Parsons to bail them out is to generate offense in transition, and they can only do that when they’re focused on defense.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Gasol made an interesting point after the game last night: on defense, a lot of what observers read as “effort” issues are actually focus and awareness issues. If you’re not paying enough attention to where your man is going, it doesn’t matter if you’re trying really hard, he’s going to get away from you—but from the stands it looks like you just weren’t trying to keep up with him. I think that’s an interesting note, because it recasts the Grizzlies’ problems on that end of the floor. It’s not a motivation issue (most of the time), it’s a focus issue. If you’re playing hard but you’re distracted, it looks like you’re just not playing hard enough. Whatever the Grizzlies need to do to encourage that level of focus and awareness on defense, they need to do, sooner rather than later, because otherwise nothing much about this team works well.

Tyreke Evans and Marc Gasol are a weird fit together. This point is pretty much lifted wholesale from a conversation I had with Peter Edmiston during last night’s game: Marc Gasol and Tyreke Evans play basketball so differently that they’re essentially playing different sports. Gasol is obsessed with each possession, and with Playing The Right Way on each possession, making each pass neatly and quickly, facilitating before looking to score, moving the ball and probing the defense. Evans is an improvisational layup genius, able to slice through defenses all by his lonesome and contort his body to make layups in traffic very few other humans can make, but he’s not looking to facilitate unless he can’t make the basket himself. (That said, he did finish with 9 assists last night, and made some great drive-and-kick plays down the stretch). Gasol is the human embodiment of Pass First. Evans is the human embodiment of I’m Gonna Get To The Rim And See What Happens. It’s a strange mix, and it’s going to be a while before they get comfortable together, if ever.

Tweet of the Night

This about sums it up:

Up Next

With any luck, the rhythm the Grizzlies found during the comeback attempt carries over into the four-game home stand they just started. Saturday sees their last (!) matchup against the Houston Rockets, Monday the Trail Blazers are in town, and Wednesday they play the Mavericks (and noted basketball warlock Rick Carlisle will attempt to slap-chop Fizdale’s game plan all to pieces again).

It remains to be seen how long Mike Conley will be out. It was a fait accompli that he’d miss some time with an injury at some point this year; if anything, it’s fortunate that it’s happening now and not later during a more crucial stretch. The Griz are .500 now, and frankly with all of the things they’re figuring out on the fly, it’s hard to see how much better than that they can get without a healthy Conley on the floor. I say that, but this team seems to get better when they’re missing players—maybe because it eliminates the focus issues Gasol was talking about. Who knows. At any rate, they’ll do well to go 2–2 on this home stand given how the Rockets are playing, and that would keep them right where they are: .500.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Beyond the Arc Podcast #87: Where are Conley and Gasol?

Posted By on Wed, Nov 15, 2017 at 8:23 AM


This week on the show, Kevin and Phil talk about:

  • The Grizzlies’ loss to the Bucks, and the bad vibes on their road trip
  • How Tyreke Evans is the Grizzlies’ best player so far this year
  • My first haiku recap of the year
  • Seriously, though, what’s wrong with Conley? What about Gasol?
  • Should Chandler Parsons start? (No.) Should the Grizzlies buy him out? (Phil thinks so, but no.)
  • The Kings look bad, and somehow Phil’s Knicks don’t.
  • The upcoming week: home against Indiana, Houston, and Portland
  • Is it good or bad that the Grizzlies won’t play the Rockets with Chris Paul?

The Beyond the Arc podcast is available on iTunes, so you can subscribe there! It’d be great if you could rate and review the show while you’re there. You can also find and listen to the show on Stitcher and on PlayerFM.

You can call our Google Voice number and leave us a voicemail, and we might talk about your question on the next show: 234–738–3394

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Bucks 110, Grizzlies 103: Haiku Road Recap

Posted By on Tue, Nov 14, 2017 at 11:08 AM

Mike Conley will be good again someday, right? Right? - JOE MURPHY (NBAE/GETTY IMAGES)
  • Joe Murphy (NBAE/Getty Images)
  • Mike Conley will be good again someday, right? Right?

The Grizzlies lost to the Bucks last night. They usually lose in Milwaukee–they haven’t won there since 2014–but last night’s version was especially frustrating, since they did it on the backs of lethargic, scattered play from Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, while wasting another very strong (to the tune of 27 points on 69% shooting) bench performance from Tyreke Evans.

Sometimes, prose isn’t up to the task of conveying the reality of human emotion. Sometimes the only appropriate vessel for the most intensely human experiences is poetry.


Conley is garbage
The fall leaves are turning red;
So is his shot chart.


The birds migrate south.
Marc Gasol against the East:
So does his effort.


A deer sprints through trees–
He cannot be stopped, nor slowed.
Tyreke in the lane.


The bench has stood tall.
The starters sleep as though bears
Hibernate early.


Marc and Mike are bad
Until they return to life
Fall will turn colder.

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