Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Grizzlies at the Halfway Point: Ten Commandments

Posted By on Tue, Jan 16, 2018 at 11:28 AM

The Grizzlies are hanging out at the halfway point of the season. (See what I did there?) - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • The Grizzlies are hanging out at the halfway point of the season. (See what I did there?)

Technically the halfway point of the season came before yesterday's MLK Day game, in which the Grizzlies beat the Lakers 123-114 in front of a sold-out crowd while wearing the new and very attractive "City" jerseys honoring the 1968 Sanitation Workers' Strike. But we're still close enough to the exact halfway point that it makes sense to stop and take stock of where the Grizzlies are, and of what the rest of the season should like from here.

Needless to say, it has not been the season Grizzlies fans expected, or the one that most observers predicted. It has been pretty close to the statistically-based projections people like myself scoffed at back in October, when the excitement about the depth of the roster started to take hold. If Conley and Gasol had both stayed healthy and the rotation had set in the first couple of weeks, maybe that optimism would’ve seemed justified. Instead, the season promptly fell off a cliff, and the team has only recently (after Christmas) started to look like they might know how to play basketball. With that in mind—along with the fact that the Grizzlies have their own pick in the upcoming draft, after not having a first rounder last year and before giving up next year’s first to Boston (for Jeff Green. Remember how great that was? Remember how well that worked out?)—I thought it was worth setting out Ten Commandments for the Second Half, creating a decision-making framework for the 40 remaining games of the season that will steer the Grizzlies toward the best possible outcome.

The Ten Commandments for the Second Half

I. Thou Shalt Not Try To Make The Playoffs

I’ve been saying this a while now, and so has everybody else. The playoff streak is dead. It was fun while it lasted, and in some ways permanently altered the trajectory of Memphis as a city (though, of course, one has to be careful to avoid the hyperbole that the Grizzlies have healed all of our various divisions. They’re a salve, not a cure-all). Faulkner famously said “the past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past.” Faulkner also didn’t live to see the 2017-18 Grizzlies.

Surely the Grizzlies organization realizes the mode they’re in, right? Surely they realize that losing games this year helps them secure a better future, and maybe even a better 2018-19 season? The worst thing they could possibly do is win 37 games and finish 9th in the West. Give up on being good, if just for a year. Be like Queen Elsa and let it go.

II. Thou Shalt Sell at the Deadline

Tyreke Evans has been too good not to trade. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tyreke Evans has been too good not to trade.

If the Grizzlies do not manage to flip Tyreke Evans for an asset at the trade deadline, it's probably time to contract the franchise. He's having one of the best seasons of his career, and he's been the best player on the team most nights, and even if he were only going to sign for the mid-level this summer—which I doubt—the Grizzlies still probably wouldn't keep him. This is a textbook example of a must trade player. I'm not sure a first round pick is out there to collect, but even if it isn't, there has to be something out there that could be considered a good/fair return for Evans.

Evans isn't the only guy the Grizzlies should be looking to trade and/or dump at the deadline. Brandan Wright is a good player on a cheap expiring deal, and while expiring deals aren't nearly as valuable as they used to be, and Wright's skill set means he's only a great fit with a few teams, he's still another good player unlikely to be back next year. JaMychal Green's deal is acceptable, and he's underperformed a bit for the Grizzlies this year. Maybe there's a team who has a need they think he fills, and who thinks he could be a part of what they're doing longer than the end of his current two-year deal?

Then there are the "dumpables." 42 games in, Ben McLemore's new contract is probably already too bad to be dumped without giving up something too precious. Maybe he could be pawned off on some abominable team for the Tony Wroten Special (a.k.a. the second round pick with so many protections that there's no way it will ever convey). But Mario Chalmers could probably be flipped for a trade exception or some other CBA-related curiosity that would allow the Grizzlies to sign Kobi Simmons for the rest of the year (thus also freeing up a two-way roster spot). If the Grizzlies aren't sure what to do with James Ennis, he's a decent enough player on a cheap deal that he will find a spot somewhere. If they'd like to have a fire sale, the Grizzlies certainly have the pieces. I think they should. They need to be in extreme asset-collecting mode, both at the deadline and probably this summer as well.

III. However, Thou Shalt Not Trade Gasol at the Deadline

Asset-collecting has its limits. No matter how frenzied the rumors get—and I fully expect them to get as crazy as they were in the run-up to the Rudy Gay deal, if not worse—I don't think the Grizzlies should deal Marc Gasol at the deadline. Gasol's a little harder to trade than I think most of the "Trade Marc" crowd is willing to admit, and because of that, I don't think the Grizzlies would be able to make that sort of a deal at the deadline. I think there's too much pressure at the deadline to get something done—pressure that makes it easy to get ripped off.

Patience is the highest virtue here. It seems unlikely to me that the Grizzlies would be able to make a Gasol deal at the deadline that wouldn't be a better deal if they waited until the summer. I don't even think they're willing to trade him then, not assuming Robert Pera remains in control of the team. But if the Grizzlies are looking to make such a move, they're not thinking clearly if they do it at the deadline. And if they're not thinking clearly at the deadline, this down year could very well last a lot longer than anyone wants to admit.

IV. Thou Shalt Play Thine Young Players

Who cares how inconsistent Deyonta Davis has been? Play him anyway. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Who cares how inconsistent Deyonta Davis has been? Play him anyway.

Repeat after me the mantra The Grizzlies Internet has been screaming for years: The only way basketball players get better is by playing basketball. This is especially true of young players. So, unless interim coach JB Bickerstaff has determined that he needs to lose games and that the best way to do that is to play his older guys, there's no excuse for Brandan Wright to play minutes at the expense of Deyonta Davis (especially when Davis is playing poorly; isn't the point to be bad?).

The Grizzlies' roster isn't exactly loaded with youngsters who are sure shots to be rotation players. But Wayne Selden and Dillon Brooks seem to be, and Deyonta Davis will be if he can learn how to be more consistent. Andrew Harrison is a heady player who has several valuable skills, but his lack of speed and his inconsistent shooting mean he's a work in progress. Jarell Martin plays well when the pace picks up and he doesn't have to operate in the halfcourt, but that's probably not good enough.

Still: the only way to get value out of these guys, even if the goal is to trade them and move on, is to play them and let them learn the ropes. The only reason not to do that is if doing so will cause the Grizzlies to play their way into the nightmare scenario (38-44, 9th or 10th in the West) described above, and while the Grizzlies' young guys are starting to figure some things out, I highly doubt they're that good.

Play 'em. Don't play the veterans trying to win and still lose; that's a loss on more than one front.

V. Thou Shalt Not Let Mike Conley Play

Remember Mike Conley? Save him for next year. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Remember Mike Conley? Save him for next year.

This is (1) the easiest path available to the Grizzlies for staying bad and improving their draft status and (2) the best way for Conley's Achilles injury to actually heal. The only way that injury goes away is to rest it, and even if Conley wants to get out on the floor and play through pain and be the hero, there's no upside to it at this point. Better to save him for next year (when, I suppose, the Grizzlies will try to be good one more time with a Conley/Gasol/Chandler Parsons core, which is starting to seem more quixotic by the day) than mess up a golden opportunity to get a high draft pick and then bring back three healthy good players to lead the team next year.

VI. Thou Shalt Honor the Sabbath (On Back to Backs)

Rest. Parsons is already missing time with knee soreness (or tightness, or season-tank-itis, or whatever you want to call it), but before that he was being held out of one night of every Grizzlies back-to-back. Do that with Marc Gasol, too. He'll hate it, and he'll complain about it, but who cares? If attempting to reduce mileage on old guys during a meaningless season makes them so mad they want out, that shouldn't be the Grizzlies' problem. Rest guys. Rest young guys. Do whatever it takes to be bad and also not incur any more injuries. Play McLemore 40 minutes on the second nights so the Grizzlies are guaranteed to lose. Seems like a good idea to me.

VII. Thou Shalt Release Ivan Rabb From His Bench Prison

This one goes in tandem with some of the other roster-clearing options, but Rabb has been killing it for the Memphis Hustle and I think it'd be prudent for the Grizzlies to see what he looks like in real NBA game action. Maybe they've seen enough of him in practice to know that it's not going to go well, but I'd like to get a look at him, too. Play him. See what happens.

VIII. Thou Shalt Do Likewise with Kobi Simmons

See also commandments III, IV, V, and VII.

IX. Thou Shalt Hire a New GM Once The Ownership Situation is Settled

Is JB Bickerstaff the Grizzlies' coach for the long term? - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Is JB Bickerstaff the Grizzlies' coach for the long term?

This deserves its own series of posts, and will probably get that treatment farther on down the line, but this seems obvious. The Grizzlies need a change of direction (or else they'd have won more than 14 games), and it's probably time to instill that change from the top. Whether the controlling owner next year is Robert Pera or Steve Kaplan, this much seems imperative: bring in a new GM and let that new GM hire a coach. The Grizzlies have had coaches not hired by the GM in charge (Hollins, Joerger) and it never ends well. Don't do anything rash. I'm not even opposed to promotion from within, if ownership feels like Ed Stefanski or John Hollinger is right for the job. I just think we've seen enough of Chris Wallace's work to feel uncomfortable with the idea that he can build two successful playoff cores in a row here. I remain extremely unconvinced that his model of team-building is one that will work a second time for the Grizzlies.

X. Thou Shalt Not Kill (Marc Gasol)

Marc Gasol is playing 34.6 minutes a game, which is his highest total since the 2012-13 season if Basketball Reference is to be believed.

Marc Gasol is a 33-year-old big man not far removed from a broken navicular bone who has played international basketball almost every summer since he was a teenager.

These two facts do not square with each other. There is no reason to put this kind of workload on Gasol, even if the Grizzlies are worried that he'll be mad and demand a trade. I understand that Gasol is a player and wants to play—that basketball is his whole life's work as of yet, and that he wants to play every minute that he can because he knows someday he won't be able to play anymore. He's specifically said that much. But this workload doesn't make sense in the context of a lost season, one in which it's clear that the playoffs aren't likely and shouldn't be the target anyway.

Through the second half of the season, the Grizzlies' medical staff needs to be much more mindful of Gasol's minutes. Don't put him back in a 16-point game in the 4th quarter, as Bickerstaff did down the stretch of yesterday's game. There's no reason to subject Gasol to these minutes, no matter how badly he wants them. It's bad for his longevity, which is bad for Marc Gasol and bad for the Grizzlies at the same time.

Marc Gasol is playing too many minutes. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Marc Gasol is playing too many minutes.

Conclusions

These commandments all seem pretty straightforward. Failure to adhere to them will net the Grizzlies a worse draft pick, worse development of their young players, shorter careers for their max contract veterans, or some malignant combination of all three. If the Grizzlies are willing to live the next 40 games—a curious parallel to 40 days and 40 nights, since we're already in this Old Testament frame of mind—abiding by these commandments, the 2018 draft may bring manna from heaven in the form of a future franchise cornerstone. The rest is up to them.


Friday, January 12, 2018

The Hustle Dispatch: Week 10

Posted By on Fri, Jan 12, 2018 at 5:55 PM

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A long break doesn’t provide any respite for the Hustle

After a rough holiday game week, the Memphis Hustle needed to bounce back with a few strong performances. Unfortunately, they came up against two teams with hot hands and emerged with two losses.

Away to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Hustle didn’t necessarily have a bad offensive game, putting up 134 points. However, they still lost by 23, with the Vipers putting on a shooting clinic to rack up 157 points. A big part of that was Memphis’ inability to shut down Vipers’ guard Demetrius Jackson, who led scoring for both teams with 26 points.

Against the Vipers, the Hustle were always trailing. Rio Grande scored the first bucket of the game and didn’t look back from there, taking a 33-27 lead into the second quarter, where the Vipers then scored fifty points, essentially making it game over. On the Hustle side, Jordan Crawford had another standout game, leading the Hustle in scoring with 24 points. So far, though, Crawford’s high point totals have only come when his teammates struggle. Other than Chance Comanche’s 22 points and Vincent Hunter’s double-double, the Hustle didn’t have much to show for their performance. On the night, they just couldn’t stop the Vipers.

It was five days before the Hustle took to the court for their next matchup against the Lakeland Magic. It was a much closer affair, but the extra time off didn’t seem to help. The biggest kicker was that hey let the lead slip late in the fourth quarter when the Magic embarked on a 21-7 run to emerge 117-108 victors. A theme of the Hustle’s season has been their inability to close out tight games, and this was no exception.

Leading the charge on the night was Austin Nichols, who had a great night with 23 points on 10-14 shooting and nine rebounds. His partner in crime, Vincent Hunter, had another good game with 19 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists. Again, though, beyond that, the Hustle didn’t have anyone really step up. Kobi Simmons, on his return from the Grizzlies, played only 12 minutes and went 0-3.

The two losses mean that Memphis have now lost four on the spin. Three of those have come during the G-League Showcase. With performances like this, many Hustle players aren’t exactly endearing themselves to scouts. Perhaps, though, that added pressure has contributed to their poor run. Either way, something needs to change. If the players want to impress some scouts, they’ve still got another chance: the Hustle’s last showcase game comes on Saturday against the 12-12 Maine Red Claws.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Grizzlies 105, Pelicans 102: The Grizzlies Won? On Purpose?

Posted By on Thu, Jan 11, 2018 at 8:00 AM

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Last night, the Grizzlies got their first win of 2018 in a tight one at home against the New Orleans Pelicans, 105-102. Both teams have their own injury problems—the Grizzlies are still without Mike Conley, and the Pels are without oft-injured franchise centerpiece Anthony Davis. Neither team is performing to the best of their respective abilities at the moment, but the Pelicans are at least .500. The win was the Grizzlies' 13th of the season, putting them at 13-27, currently 7 games out of the playoffs and at the bottom of the West with the Lakers and Kings. The question that I'm left with is, of course, should they have won the game last night? Did they even want to?

The Game

It started out badly for the Grizzlies, who scored 29 in the first quarter but gave up 38, allowing DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo to get off to hot starts. From there, things started to tighten up (the Pelicans only led by 1 at the half), as the Grizzlies found a bit of an offensive rhythm and the Pelicans' offense started to sputter, partly because of the Grizzlies' defense but also because of their own issues.

With Kobi Simmons sent back down to the Memphis Hustle for a spell, presumably to save his two-way days, the Grizzlies played a shorter ("shorter") rotation of 11 guys. Ben McLemore, the Five Million Dollar Man, racked up another DNP/coach's decision. Mario Chalmers and James Ennis got major minutes off the bench (though in Ennis' 25 minutes he attempted and made only one shot, further proving the theory that the guy has to start to be any good). It was a game that the Grizzlies were clearly treating like a "must win," at least on some level, and yet they almost didn't. New Orleans, in the end, was crippled by poor execution while the Grizzlies got a few stops when it mattered, once they'd gotten a lead and kept it.

It's also worth pointing out that this was JaMychal Green's first really good game in ages. Green has been mostly invisible on the floor for weeks, fouling a lot, looking angry, and mostly not getting the job done. Last night he was aggressive on both ends of the floor, and while he was still pretty mad about a lot of stuff the whole time, he put it into action on the offensive and defensive ends. Green's struggles have been a big reason why the Grizzlies have been so bad defensively lately, and if he can get back on track, they should improve (and/or be able to get more for him if they try to trade him, which seems like it might be the right move if they're really trying to be bad this year).

Should They Have Won?

Clearly, no.

At this point, there's not really anything good that can come from the Grizzlies winning games. If they hit a hot streak in January and start climbing out of the basement of the Western Conference, they're only going to end up finishing in the 10th or so spot and wrecking their chance at acquiring a very good young talent early in a top-heavy draft.

However. There's also the morale standpoint, and the standpoint of the home fans, though. Even in the midst of tanking a season, for a fanbase that's used to winning at home and competing in the postseason, I think these small victories are probably important from time to time to keep the home fans from letting go of the thread. Memphis is, notoriously, a front-running town, unwilling to support a bad team. Whether or not this is tenable long-term for a professional sports city is something we can talk about later (spoiler alert: it probably isn't), but facts are facts, and if the Griz don't win a home game every now and then, the already-lighter crowds are going to start thinning out fast.

Also, given Marc Gasol's statement that he doesn't have seasons to waste, and that he is only interested in winning and trying to make the playoffs, maybe there's a morale element. He certainly hasn't played at his highest level lately, but if you win a game every now and then it makes it easier for everyone to pretend that's what they're still trying to do. (At least I hope they're pretending to, because failing to face the fact that the Grizzlies are Not Good this year is a feat of cognitive dissonance on par with, I dunno, pretending Manhattan portrays a totally normal dude that people should definitely keep making movies with.)

Did They Really Want To?

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

You could make this case either way based on last night. The biggest piece of evidence that the Grizzlies weren't trying to lose on purpose is the DNP-CD next to McLemore's name in the box score. Generally, when he and Chalmers both play major minutes, I assume the fix is in. However: Deyonta Davis barely played. Wayne Selden barely played. The young guys who are the future of this team didn't really get a chance to shine last night, while Chalmers and Brandan Wright and 32 minutes of Tyreke Evans carried the day.

Playing the vets and trying to win instead of playing the young guys and seeing what happens seems like a strategy to deploy when you're trying to win. With this team, though, I think the vets are probably worse than the young guys. Think about the 128-point night against the Warriors. When the young guys on this team have it going, they're not anywhere near as bad as they were, say, three weeks ago. It's hard to lose games on purpose when your streaky developing talents start hitting hot streaks.

All of that is to say: I really can't tell at this point whether the Grizzlies are trying to win every game or whether they're just trying to look like they want to win every game. That, in itself, is a pretty damning indictment of the way this team is put together, but if you've been reading this season you already know how I feel about that.

The Grizzlies should not want to win games, period. They have everything they need to develop young talent, make the games close and interesting, score a lot of points, and still lose, and I think that's exactly what they should do from here until the end of the regular season. Shut Conley down. Parsons seems to be floating out in the "who knows if he's really hurt" ether, as well, because judging from his workout before the game last night, there's not much wrong with him, either. Ride the season out like this, trade Evans and Wright for whatever valuable assets you can get for them, and see if you can dive so deep that you scrape your forehead on the bottom of the Western Conference swimming pool. Gutting out games like the one last night may help you in the short term, and it may keep the locker room from turning toxic, but ultimately it only hurts your ability to reload the team on the fly and bounce back quickly.

Tweet of the Night

Tweets like this let you know your season has gone off the rails somewhere:

Up Next

Friday the Grizzlies travel to Denver for a schedule loss game against the Nuggets, and then they return to Memphis for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day game against the Lakers. The Grizzlies are going all-out on the MLK Day symposium this year; more on that to come later this week.


Friday, January 5, 2018

The Hustle Dispatch: Week 9

Posted By on Fri, Jan 5, 2018 at 5:54 PM

memphis_hustle.png

Reno has the Hustle figured out; six is the magic number

It may now be a new year, but the only ball that was dropping was Reno’s three-point shot. In two games against the Bighorns, the Hustle left the court empty handed. Those losing efforts sandwiched a heroic six-man victory over the Northern Arizona Suns, which throws up so many confusing questions. For now, though, let’s start with Reno.

The first matchup, in Nevada, proved to be a blowout victory for the Bighorns. The only Hustle player who didn’t have a negative +/- was Omari Johnson, who only had two minutes on the floor. The large deficit can be traced to a poor shooting night for several players. Dusty Hannahs, Durand Scott, and Shaquille Thomas, with 83 minutes of game time between them, combined for only 11 points on 4-22 shooting. Memphis kept pace with Reno in the early goings thanks to the best efforts of Jordan Crawford, who’s been seeing significant minutes since the Grizzlies called up Kobi Simmons. The diminutive point guard led the Hustle’s efforts this game with a 21-point performance, but with so many inconsistent players around, Reno began to pull away in the second quarter and never really looked back from there, going on to lead by as many as 31 points.

If fans were looking for a response, certainly they couldn’t expect it with only six available players for the next game against Northern Arizona, right? Durand Scott, Austin Nichols, Vincent Hunter, Dusty Hannahs, Marquis Teague, and Chance Comanche took it upon themselves to battle their way to a 120-108 victory. You could blame some of the players for growing fatigued and losing steam as the clock wound down, but that was exactly the opposite of what happened. Several players turned in career performances: Hannahs shot 11-18 and hit 66 percent of his three point shots for 33 points, while Hunter scored 29 and added 13 rebounds for a double-double.

To make the victory even sweeter, the Hustle had to stage a comeback. The end of the first quarter had the Suns seize control with a 40-26 lead. However, the Hustle outscored their opponents 35-16 in the second quarter. From there, the Hustle battled gamely to keep their lead alive, extending it to an 18-point gap at one point despite Arizona’s best attempts to claw their way back. This is exactly the kind of performance fans want to see from a team; coming off the back of a big loss, and with the chips down, the Hustle almost grit-n-ground their way to victory here.

Unfortunately, after Arizona, Reno came to Southaven. While this game was much closer, plenty of the Hustle players’ scoring touch deserted them once again, forcing Durand Scott (21 points) and Marquis Teague (25 points) to carry the load. A huge 22-3 run stretching from the second to third quarter primed Memphis to come away with the victory, but their defense came apart in the 4th quarter, with Reno embarking on a 21-4 run to gain a lead they wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the game. Definitely something to build on for when Reno comes back to town in February.

The Hustle’s fourth game, against the Oklahoma City Blue, unfortunately ended up as another five-point loss. Marquis Teague turned in an unusually poor performance with 3-9 shooting. Trahson Burrell also had a poor night on 6-13 shooting, but still managed to pull another double-double out of the hat. Vincent Hunter excelled, leading with a team-high 23 points and 14 rebounds for a double-double of his own. The Hustle almost created a comeback victory, pulling the score to 114-111 with ten seconds left to play, but the Blue held on for the win.

I’m not sure how the only victory out of four was when the Hustle only had six players available, but perhaps Coach Cyprien needs to channel that backs-to-the-wall mentality for more games. With the Grizzlies calling up Kobi Simmons to potentially groom him as their backup point guard for next season, the team might have to adjust to a new man bringing the ball up full time. The Hustle will certainly need to quickly, with their next four games coming against teams with positive records. Things might get worse before they get better, but if the team picks up good shooting form again, anything’s possible next week.


Friday, December 22, 2017

The Hustle Dispatch: Week 7

Posted By on Fri, Dec 22, 2017 at 9:13 AM

memphis_hustle_1_.png


A promising start to the road trip quickly turns sour


Road trips are fun, for a time. The first few hours bring with it a sunny optimism, full of well-intentioned banter, a good playlist, driving games, and maybe some podcasts or books on time. As the drive drags on though, tempers might begin to fray. Funny little asides might slowly transition to annoying tics before things flare up into full blown arguments. If that’s how it goes, the Hustle’s recent three-game road trip followed a similar pattern.


With Vincent Morgan, Jeremy Hunter, Austin Nichols, and Kobi Simmons all inactive, nine Hustle players took it upon themselves to make a statement early on, working towards a solid 123-115 victory. Omari Johnson missed eight of his 12 three point attempts and still ended up with 26 points. Marquis Teague also had himself a game with another 26 point showing off 10-18 shooting. Ivan Rabb continued to be a steadying presence, providing the Hustle’s only double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds while playing at Center. The 12 boards were a huge part of Memphis’ dominance on the night, with the Hustle out rebounding the Warriors 51-31 and putting up 28 second-chance points. They also led 24-13 in points off turnovers. It helped bridge the gap over the Warriors’ high scorers Cleanthony Early and Georges Niang.


After that performance, something went wrong. Perhaps Vince Hunter grabbed the iPod out of Marquis Teague’s hands and changed the playlist, but in the end, the Hustle’s next two games resulted in losses. To be fair, the South Bay Lakers are 12-5 and consistently churn out decent performances, so there’s no shame in this close loss. Many Hustle players gave standout performances: Omari Johnson scored 26 points yet again, while Ivan Rabb, Durand Scott, and Marquis Teague each also scored above 20 points at 23, 22, and 25, respectively. Rabb grabbed 16 rebounds to complete another double-double. Memphis took a 69-61 lead into the second half, but standout Lakers performer Travis Wear scored 14 points in the third, which ended with a 100-95 advantage to the Lakers.


It wasn’t a bad performance by the Hustle; against one of the G-League’s better teams, they kept pace, and occasionally surpassed, their California opposition. Unfortunately, it was just one of those nights where more players on the other team have career nights. The steady shooting, however, vanished in the next game against the Iowa Wolves.


It’s almost as if Iowa takes it personally that they’re no longer Memphis' G-League affiliate. This occasion saw the Hustle fall to a 113-111 defeat, with many players regressing in terms of shooting percentage. Omari Johnson only got 11 points this time on 4-14 shooting; Durand Scott went just 3-10, but managed to make all 10 free throws to end with 16 points. Trahson Burrell picked up the slack with 23 points and 11 rebounds, while Marquis Teague continued to provide a steadying presence with 20 points. The worst part of the game was that the Hustle led, but Iowa scored the final five points to eke out the two-point win.


On a more positive note, the game in Des Moines saw the return of Austin Nichols, who chipped in with 8 points on 4-7 shooting. His presence should help pick up some rotational slack for the next few games. The Hustle go back home tomorrow for a game against the Austin Spurs before another roadtrip against the Sioux Falls Skyforce, Salt Lake City Stars, Reno Bighorns.




Thursday, December 21, 2017

Beyond the Arc Podcast #90: Waiting for Gasol Redux

Posted By on Thu, Dec 21, 2017 at 8:13 AM

bta_004.jpeg

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

  • Monday afternoon's unprecedented media summit with Marc Gasol
  • Did Gasol do the right thing by talking to everyone? Is there a "right" thing for him to do?
  • Why are fans starting to turn on Marc, and are they right?
  • A long discussion of Kevin's piece about everything Marc had to say
  • Should the Grizzlies tank the rest of the season? Do they have a choice?
  • How many more games will they lose before Mike Conley returns, and how much will that help?

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 19, 2017

Waiting for Gasol

Posted By on Tue, Dec 19, 2017 at 9:11 AM

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

It was a weird circumstance, not something that's ever happened to me in the time I've spent covering this basketball team: a summons from Marc Gasol to FedExForum. He wanted to talk to a group of us. It's no secret that he's been in a harsh spotlight since former Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale was sent packing the afternoon after benching Gasol during the fourth quarter of a Sunday evening loss to Brooklyn. But Gasol is not a guy known for manipulating the media, and usually (even while he holds court with reporters after games to break down what the Grizzlies could've done better) he doesn't draw this kind of attention to himself.

So why now? What's different? What did he say, and why were we all there? And, at the end of the day, what could Marc Gasol have said that would make everything better? What do we want from this guy?

Fizdale

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

First things first: the first part of the conversation was spent re-litigating the removal of David Fizdale as the head coach of the Grizzlies. I'm not really one of them, but several of my Memphis media colleagues view the Fizdale sitatuation as something for which Gasol needed to explain himself.

You can tell that the "coach killer" label bothers the guy, even when he says it doesn't. The first week after David Fizdale's firing was dominated by a conversation about the instability of the Grizzlies as an organization and by the fact that Marc Gasol didn't get along with his former coach. The fact that Fizdale had benched Gasol for a fourth quarter seemed, for all intents and purposes, to have been the thing that triggered his removal. While there's no question that the Brooklyn incident was what set that chain of events in motion, what most of the national conversation missed (though the local conversation was pretty consistent) was that Fizdale and Gasol hadn't been getting along for months, and that the lack of communication to Gasol while he was asking to be put back in that Brooklyn game was the real indicator of how far that relationship had deteriorated, not necessarily the benching itself.

Continue reading »

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Celtics 102, Grizzlies 93: Five Thoughts

Posted By on Sun, Dec 17, 2017 at 8:19 AM

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

This one's going to be brief, because while there was a lot going on in the Grizzlies' 102-93 loss to the Boston Celtics last night, none of it is particularly complicated. The Celtics came into town as the best team in the Eastern Conference, albeit one which was struggling a little, having dropped a game in Utah the night before. The Grizzlies found themselves in a big hole in the first half after posting a first quarter in which they only scored 12 points while allowing Boston to score 31. It seemed like Boston was trying to run up a big lead so they could catch their breath and coast the rest of the way using their young guys.

And then. Down only 48-40 at halftime, the Griz uncorked one of their best third quarters of the year, featuring a 21 point outburst from Marc Gasol (including 4-5 from 3 point range) and some of the best defensive sequences the Grizzlies have put forward in months (since they were, y'know, good). Headed into the final frame the Griz had a 2 point lead, but they had to rest Gasol, who had played the entire 3rd and needed to sit for a minute before closing things out...

...and that was all it took. The Celtics opened the 4th quarter on a big run with Gasol on the bench, and the Grizzlies never caught up again. That was the ballgame. There were plenty of things to be encouraged by, but none of them really connected when the game was slipping away. Boston is an elite team, and there's a reason for that. A week ago I'm not sure the home team would've been able to weather the first blow the Celtics delivered, but last night they got it together and challenged. The truth of the matter is that there are moral victories for a team that has struggled this badly. It matters that they almost won. But it doesn't help the playoff standings.

Five Thoughts

Marc Gasol's third quarter was reassuring. He can still be dominant when he wants to/gets going. Gasol's mental state is always precarious, but lately it's been clear that he's in his own head, that he's not letting the game come to him. The Grizzlies Twitter responses to Gasol's quarter ranged from "why can't he do this all the time" to "trade him while he can still be this good" to "he's doing this because he wants to be traded to Boston" and... that's why Twitter is bad. It's OK to enjoy things. I enjoyed Gasol's third quarter, a truly dominant display. He can't/won't do it often, but when he does, Gasol's still an absolute force in games like this.

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Jarell Martin wasn't horrible, for the second night in a row. Jarell has been drifting all season, since his first couple of games as a starter way back in October. At times it looked like the Grizzlies made a mistake in keeping him and cutting Rade Zagorac—not because Rade was good but because Jarell's looked so lost. But last night, building on a decent second half against the Hawks, we saw a little bit of what Jarell can be at the NBA level: everywhere, all the time, using his speed and athleticism, which are crazy for a guy his size, to make plays. His defense still isn't good, but it's not so bad he's unplayable.

After the game I asked interim coach JB Bickerstaff what Martin's doing differently in these games where he's playing well. "He's got to play at that speed the whole time he's on the floor," Bickerstaff said. And when he does, obviously, he can contribute against even the best teams in the league.

Mario Chalmers and James Ennis played a lot and didn't do very much. Ennis was a big part of the rotation before Fizdale moved him out of the starting lineup for Chandler Parsons. Since then, he's been inconsistent. He didn't play at all against Atlanta, and last night, in 12 minutes, he just didn't get anything going. If Ennis has to start to play well, maybe he should just start and never play more than what he did last night.

Chalmers was more concerning. He's struggled all year, but last night his shot selection was poor, and his passing was just as inconsistent as it's been all year. At some point, he's going to become unplayable, and that point may come sooner rather than later, but with Kobi Simmons on a two-way deal, there's not really anybody else to throw into the backup spot with Conley out. Not anybody currently on the roster, anyway. I'm just not sure "savvy vet" is ever going to be Chalmers' role. I don't think that's who he is, and I don't think he's wired to play that way.

Ben McLemore was atrocious. Single game plus/minus is mostly useless because it's so dependent on lineups. That McLemore was -12 in five minutes feels right even though the stat is unreliable. This guy just isn't very good, and I don't think he'll be better if he goes through a training camp next year. It's a bad signing and a black hole in the Grizzlies' wing rotation. He's making more money than Tyreke Evans. There is no fairness in this world. He's a nice guy, and he seems well-liked, but he just doesn't have the court awareness to make the right play.

Deyonta Davis, taking the best shot available to him - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Deyonta Davis, taking the best shot available to him

The Grizzlies have to be willing to take the best shot available. That's a direct quote from Bickerstaff in the postgame. Guys are passing up shots they should take and taking shots they should pass up. The offense, however long after the Fizdale firing, is still mostly a mess. Guys aren't moving enough, they're not sure where to do, and they're not sure how to play together. Over the last week—since the OKC game, excluding the 4th quarter against Miami—the Griz have started to find a little bit of cohesion on the defensive end, but it's still not there offensively. One thing at a time, I guess.

Tweet of the Night

Speaking of Jarell Martin's athleticism, he dunked over (literally over) two dudes last night. This replay doesn't really do justice to how awesome this was, but you still get a sense for it. He has the tools to be Mr. Putback:

Up Next

The Grizzlies don't play again until Wednesday, and when they do, it's... the Warriors. On the road. Should be fine.


Saturday, December 16, 2017

THE GRIZZLIES WON A BASKETBALL GAME

Posted By on Sat, Dec 16, 2017 at 8:06 AM

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

I know we're all tired of hearing and talking about Fake News. This isn't that. It's actually a real thing that happened and I saw and I took notes and everything: the Grizzlies, last night, Friday, December 15th, AD 2017, won a game.

I know you might be reluctant to believe it. "How can I be sure you're not one of them Facebook guys that sells all the powders that make me have power ape mind concentration strength?" you might ask. Or, "Are you sure you're not an Op being pulled off by the FSB or some other apparatus of the Russian intelligence services, some sort of dezinformatsiya operation designed to trick us into acting against our own self-interest and supporting a team that didn't actually defeat the Atlanta Hawks, 96-94, in a down-to-the-wire comeback the likes of which the Grizzlies haven't seen at home in literally months?"

We don't need a thirty-seven tweet thread to talk through the details of this because (1) that's what blogs are for, you dummies, we've had them for like almost twenty years now and—hear me out—you can post things that are longer than 140 or even 280 characters there but really more importantly (2) it's that simple. Despite trailing and having to mount several comeback attempts before one took, the Grizzlies scored more points than the Hawks. They won.

The Grizzlies have improved to 9-20 on the season, and as bad as that sounds (and hooboy has it been bad) it's so much better than the alternative. It's possible that a loss tonight, to the 6-win Hawks, especially in another close game scenario, could have broken the backs of this team, and killed whatever fighting spirit they still had left. The Miami game proved that spirit was hanging on by the thinnest of threads. They needed this win tonight, and they needed it badly. There's room for improvement all around, but the one thing they haven't done since Monday night when they let the Heat roll over them in the fourth quarter is quit, and that's to their credit.

The offense is mostly still a disaster; it's different from when Fizdale was the coach but not really better. One notable difference in how the Grizzlies approached the game was the disappearance of the uneven-but-mostly-good James Ennis III from the rotation entirely. Jarell Martin seemed to soak up some of the minutes left behind in his absence, along with a "The Youngs" lineup of Andrew Harrison, Ben McLemore, Dillon Brooks, Martin, and Deyonta Davis that featured prominently in spots where there's usually at least one veteran on the floor. The rotational changes didn't help much with execution, but they did help the Grizzlies stay in touch in a game that could have gotten out of hand at several points (and as much as you hate having to admit that about a game against the abysmal Hawks, it is what is is. To quote Le Petit Prince, "on ne sait jamais").

The defense was uneven through the course of the evening but came through when it mattered, letting the Griz string together several good possessions down the stretch of the third quarter and regain a lead when it looked like before the game might have been slipping away. It's still not good enough, but given the abysmal defensive awareness from some of the lineups the Grizzlies have to play to have a rotation right now, it'll do.

So what do we make of this? Did the Grizzlies really win? Was there some sort of designer hallucinogen in my pregame Pepsi that made me trip my way into believing a circumstance which the universe simply will not allow to come to pass? Or is Atlanta just really bad?

I know which one I think it is, even though the former has at times felt much more plausible than the latter. But ultimately, you have to look at the news and decide for yourself whether you think it's been reported credibly.

Tweet of the Night

In the first quarter, it looked like it really was going to be this bad (or worse) all night.

Fortunately for @MemphisKemp it didn't stay that bad. All things must pass, that's George Harrison, right?

Up Next

The best team in the East, the Boston Celtics, fresh off a loss tonight to the Utah Jazz, and who will probably roll into FedExForum tomorrow night out for whatever sort of revenge they can get way with extracting. I don't expect a win, but who knows—now that they've got another win under their belts, maybe the Grizzlies can pull off an improbable upset instead of waiting for the right bad team to roll into town. We shall see.


Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Hustle Dispatch: Week 6

Posted By on Thu, Dec 14, 2017 at 3:46 PM

memphis_hustle.png

A promising start to the week gives way to defeats


The Hustle’s game week started out strong, showing off a dominance that we’re unaccustomed to en route to a 19 point victory. The unfortunate victim? The now 5-10 Greensboro Swarm, who were swept away by the Hustle’s 1st quarter offense and never looked like threatening a comeback. On a bittersweet note, Natch the Bear saw out the last game of his 10-day contract, so we’ll see if his mascot performances merited an extension. Once attention swapped back to the floor, fans were treated to an opening two minutes with no baskets. Then, Ivan Rabb made a layup and the Hustle kicked it up a gear.

After their first two points, the Hustle ferociously swarmed the paint, and Greensboro simply wasn’t able to contain them. With seven minutes left in the quarter, the Hustle had a 15-2 lead. Whenever the Swarm had possession of the ball, the Hustle defense forced them into taking bad shots. Meanwhile, Memphis continued to attack the paint with impunity, capped by a Vince Hunter alley-oop and Jordan Crawford burning defenders en route to the basket. At the end of the quarter, the Hustle led 32-18, and that lead would hold for the rest of the game.

With the lead growing as big as 25 points, this game was over before the fourth quarter buzzer signaled the end of regulation. The Hustle never allowed Greensboro to find any sort of rhythm, all the while maintaining their own efficiency on offense. A large part of that effort is credited to Omari Johnson, who led scoring for the Hustle with 18 points. Plus, the Hustle hit a season-high 52.4 percent from the three-point line. While that’s a great percentage, Dusty Hannahs took a look at that number and decided he could do better in the next game against the Oklahoma City Blue.

Unfortunately, that game turned out to be a loss. Memphis couldn’t contain the Blue’s Bryce Alford, who dominated off the bench with 35 points. The Blue got out to a 30-20 lead at the end of the first quarter and never found themselves trailing. Their lead increased to as much as 25 over the course of the game, but the Hustle found an extra gear in the fourth quarter, putting up a whopping 49 points. An excellent performer during the Hustle’s three-game home stretch, Omari Johnson put up 20 points; Dusty Hannahs, in 15 less minutes of play time, shot lights out from beyond the arc. 11 of his 23 points came in the fourth quarter comeback attempt, which he spearheaded alongside Kobi Simmons’ 13 fourth quarter points.

Despite the momentum, the comeback was thwarted when the Hustle’s nemesis on the night, Alford, banked in a three pointer. Beyond Alford’s contribution, the Hustle struggled to maintain the defensive intensity they displayed against Greensboro. OKC outshot us 62-42 in the paint and also shot at their highest percentage of the season at 56.1 percent. While it’s thrilling to see a comeback, we shouldn’t be forced to make up so much ground. Next time, it’d be nice to savor Hannah’s stellar shooting record with a win.

Instead, the Hustle were accommodating enough to hand the Iowa Wolves their first road win of the season. The Wolves somehow all found hot hands and shot 65 percent from the field in the first half, ending with a 65-49 lead. Each starter for Iowa scored at least 13 points, making it tough to pinpoint an easy defensive target. Sometimes, though, you have to chalk it up to a bad night. None of the Hustle players really shot well; Hannahs wasn’t able to keep up his heroics, while Omari Johnson, despite a respectable 18 points, missed 8 of his 12 three point attempts. Not a great return, Johnson still turned in one of the better performances for Memphis and continued his solid sequence of games.

The Hustle's record now stands at 6-9. While it’s not the best end to this series of home games, reinforcements will hopefully be coming to the team. Austin Nichols and Jeremy Morgan, with an ankle and knee problem, respectively, should provide a welcome boost when they return to action. For now, the Hustle head to California for their next two games against Santa Cruz Warriors and South Bay Lakers. The latter holds an 11-3 record, so it would be an excellent time to bounce back and get a statement win over one of the better teams of the season so far.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Heat 107, Grizzlies 82: One Thought

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

Chandler Parsons - JOE MURPHY (NBAE/GETTY IMAGES)
  • 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.

Why?

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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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

memphis_hustle.png


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

bta_002.jpeg

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.

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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.


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