Friday, June 23, 2017

NBA Draft: Grizzlies turn nothing into something in 2nd round

Posted By on Fri, Jun 23, 2017 at 10:09 AM

Chris Wallace, GM of the Grizzlies.
  • Chris Wallace, GM of the Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies didn’t have any picks heading into last night’s NBA draft, but the consensus was that they’d be active in trying to move into the second round to take some chances on players they thought could develop into NBA assets. That’s exactly what they did, swapping Brooklyn’s 2019 second-rounder to Orlando to draft Ivan Rabb 35th and and trading one of their 2018 seconds (they had three before last night) to Houston to draft Dillon Brooks 45th.

It’s the classic Grizzlies move in the Chris Wallace era: grabbing guys who were highly-rated prospects in high school who have somehow fallen out of the first round. Rabb is a forward who really struggled to prove his NBA bona fides after returning to Cal for another season, and it seems like DraftExpress isn’t really sure what to make of him. As for Brooks, he’s a good wing scorer, though mostly in isolation situations, and decent young wings are exactly what the Grizzlies need to be cultivating down in Southaven.

To be honest, I’m not convinced either of these guys will be a good NBA player for the Grizzlies, but I’m not sure they gave up anything valuable enough to get worked up about to acquire them. The Brooklyn pick could be valuable in the future, but it’s unlikely that it would be much more than “#35 in a deep draft,” which is what the Griz front office turned it into last night. The decision to draft Rabb over Jordan Bell may come back to haunt the Grizzlies (the Warriors paid $3.5M for the ability to draft him), but it’s hard to lose much sleep over anything that happens in the second round.

Marc Gasol was drafted in the second round. I don't have pictures of the new guys yet.
  • Marc Gasol was drafted in the second round. I don't have pictures of the new guys yet.

By the same token, though, last night mostly just reminded me of how the Grizzlies got in a situation of having no picks in the first place: a 2013 salary dump sent out this year’s first, and the 2019 first round pick is still owed to Boston from the deal that brought Jeff Green to Memphis. Grabbing value guys in the second round is great, but it’s no substitute for having your own picks and drafting well.

The Grizzlies have shown in The Second Chris Wallace Epoch (2014-present) that they are great at creating positive moves on the margins. These guys may turn out great. The real things that matter this summer—free agency, where they’ll have to make decisions about JaMychal Green, Zach Randolph, and Tony Allen—haven’t happened yet, and I’d argue that things have to go rather badly in that period for these second round guys to matter much for the Grizzlies in the upcoming 2017–18 season.

For the Hustle, of course, it’s a different story. These guys will be the first crop of young players brought in to the Hustle team with the opportunity to practice and work out around the Grizzlies, and to benefit from the cross-pollination afforded by having both teams in the same place. One gets the feeling that if they turn out to be as good as Andrew Harrison, playing meaningful minutes in a playoff series and not being bad, that’s a success. In that light, last night was a success. Whether it matters for the Big Bears and not the Little Bears, we’ll see.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Grizzlies draft Ivan Rabb 35th Overall

Posted By on Thu, Jun 22, 2017 at 10:45 PM

Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace.
  • Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace.

The Grizzlies went into the 2017 NBA Draft without any picks, having traded them both away, but the general consensus was that they’d find a way to get into the second round. The Grizzlies had amassed a small stockpile of other teams’ future 2nds, and with the launch of the Memphis Hustle this fall, they have plenty of places to stash guys who aren’t signed to NBA contracts after training camp. It only makes sense that they’d try to get into the second round of a deep draft and find some gems that had fallen through from other teams.

They traded Brooklyn’s 2019 second round pick to the Orlando Magic for the 35th pick in last night’s draft, and then used that pick to draft Ivan Rabb, a sophomore forward from Cal. Rabb was projected to be a lottery pick in last year’s draft, but opted to stay at Cal another year. He struggled, and thus his draft stock was much lower this year, even as his upside stayed the same. According to his DraftExpress profile, Rabb has NBA potential but also has a long way to go to prove it. While the Grizzlies’ GM Chris Wallace is always a guy willing to take a chance on a player who was highly ranked coming out of high school, it seems like there are enough questions around Rabb to wonder if there weren’t better players available to take this kind of a flyer on.

Overall it’s definitely a classic “Chris Wallace” pick:

But the Grizzlies also grabbed a second rounder who was supposed to go in the lottery last year, and it turned out to be Deyonta Davis, who is very possibly the future of the franchise at the center position (it’s early, but his instincts are already impeccable). Why not try to capture that same magic twice? At the very least, he’s roster fodder for the Hustle.

I have a hard time feeling like Rabb was the best player available, but I also know nothing about scouting these guys once we get into second round territory. I would maybe have preferred some kind of guard, or a Euro-stash prospect to use as an asset, but Ivan Rabb it is. It's certainly a smart move if, as it appears, the Grizzlies had him high on their draft board.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Beyond the Arc Podcast #82: Is JaMychal Green the key to the summer?

Posted By on Tue, Jun 6, 2017 at 11:21 AM


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

  • Is JaMychal Green the key to the offseason, or is it what they do with the veterans? Can they replace Zach and Tony? Should they?
  • The launch of the Memphis Hustle D-League team
  • Why it's worth watching the draft even though the Grizzlies don't have a pick
  • The whole Lonzo/LaVar Ball... thing.
  • how Zach Randolph should've been 6th Man of the Year
  • The NBA Finals so far, and how boring it's been to watch blowouts.

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:

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Grizzlies Announce Name for D-League Team: Memphis Hustle

Posted By on Thu, Jun 1, 2017 at 3:38 PM

  • Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies have finally announced the name of their new affiliate team in the NBA Development League based in Southaven: the Memphis Hustle.

The Griz have recently announced Chris Makris as the Hustle GM and Glynn Cyprien as the Hustle's head coach (in continuity with the staff they had in place last year with Iowa Energy, now the Timberwolves-affiliated Iowa Wolves).

Here's the obligatory press release pull quote from Grizzlies President of Business Operations Jason Wexler:

“Our philosophy from the outset with our D-League expansion team is that it should in all ways be and feel intrinsic to our Grizzlies organization and not adjunct to it,” ... “Our goal is for the team to be woven into the fabric of our basketball operations and our business operations, our culture and our identity. We wanted to achieve a name and character for our D-League squad that both seamlessly fits into and uplifts the Memphis Grizzlies culture and identity, so that from day one it is part and parcel of our team and organization.”

Sources close to the situation say there was strong internal support for calling the team the "Mississippi Hollinger Statistical Analysis Spreadsheets" but ultimately the much better "Hustle" moniker won out in the end.

You can read more about the name and the launch of the Hustle affiliate at the original news post:

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Beyond the Arc Podcast #81: Chandler Parsons, Year One

Posted By on Tue, May 16, 2017 at 9:30 AM


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

  • Did we expect Spurs/Rockets to end the way it did?
  • Would the Grizzlies have beaten the Rockets if they'd risen to the 6 seed?
  • Mullinax's piece about the failure of Parsons' first year.
  • What was the internal estimate of Parsons' health before the signing? How much of Parsons' PR thing is his fault?
  • What Vince Carter told Chandler Parsons about his rehab process
  • Who's the most disliked player in the history of the Grizzlies?
  • The Porzingis/Gasol trade rumor, which just makes Phil sad about the Knicks

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, May 8, 2017

Beyond the Arc Podcast #80: Should the Grizzlies Trade Marc Gasol?

Posted By on Mon, May 8, 2017 at 2:50 PM


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

  • What would we do this summer if we were the GM?
  • Phil would explore a Marc Gasol trade this summer! Why?
  • Can the Griz trade away Gasol and still make the playoffs?
  • Can they afford to buy out Chandler Parsons, and what would that get them?
  • Is it time to move on from Zach Randolph and Tony Allen?
  • Can the Grizzlies build around Mike Conley for the next 3-4 years?
  • The young guys: DD, Harrison, Baldwin, Selden, Daniels—how will they know what they have unless these guys get minutes?

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, May 1, 2017

Beyond the Arc Podcast #79: 2016-17 Bests and Worsts

Posted By on Mon, May 1, 2017 at 3:58 PM


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

  • The best part of the season for Kevin, which was the Spurs series.
  • The best part of the season for Phil: the two 6-game win streaks, and Vince Carter's season.
  • The playoffs were Mike Conley's national coming out party.
  • The worst part of the season for Phil: Lackadaisical Marc Gasol, and also losing to the Spurs because of lackadaisical Marc Gasol.
  • What to make of Gasol playing Eurobasket again
  • The worst part of the season for Kevin: Chandler Parsons' 20-minute rehab starts.
  • Will Parsons ever play in a Grizzlies uniform?
  • A shoutout to Vince Carter's age-defying 40th year.

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:

Friday, April 28, 2017

Game 6: Spurs 103, Grizzlies 96: The End

Posted By on Fri, Apr 28, 2017 at 8:25 AM

Zach Randolph's return to the starting lineup is going to leave David Lee with some bruises for a couple weeks. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Zach Randolph's return to the starting lineup is going to leave David Lee with some bruises for a couple weeks.

The Grizzlies’ 2016-17 season really ended on one San Antonio run with five minutes left in the game. One stretch where they couldn’t stop Kawhi Leonard and the rest of the Spurs’ shooters from hitting shots they’d been making in Games 5 and 6, and then they were done until September. But that was par for the course in this series, which many (myself included) thought would be much less of a contest once Tony Allen went down for good in the last game of the regular season.

But now, the Grizzlies are in a familiar place: they gave a better team all they could handle in the first or second round while missing one (or more, if you count Chandler Parsons, which I do) of their best players, and now their season is over. This was a quietly weird year, even as it followed the familiar contours of the Grit & Grind era: the offseason dedication to modernizing the way the team plays (except this time, under David Fizdale, the team actually bought into this and it mostly happened); the streak of wins against the best teams in the league; the “injury” stretch where the team is down to a single-digit number of players and still wins; the mysterious lack of effort from the opening tip in winnable games down the stretch; the absence of Marc Gasol from games in which he should be a factor; the presence of Marc Gasol as an MVP-level basketball player when he well and truly feels unguardable.

This was a new year, with new faces, and was supposed to be the start of a new era, but in a lot of ways it was more like a transitional phase, a bridge from one thing to the other. That came through in the playoffs when Mike Conley was going toe to toe with Kawhi Leonard and the Grizzlies were making more 3’s than San Antonio and winning through tough defense with TA in a suit. At the same time, it felt more familiar than ever, yet another variation on the myth as it passes down through the generations: Zach Randolph in the starting lineup bullying the Spurs to win a couple of playoff games. Growl Towels waving furiously as the home team attempts to withstand a furious takeover by the other team’s star player. The mascot choke-slamming people through tables. There are resonances, echoes, rhymes. This year is just like all the others.

Maybe that’s why, right now, none of it resonates emotionally on the same register as past years. It’s simply happened one or two too many times the same way. But what to make of that?

Marc Gasol had a mostly quiet series, but hit some big shots. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Marc Gasol had a mostly quiet series, but hit some big shots.

The Series

I thought it was going to be over in four games, maybe five. I thought without Tony Allen to slow Kawhi Leonard on the perimeter, the Grizzlies didn’t stand much of a chance. I was wrong about that, and I’m glad, because even though it didn’t go the Grizzlies’ way in the end, this was yet another in the incredible run of cardiac playoff battles this team has been through. Game 4 was very probably the best playoff game I’ve ever been to, from a basketball-only perspective.

Ultimately the Grizzlies just never had the weapons to break the series open, especially on the wing. Missing the two best players in that rotation (and I’m not even ready to think about how good this team would’ve been with Parsons—certainly good enough to avoid the 7-seed altogether), they never got the production from those spots necessary to supplement the inexorable Spurs shutdown of the paint. They’re like kudzu, these Spurs. Eventually they choke out everything tall, everything trying to come up in the restricted area. When James Ennis, Wayne Selden, and Vince Carter couldn’t reliably produce 20-25 points between the three of them, the uphill climb became that much steeper.

That’s nothing new for these Grizzlies, but that doesn’t matter, not against the Spurs. After the game Marc Gasol said something about how tough the playoffs are, because by the end of the series the team you’re playing is specifically attacking the things you’re bad at. “It’s like the final test,” he said, “and either you know it or you don’t.” The Grizzlies moved the ball and shot the ball better this year than they ever have, and it still wasn’t enough. One can only hope that wing rotation is the team’s main focus this summer (again) while Parsons rehabs, so that next time, they’re able to rely on scoring at those positions when they need it.

The Star

It was great to see Zach Randolph starting and playing aggressive basketball this series, but there was really only one star of the series for the Griz, and that was Mike Conley. He’s been good for a long time, but under Fizdale (and assistant Nick Van Exel, to whom Fizdale gave a great deal of credit for Conley’s growth), he’s been unleashed. Coming into the season, Marc Gasol was the sole captain and it was his team. That doesn’t seem to fit with reality anymore, as Conley hit big shot after big shot and played the best basketball of his career to keep the Grizzlies in the series.

This is the series in which Mike Conley became the Grizzlies' undisputed star. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • This is the series in which Mike Conley became the Grizzlies' undisputed star.

This is his team now, no question about it. This series, on the national stage, is where he proved why he got such a big contract this summer: because that’s the kind of money you pay to keep the best player on your team. What that takeover means for the Grizzlies, and their pecking order, and their plans for the future (Conley is 30, after all, and age is usually not kind to smaller guards), remains anyone’s guess. But in this series, Mike Conley became the Grizzlies’ undisputed alpha, in a way that we always thought maybe he could, but were never quite ready to believe.

The Season

Obviously, the dissection of the 2016-17 Grizzlies has only just begun. I won’t write another 4000-word rant about the Communist Manifesto about how Sports Content leads to more Sports Content; you can read the last one and get back to me. But I do think there are a few little things to say right now:

★ It sounds cliche, but if they’d played hard in a few of the dumb losses, they’d have played the Rockets in the first round. I don’t know that that’s a better matchup, but it wouldn’t have been the Spurs.

★ I’m amazed that rookie players played so much this year. During the ill-advised Toney Douglas days, that seemed like a myth, a brief phase passing in the night, but Fizdale but his money where his mouth is and played Andrew Harrison and Wayne Selden as critical pieces of a playoff rotation, and didn’t get swept because of it. That’s a great sign for the future development of the Grizzlies, because players only get better by playing NBA basketball.

★ I’m not sure where they go from here. “Blow it up,” the grumpy fan’s refrain all year long, seems to be off the table given the way they conducted themselves in the postseason, but one never knows. It seems like there are multiple paths forward without tearing the team to the ground, and to me it’s much more likely that they avoid that route if possible.

★ It’s a shame that Tony Allen wasn’t on the floor for what might have been the last Core Four playoff run. That will never not be a shame. It’s sad that this era (Allen and Randolph are both free agents this summer) might have ended without an insane series-saving defensive stop, but rather with a limp to the locker room early in a dumb game. No way around that.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

A Closing Note

No matter what happens, and no matter how frustrating this year has been, and how much it sometimes feels like the Grizzlies are on a Hawks West trajectory that leaves them in the first round on a treadmill every year, this is still a special time for this team, and for Memphis as a whole.

There were reasons to doubt this season, maybe more than there ever have been: The Western Conference was not very good at the bottom this year, and that might be the only reason they even made the playoffs. Sometimes you need luck to keep an improbable streak going. But no matter what, this is a special team and a special run of seasons, and if the faces are different next year, it may have just passed us by without our knowledge. How’s the Rush song go? “Experience slips away.”

Even still, there is a pride around this team, and around this series, that is undeniable. As stunned as they were by their own elimination last night, every Grizzly player interviewed said they left everything on the court—that there wasn’t any more effort they could have given. And ultimately, isn’t that what we mean by Grit & Grind? Knowing the task is impossible but charging into the breach anyway? This season has been one of reflection, but let’s not get carried away eulogizing it. This was a great playoff series, and the Grizzlies did the best they could with what they had on hand, imperfect as it was—and they decided to make it as physically punishing for the other guys as they could on the way out the door. If that’s not “Memphis,” I don’t know what is.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Game 5: Spurs 116, Grizzlies 103: Home Cooking

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2017 at 8:02 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

The home team hasn’t lost a game in this series yet. On Tuesday night the role players for the Spurs who didn’t play well in Memphis finally snapped out of it, and the Grizzlies got nothing from players not names Mike Conley or Marc Gasol (and even the latter had another tough outing).

Simply put, given how poorly the Grizzlies guarded the perimeter, and how well the Spurs shot even when they defended flawlessly, the Griz should’ve gone down 20 in the third quarter and stayed that way. That they didn’t is a signal of just how close this series really is, and just how much success or failure for either team will depend on whose role players are able to show up in a road game. So far, it hasn’t happened either way.

As discussed after games 3 and 4, this has been Mike Conley’s series, and that continued in Game 5 even though the results didn’t go Memphis’ way. Conley was 10/17 for 26 points, including 2/4 from 3-point range, and he made things happen with his passing and rebounding, just as he has all series (and all season) long. The problem for the Griz in Game 5 was that nobody else did much of anything, while Spurs reserves who had been having a quietly bad series all sprung back to life. Zach Randolph didn’t get much going. Gasol was pestered by double teams and not moving quickly enough to get his best shot. Andrew Harrison and Wayne Selden shot well but mostly played like rookies in a road playoff game (imagine that). Vince Carter still didn’t contribute much. Ultimately, the things said after Game 2 still stand in some ways: the Grizzlies don’t have the roster to beat anybody in the playoffs if they don’t get bench production.

Manu Ginobili sprung to life in Game 5 after struggling all series. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Manu Ginobili sprung to life in Game 5 after struggling all series.

Coming back home for Game 6, that will be the primary determining factor in whether the Griz can force a Game 7. Can the reserves step up? Will the Spurs—like Manu Ginobili, who had 10 points after having not made a shot the entire series yet, or like Patty Mills, who hit some devastating threes and got to the rim at the worst possible times, or like Davis Bertans, who hit some big shots from long-range that he hadn’t been able to make yet.

Listen: this is a game that is very easy to over-analyze. “What if Troy Daniels had played more?” (Patty Mills would’ve had 30 instead of 20, probably.) “What if Zach Randolph had played more?” (He probably would’ve been 5/14 instead of 4/10.) I’m a big fan of Occam’s Razor in basketball analysis: the Spurs shot better and their role players finally showed up. Usually the dumbest explanation is the correct one.

Games 3 and 4 allowed Grizzlies fans (and to a large extent the Grizzlies Internet Commentariat) to forget and/or ignore some of the larger issues that loomed behind the first two games—issues that made the Grizzlies the underdogs in the series in the first place. Andrew Harrison is not a battle-tested backup point guard (and last year’s Chalmers injury still haunts this team). The wing rotation is ostensibly missing its two best players in Chandler Parsons and Tony Allen. Marc Gasol is not consistent. JaMychal Green is an excellent player but not quite big enough to defend well against this San Antonio team. The Spurs defend Zach Randolph well by the way they send the double team. None of those factors have gone away; at home, the Griz got an unexpected boost from their role players and showed the Spurs to be more vulnerable than they seemed. That’s still true. Game 5 was close for much longer than it was a fait accompli. Game 6 is still very winnable for the Grizzlies, and maybe even Game 7 should they force one. But Game 5 showed why that was unlikely in the first place, and why Grizzlies fans should treat every minute of Game 6 like the miracle that it is, because it wasn’t “supposed” to happen.

Tweet of the Night

Last night was a rough one out here on the Griz Twitter streets, but it wasn’t without its moments:

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Beyond the Arc Podcast #78: Take That For Grizzlies/Spurs Data

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 7:31 AM


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

  • David Fizdale's epic "Take That for Data" rant and whether it was an effective motivational tool
  • The unevenness of playoff officiating, and should the Grizzlies foul harder?
  • A rundown of what worked for the Griz in games 3 & 4
  • The Grizzlies don't miss Tony Allen as much as we thought they would
  • Can the Grizzlies' young guys play well on the road? Troy Daniels' big Game 4 minutes, Wayne Selden, etc.
  • A small L2M report rant and Phil goes "NYC sports radio" on Adam Silver

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:

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Game 4: Grizzlies 110, Spurs 108: One For The Ages

Posted By on Sun, Apr 23, 2017 at 9:40 AM

Mike Conley asserted his dominance last night. - LARRY KUZNIEWKI
  • Larry Kuzniewki
  • Mike Conley asserted his dominance last night.

I had no idea what to expect last night before the game. No outcome would have surprised me, from a Spurs blowout win to a 20-point Grizzlies beatdown like the one they tried to pull off in Game 3. There wasn’t a vibe in the building other than that, having finally lost a game, the Spurs weren’t going to be playing around anymore in Game 4. The Grizzlies, on the other hand, needed to have a strong showing and get a win to avoid taking the series back to San Antonio trailing 3-1. Both teams were desperate to win it.

What happened was one of the most exciting playoff games I’ve ever witnessed, and probably one of the most stressful for the Griz faithful in attendance: a down-to-the-wire win in which Kawhi Leonard put on one of the most masterful performances anyone has ever seen and still lost on a last-second Marc Gasol shot after Mike Conley had controlled 52:59 of the game’s 53 minutes. Last night’s game will forever be remembered as a heart-stopper in which the home team came through.

The Mike Conley Game

Conley played the MVP-level basketball he was playing to start the season, back before he got hurt and played NBA basketball with a broken back for several weeks. He was absolutely unstoppable on the offensive end, no matter which Spur was guarding him. Even when covered by the fearsome Leonard, Conley managed to use his speed to get into the lane and find ways to create scoring. Conley’s stat line was a near triple-double: 35 points (56% shooting, including 50% from three), 9 rebounds (all defensive) and 8 assists.

Conley was everywhere, carrying the team on his back through rough stretches, scoring, defending well—Game 4 was Mike Conley’s game, the one in which the aggressiveness that David Fizdale has been cultivating in him all year finally paid off in a big way on the biggest stage. For all of the talk about how this is Marc Gasol’s team, and how Gasol was made the team’s sole captain in training camp, it’s been Conley who has grown the most under Fizdale, finally embracing his ability to be the team’s top scoring option in addition to running the offense. That paid dividends last night, because the Spurs still don’t have a guard who can defend him well, and if they put Leonard on him all the time the Grizzlies have just enough shooting to make that a bad idea.

Conley’s blossoming this year has been amazing to watch, and might be an even bigger accomplishment for Fizdale than convincing Zach Randolph to come off the bench. We always suspected the talent was there, and saw it in little flashes here and there (especially in the playoffs) but I think it’s fair to say, after Game 4 in particularly, that this is Mike Conley’s world and we’re all living in it.

  • Larry Kuxniewski

The Chess Match

The question everybody had going into Game 4 was “What will the Spurs do to adjust?”, and right away there was immediate intrigue: Dewayne Dedmon was a late scratch with an illness, and Gregg Popovich announced in pregame availability that David Lee was starting in his place. Lee was thoroughly roasted by Z-Bo in Game 3, so it was a curious substitution (Pau Gasol seemed the more obvious fit to me) but it seemed to signal that the Spurs’ strategy would be to double-team Randolph whenever he caught the ball in the post. That’s what they started out doing, and it majorly hampered Randolph’s production early (he was scoreless in the first quarter and only had 4 at halftime).

For the Grizzlies, there weren’t that many adjustments left to make after moving Randolph and Ennis to the starting lineup for Game 3. The minutes shifted around, and there was certainly a renewed intensity on defense once they started to figure out the Spurs’ extremely high pick and rolls, but for the most part, the lineup questions were about “what will the Spurs do to counter” rather than what the Grizzlies were going to change. Fizdale said as much in the postgame, saying he wanted to make sure they Griz were maximizing the potential of their gameplan before making changes out of impatience.

I’m not sure what the Spurs’ next move is, lineup-wise. Davis Bertans played some very good minutes for them in Game 4, so I would expect to see more of him in the upcoming games, but beyond that, Popovich seems pretty committed to the gameplan the Spurs brought into the series. As long as it involves a spot in the rotation for Manu Ginobili and big minutes and production from Tony Parker, I think the Grizzlies are happy with it.

Ginobili’s presence in the game is what allowed the Griz to get more run for Troy Daniels than they have in previous games, because Daniels is still not really good enough on defense to play in these situations unless he’s hidden on someone he literally doesn’t have to guard. Ginobili went 0-5 from the floor, and it felt like all of those were open 3’s that Daniels was letting him take. On the other end, Daniels was able to hit a couple of big 3-pointers and shift the momentum of the game in a non-negligible way (including one listed as 26’ on the play-by-play that felt like it was shot from somewhere in Foote Homes a couple blocks away). Look for Fizdale to press that advantage to the fullest extent possible, because Daniels can be a devastating weapon when he starts to get going.

Up Next

Andrew Harrison made some big plays last night. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Andrew Harrison made some big plays last night.

Game 5 on Tuesday in San Antonio will be interesting. It’s not a series until a home team loses, etc. But if the Grizzlies, who have been mostly outplaying the Spurs since the second half of Game 2, can now go back down to San Antonio with the confidence they’ve built in these two games—especially the rookies like Harrison and Selden and Ennis, who looked overwhelmed in the first two games but found their sea legs at home—I see no reason to think the Grizzlies can’t continue winning.

On the other hand, if the Spurs figure things out in a meaningful way, the Grizzlies could be in trouble, because as I said they don’t have any more tricks up their sleeves. To stretch the metaphor, I think all of the Grizzlies’ cards are on the table, and what they’ve got it what they’ve got. The problem for the Spurs is that none of the “answers” to what the Grizzlies have got are clean enough; they all create matchup issues at other positions. It’s also unlikely that Marc Gasol will have another game as poor as he did in Game 4 (right up to the point that he hit the hard shot that won the game). In all, I don’t really know what to predict here. I thought the Grizzlies would have a lot more trouble coping with Tony Allen’s absence than they are, and a lot of that credit goes to James Ennis and Wayne Selden for doing just enough to keep Kawhi Leonard from being able to win games by himself.

These next two games will probably induce just as much anxiety as Game 4. Bring on the Tums.

Tweet of the Night

After Kawhi Leonard’s breathtaking performance last night, this one seemed apropos:

Friday, April 21, 2017

Game 3: Grizzlies 105, Spurs 94: Grindhouse Forever

Posted By on Fri, Apr 21, 2017 at 8:13 AM

Zach Randolph turned back the clock against the Spurs in Game 3. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Zach Randolph turned back the clock against the Spurs in Game 3.

For the first time in a long time, the Grindhouse was itself last night. The Grizzlies had no other option, and they delivered the goods. Last night they gave everything they had, continued to play they way they did in the second half of game 2, and beat the Spurs 104-94 in a contest that wasn’t actually as close as the final score suggests, on the backs of big nights from Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley. What year is it again?


Z-Bo Gonna Z-Bo

The Spurs haven’t let Randolph score at will like that since 2011, when he bullied them into losing to the Griz in six games. Ever since then, the Spurs (and their coach, Gregg Popovich) have always game-planned for Randolph, keeping him from getting to his spot, doubling him from the baseline to take away his options, packing all five of their guys into the paint when necessary. Thursday night, none of that mattered much, because Randolph, moved back into the starting lineup just for the occasion, just went straight through them anyway.

What happened last night is probably the Spurs’ nightmare, because it’s the thing they’ve been avoiding against the Grizzlies for six whole years, and the thing for which this year’s San Antonio team is really pretty ill-prepared: turns out it’s a lot easier to guard Zach Randolph, even the 35-year-old version, when Tim Duncan is on the team.

David Lee bore the brunt of the assault, but LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol got in on the action, too. Randolph was determined to put the team on his back to the fullest extent possible, and he ended up doing it to the tune of 21 points and 8 rebounds in under 30 minutes. It was a vintage Z-Bo playoff game, with the crowd hanging on every jabstep, holding its breath as each high arcing shot hung there deciding whether to go in. After a whole season of coming off the bench, for one night, or maybe for the rest of the series, Z-Bo was in all of his splendor just like no time has passed, like four or five seasons just didn’t even happen.

Even if not a single thing more goes right for the Grizzlies for the rest of whatever time they have left in the postseason, last night can’t be taken away, not from Zach, not from we who watched it.

Gasol and Conley both had 20-point games. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Gasol and Conley both had 20-point games.

Two-Man Game

In other extremely detailed basketball #analysis, it turns out that when your two best players play very well, it becomes much easier to win a playoff game against a good opponent. This shocking new development comes from Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, who scored 24 and 21 points respectively last night. (And for those keeping track at home, that means that three of the Grizzlies’ starting five last night scored more than 20 points.)

Conley and Gasol have each had their individual moments in the series so far, but last night was the first time they’ve been able to (1) put together long stretches of their best play and (2) both manage to play well in the same game at the same time. It did seem like Z-Bo’s early outburst—the majority of his production came in the first half—relieved some pressure on Conley and Gasol and allowed them to work their way into a rhythm instead of getting frustrated early while trying to carry the team. The results were inarguable, and seeing the tandem working so well together was a glimpse of one possible Grizzlies future built around their pick and roll savvy (this is the part where we pretend they haven’t already tried to sign a playmaker on the wing to do exactly that).

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Gasol’s body language has been all wrong this series, for what it’s worth. He’s been visibly frustrated with his (younger) teammates at times, and he’s been much closer to “unhinged 2015 Marc” than “December 2016 MVP Marc” for weeks now. Whatever that’s about—and look, I’m a parent, and having a three-week-old at home is probably at least part of it—last night was the first sign of that fog’s clearing, as by the end of the game Marc was coaching up James Ennis instead of shooting eye-daggers at him. But it’s worth monitoring, and his mental state, his artist’s temperament about how he plays the game of basketball, is (as ever) one of the keys to whether the Grizzlies can actually make this a series now or whether last night’s win, no matter how convincing, was more about winning one for pride.

The Next Adjustment

…there’s not one, really, not for the Grizzlies. At least, not one that makes as much sense as the Ennis-and-Randolph swap Fizdale put in place for game 3. But that might be fine. There’s a scenario here which I won’t allow myself to talk about too much because I don’t want to get my own hopes up: the 2013 series against the Clippers. The Grizzlies lost the first game by 21 points, played better in the second game but still not enough better to win, and then, once the series shifted back to Memphis, they… won four in a row, with Game 6 still the most “Memphis” sporting event that could ever possibly take place.

These Spurs are very good, and through the first six quarters of the series, they looked like they were operating on a totally different plane than the Grizzlies, but since halftime of Game 2, they’ve looked more mortal. Sure, they’ve still got the best player in the series in Kawhi Leonard. And the Grizzlies’ wing rotation and backup point guard mess are both still big reasons why the Spurs should win the series. But. But.

If Popovich keeps refusing to play Dwayne Dedmon, and Z-Bo can fit in with the starters more like he did in the second half of Game 3 than the awkward, “Hey guys, remember when we used to do this?” first half, and Andrew Harrison and Wayne Selden can somehow continue to play better than 2013 Keyon Dooling instead of worse than 2013 Keyon Dooling, I’m just saying, it’s not like there’s no precedent. A lot of things have to go the Grizzlies’ way in Game 4 for this to be more than wishful thinking, and because the Spurs are the Spurs, it’s entirely possible that the second half gave Popovich all the intel he needed to create The Ultimate Answer To The Z-Bo Problem Version 2.0. But these Spurs haven’t been playing as well as I expected them to. Manu Ginobili and David Lee are big weaknesses for them off the bench, etc. There are vulnerabilities there, but the question is whether the Spurs will continue to neglect to protect them. There’s not a lot of precedent for that.

Tweet of the Night

It’s Memphis, and it’s the playoffs, so Grizz’s nemesis Natch showed up last night for some wrasslin’. This looks like far and away the most dangerous chokeslam at a Grizzlies game since Zach Randolph did it to Blake Griffin and got called for a common foul. It also serves as a good encapsulation of what the Grizzlies did to the Spurs last night overall: winning by brute strength and a willing disregard for pain, the classic Griz formula.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Game 2 Recap: Spurs 96, Grizzlies 82

Posted By on Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 7:33 AM

Zach Randolph started the second half and almost made a miraculous comeback happen. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Zach Randolph started the second half and almost made a miraculous comeback happen.
We know by now that the Grizzlies are creatures of habit, and so in Game 2, they did what they’ve done for years now, time after time after time: they found themselves down 30, decided to start fighting at halftime, closed the gap to single digits, and then got so worn down that they couldn’t withstand the inevitable counterpunch. After their worst first half performance in months, two quarters so bad I was looking up animated GIFs of building implosions to use on Twitter: ...the Grizzlies came out in the second half with a different look. James Ennis III and Zach Randolph replaced Wayne Selden and JaMychal Green in the lineup, and from there, it was on. From down 26 points, the Griz closed the third frame trailing by only ten, and in the early part of the fourth quarter they’d cut the lead to 4. The problem, though was how much effort it had taken them to get to that point, and falling back on the bench to get some rest for Conley and Randolph only let the Spurs push the lead back out to double digits and keep it that way. I’m not sure it had to be this way.

In the first half, the Grizzlies got down and lost all sense of urgency. They were doing things like this:
JaMychal Green has struggled to guard LaMarcus Aldridge. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • JaMychal Green has struggled to guard LaMarcus Aldridge.
...and the game got so far away that it looked like the collapse of an entire era of Memphis basketball—and by transit Memphis history—was about to crumble and blow away in the wind. The comeback attempt was pure Grizzlies, with hounding defense and Zach Randolph running straight over LaMarcus Aldridge to score on the other end, and it showed that maybe the Griz do care about whether they win the series or not.

By the time they got the Spurs’ lead down to four, the self-dug hole was so deep they couldn't quite get out of it, and all it took was one Spurs run to put the game out of reach.

Can they get away with starting Ennis and Randolph in Game 3? I think they can. Ennis’ contributions have been uneven in the series but between he and Wayne Selden, Ennis is the much more obvious choice to try and slow Kawhi Leonard in Tony Allen’s absence. Randolph actually works against the Spurs’ starters, too, because he's always done a passable job guarding Aldridge and (going back to the one year they shared in Portland) seems to enjoy trying to truck him like a defensive tackle on the way to the rim. And now we’ve got to talk about last night’s Instant Classic, which happened after the game itself. I think it's fair to say David Fizdale was displeased with the way Game 2 was officiated:

“Take that for data” aside, those numbers certainly give the impression that the Spurs were getting calls that the Grizzlies weren't, and the eye test during the game backs that up. The counter, which is undeniable, is “don't go down by 30 points and the officiating won't matter so much,” but I think the disparity was more the issue than the raw numbers. It was not a game that was called the same way on both ends of the floor, and that lack of consistency is pretty damaging to the momentum of the team getting the short end of the stick.

At any rate, Fizdale’s outburst is a classic coaching move. He's going to pay a fine big enough to hurt his feelings, for sure. But the officials in the next game will be thinking about it, and the Griz will go into Game 3 knowing their coach is willing to cut a five-figure check to defend them. In a series where finding five guys who will all play hard at the same time seems to be a problem, that may ultimately be worth more than the money Fizdale is about to lose. But he's totally going to get fined, and probably a lot.

Game 3 is on Thursday. This new wrinkle, these Grizzlies that can make a furious comeback on the back of Zach Randolph, Old Faithful himself, Mr. 20-10 Since 2010, promises to make it a do-or-die affair. As a playoff catchphrase, “They Not Gon' Rook Us” is probably an all-timer. The Grizzlies have to find a way to make it matter.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Beyond the Arc Podcast #77: Can the Grizzlies Adjust?

Posted By on Mon, Apr 17, 2017 at 2:38 PM


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

  • Our recap of the Grizzlies' lopsided Game 1 loss
  • What is the Grizzlies' counter to San Antonio's disruption of their offense?
  • Should the Spurs' pressure be affecting Conley as much as it is?
  • What adjustment can be made for Game 2? Does the roster limit what Fizdale can do?
  • A brief look at the West's other series

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:

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Game 1 Recap: Spurs 111, Grizzlies 82

Posted By on Sat, Apr 15, 2017 at 10:33 PM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but that’s really only because no important Grizzlies player was traded to the Lakers for Javaris Crittenton. The Grizzlies played a great first quarter in last night’s opening game of their first round series against the San Antonio Spurs, but after that point the wheels fell off and they slowly lost ground until head coach David Fizdale finally waved the white flag and cleared the bench with seven minutes to go.

Why? Kawhi Leonard, for one. Leonard finished with 32 points on 14 shots in only 32 minutes, and didn’t even play in the fourth quarter because the Spurs had already amassed such a lead. He was impossible to defend, and his defense–both of Mike Conley and others–caused problems for the Grizzlies all night.

Marc Gasol played with a lot of emotion, and his intensity carried him to a 32 point game of his own, but most of that scoring came in the first half, and down the stretch of the third quarter, when the game was really getting out of reach, he was the only Griz player able to do anything. That’s the whole story of Game 1, really: it has very little to do with the absence of Tony Allen and everything to do with the absence of any offense at all. No one could score (not even Conley, who had a quick 10 points in the Grizzlies’ improbable 30-25 first quarter, but then only scored three more points the rest of the game.

I’m having a really hard time coming up with some sort of intelligent analysis of this game. The 20 minutes of garbage time had a way of erasing the earlier portions from my mind, the way Spurs coach Gregg Popovich adjusted to what was happening early and erased every single thing the Grizzlies were doing that worked. Fizdale was not able to win the chess match coming out of halftime, and when the Grizzlies’ season-long struggle to do anything in the third quarter reared its head again–and now naive we were for imagining that it could be a thing of the past!–San Antonio did exactly what every Grizzlies fan feared they would do. It felt like last year’s playoff series, where the Griz were undermanned and overmatched at every position. They seemed every bit as overmatched tonight. And, with Chandler Parsons doing whatever he’s doing these days and Tony Allen watching in a suit, two of their best three wing players are out, so maybe they are.

I’m not sure that’s a legit analysis of how the series will go, even though it feels that way at the moment. Zach Randolph had a horrendous showing tonight, unable to make shots, defend, or even screen well enough to help the offense make plays. It seems unlikely that he’ll have another game that bad, but against the Spurs, he will always be made to pay for the 2011 playoffs. Conley was bad after the early start, but it seemed like if the Grizzlies had been able to limit turnovers by making smarter decisions he could’ve gotten the game to a more controlled place, where the Grizzlies weren’t constantly forced to make up for Spurs points off a turnover.

Make no mistake: Game 2 is going to be a referendum on the season, and on this team. Can they show up, adjust, compete, and maybe even win? Or will they lose by 30 again and look like they don’t even belong in the playoffs? If it’s the former, and especially if they win, the way they lost tonight will barely matter and the Grindhouse will be electric for Game 3. If they lose badly again, and look aimless in the same way, things are going to be decidedly deflated.

The path is there. Find a bench contributor who can give more than Zach Randolph did with his 6 points and blisteringly bad -39 +/-. Limit turnovers. Play a third quarter with the same level of intensity that they play the rest of the game. These are all things that are doable, if difficult. If they can’t figure that out, it’s going to be a short, miserable series. If they can, they can make a series out of what appears to be a train wreck after its first night.

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