Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Grizzlies Cough Up 17-Point Lead, Lose to Raptors 122-114

Posted By on Tue, Nov 27, 2018 at 10:57 PM

The Memphis Grizzlies entered Tuesday night's homestand on a two-game losing streak, and faced the top team in the East in the Toronto Raptors. After a brief stint at the top of the West, Memphis has hit a rough patch, having trouble closing out close games and giving up sizeable leads.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
The Grizzlies had an abysmal start to the game. Jaren Jackson picked up two fouls in the first minute of play, and took an early seat on the bench. Meanwhile, the Raptors jumped out to an 8-0 lead.

The Grizzlies defense eventually settled in, slowing down the game and allowing the Grizzlies to battle back to take the lead with 4:13 remaining in the first period.

Both teams got it going later in the first quarter, with the Grizzlies finishing with a 1-point lead over the Raptors at 32-31.

The Grizzlies's defense on Kawhi Leonard was particularly strong to start the game, holding him to 4 points on 2-5 shooting, and no assists. Overall, team defense played a big part,.I n his pregame availability J.B. Bickerstaff talked about how the Grizzlies would throw a lot of bodies at Leonard. Kyle Anderson's effect cannot be diminished, however, as he played fantastic individual defense on Leonard.

The Grizzlies continued their surprisingly high level of scoring in the second quarter, finishing with 39 points. Mike Conley also had a nice block on Kyle Lowry at the buzzer that left the home crowd on their feet heading into halftime.

Marc Gasol led all players in the first half with 15 points, dished three assists, and played with a great rhythm on both ends of the floor (shooting 6-9 and registering 2 steals). Garrett Temple also had an impact with 12 points and two made threes.

Overall team defense was stout in the first half, accumulating tons of deflections, 7 steals, and making it difficult for Toronto to get into their offensive sets.

The Grizzlies went into halftime with a 71-59 cushion over the Raptors, and extended the lead to 17 early in the third. On the first possession out of the half, Conley and Gasol executed a brilliant two-man game that was essentially a give-and-go vortex with both players swirling around one another's screens and cuts, resulting in both defenders following Conley's drive into the paint before he kicked the rock back to Gasol for an open three-point make.

But the Raptors battled back to cut the Grizzlies lead to one point, as Memphis' defense fell flat for most of the period. At one point the Raptors were shooting 11-14 in the quarter, and the Grizzlies didn't seem to get any stops, until they strung several together to end the period. The Raptors finished the third quarter shooting 11-21 from deep, and trailing the Grizzlies 97-93.

The stellar defense on Leonard fell apart in the second half. He finished the third quarter with 9 points and shot 7 free throws after scoring just 5 in the first half. He finished the game with 17 points, 5 assists, 2 steals, and one turnover.

Jaren Jackson picked up another couple of fouls in under a one-minute span early in the fourth quarter, and things continued to go downhill from there. Memphis has been giving up a lot of three-point looks from the corner this season. The Grizzlies have been relatively lucky, with teams not converting on those open looks at as high of a rate as they should, but they got bit in this game, as Toronto buried corner three after corner three down the stretch to put the game out of reach. The Raptors hit 7 threes in the final quarter.

Conley also missed consecutive free throws in the fourth quarter. He's done that several times this season, and I can't tell if it's fatigue late in games or if it's a mental thing.

In his postgame press conference, Bickerstaff said the Grizzlies got rushed as the Raptors dialed up the defensive intensity, forcing Memphis to play at a pace too fast for its comfort. He also characterized the open three-point looks granted to Toronto in the corner as non-structural, saying "there were some errors we made to create those situations. We're not trying to give up corner threes by any means." Still, this has been a problem pretty much all season, and tonight was the first time the Grizzlies paid for it. It probably won't be the last.

Marc Gasol rolled his ankle late in the game, finishing with a noticeable limp. Fortunately, his injury appears to be a day-to-day thing.

In the locker room after the game, JaMychal Green (13 points, 7 rebounds) said: "We just got to bounce back. Ain't no excuse. We just got to come in, play hard, and when it gets down to crunch time, lock up."

The Grizzlies will have two days of rest before they travel to Brooklyn on Friday to play the Nets.

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Monday, November 19, 2018

Grizzlies Beat Mavericks 98-88, Tie for #1 in West

Posted By on Mon, Nov 19, 2018 at 11:17 PM

On the second night of a back-to-back, the Grizzlies returned to FedExForum hoping to secure another win, and a tie for first in the Western conference, after 16 games.

The Dallas Mavericks arrived in Memphis on a four-game win streak, having beaten the Golden State Warriors on Saturday. Jaren Jackson had faced off against every other top 5 2018 draft pick except the Mavs' Luka Doncic before tonight.
  • Matthew Preston
In his pregame availability, Grizzlies head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said the foundation has been set after 15 games and lauded the team's solid identity and culture. In terms of improvement, Bickerstaff said better offense will come along as the Grizzlies get more comfortable with one another, and learn each others' games and how to play toward their teammates' strengths and tendencies.

The Mavericks started the game on a 5-0 run, but the game sank waist-deep into that Grindhouse mud soon after and remained bogged down, per the Grizzlies' liking, from that point onward. Neither team pulled away by more than a few points, with the lead changing hands 17 times.

The Mavericks got an early boost from Dorian Finney-Smith's two threes. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies shot 0-4 from deep to begin the game.

Jackson put on a showcase in the first quarter. Though he and Doncic were the star rookies in this matchup, Jackson spent more of his time guarding and being guarded by DeAndre Jordan.

Jackson made Jordan look downright foolish on a handful of possessions. On one play, Marc Gasol kicked the ball out to Jackson in the corner. Jackson dribble-drove into Jordan, backed up, then drove past him for a reverse-layup.

In another sequence, Jackson hit a deep two in Jordan's face, then blocked Jordan's dunk attempt on the other end. Jackson registered another block on Jordan in the post soon after. The Mavericks finished the first period shooting 29.2 percent from the field.

Between the first two quarters, the Grizzlies game-break entertainment featured a three-way competition between dental equipment. I'm only pointing that out because the competition and accompanying video made less sense than episode 8 of the recent Twin Peaks. I don't know if it was ineffectual production or high art, but I didn't like it (unlike episode 8 of Twin Peaks).

Another absurd thing that happened: Jackson had multiple highlights in one sequence. Doncic had a look from three, but didn't want to take it with Jackson defending the perimeter. Instead, he drove towards the rim, but only made it about a step before Jackson picked his pocket, ran the court, and finished at the other end with an and-one spin move. It was sublime and deserving of the Black Unicorn nickname I've seen spreading on Twitter.

Mike Conley also had a sweet assist to Jackson in the second quarter, where he drove to the rim and no-look flipped the ball over his shoulder to the trailing rookie. I'm interested to see how the Grizzlies' fast break offense unearths ways to leverage Jackson's abilities for easy points.

After the game, Bickerstaff said Jackson has "... an offensive skill set that we're just beginning to see." I agree.

Through good overall team play, the Mavericks pulled ahead early in the second quarter, and held that lead til near the end of the half. But the Grizzlies clawed their way back to a four point lead after two quarters.

One thing I liked seeing: Gasol looking great on one of his rumbling hook shots in the paint, with bouncy footwork and an elastic finish. It's nice to know that shot is still very much in his tool belt.

Bickerstaff called a timeout less than a minute into the second half, after Doncic and Smith Jr. hit quick threes. Doncic would finish with 8 points in the period.

The teams finished the third quarter tied at 74.

Memphis suffocated Dallas in the fourth quarter, holding the Mavericks to 14 points. I repeat: the Grizzlies held the Mavericks to 14 points in the final period of play, and did so on the second night of a back-to-back (when their previous game was on the road).

Meanwhile, solid and clutch play by Conley, Shelvin Mack, Garrett Temple, and Gasol enabled the Grizzlies to close out the game on the offensive end.

Conley had another stellar shooting night, filling the basket to the tune of 28 points, and going 7-11 from deep! Five of those triples came in the second half. He also dished seven assists, had two steals, and five rebounds.

His shooting was efficient — 10-18 from the field. Conley made it to the line for only two free throws, but I don't mind him pouring in nearly 30 points without having to put his body on the line to get to the charity stripe this early in the season.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
Kyle Anderson was effective in this game as well. His passing and defense were stellar, and he's shown much better touch around and near the rim in the last two games. He finished with 8 points on 4-6 shooting, and had 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. He had one particularly clutch play late in the game, where he missed a corner three, stole the rebound away from the Mavericks, and finished with a jam.

JaMychal Green buoyed an otherwise disappointing performance by the Grizzlies bench. Wayne Selden and Marshon Brooks had trouble making good decisions with the ball, especially in the pick and roll, and combined for just 5 points. Mack had a lackluster shooting night, taking a small number of shots, but he made a timely three in the fourth quarter, and didn't turn the ball over once.

Green had a nice return to the home court after his jaw surgery. He had a nasty block on Dennis Smith Jr., and scored 12 points on 5-8 shooting, 2-4 from three. He was one rebound shy of a double-double.

Gasol had a solid night on offense, contributing 17 points on 6-16 shooting, but missed all five of his three point attempts. He made up for it on the boards, however, pulling down 15(!) rebounds (all defensive).

Memphis beat Dallas on the boards (45-43), and in the paint (44-36).

Defense won the game again for the Grizzlies. The Mavericks average about 110 points a game this season, but couldn't break 90 at the Grindhouse. Gasol and Jackson had 4 blocks each. The team had 11 overall. The Mavericks finished shooting an anemic 34.1 percent from the floor.

One thing Dallas did differently for stretches at the beginning of the game and second half, pointed out by Chris Herrington, was put Jordan on Jaren Jackson and smaller forwards on Gasol. As a result, Gasol's three-point game was taken away, and he spent much of his time down low with Jackson on the perimeter—when their positions are usually the other way around.

After the game, Bickerstaff and Gasol said they weren't too worried about other teams trying a similar tactic, and attributed the scheme and its success to the type of personnel the Mavericks have.

The Grizzlies are now tied for first in the Western conference after 16 games. That's not a tiny sample size. But the team isn't thinking much about that. Bickerstaff said he won't be paying too much attention to the rankings until after the All-Star break, and Gasol said he was happy, but that being happy isn't the same as being satisfied.

The Grizzlies are off until Wednesday, when they'll take on a dangerous and similarly slow-paced Spurs team in San Antonio.

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Friday, November 16, 2018

Grizzlies Defeat Kings 112-104

Posted By on Fri, Nov 16, 2018 at 11:01 PM

If you watched Friday night's home game against the Sacramento Kings, you know the first quarter was the Jaren Jackson show. On the first offensive possession of the game, the Grizzlies pitched it to Jackson in the low post, and he scored as easily as one pours syrup on a pancake.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
The Grizzlies leapt out to a 15-2 run, fueled by Jackson's nine points, including a made three-pointer and at-will scoring in the post. It helps when your post footwork is ahead of schedule and your touch is softer than an infant's hair. Nemanja Bjelica couldn't guard him for beans, and had a rough go while guarded by Jackson on the other end.

Memphis also benefited from 66.7 percent three-point shooting in the first quarter, with Jackson, Garrett Temple, Omri Casspi, and MarShon Brooks each sinking a three.

The Kings got going near the end of the first period, however, with help from a speedy and electric De'Aaron Fox. He converted on a buzzer-beater to get the Kings to within one point heading into the second quarter.

The second quarter was defined by two nasty Wayne Selden dunks. Selden attacked the rim three times from the arc, finishing with two jams and an and-one elevated lay-in.

Fans were also treated to more of Jackson versus the Kings' number-two draft pick, Marvin Bagley, and Jackson dominated the matchup. In one sequence, Jackson blocked Bagley in the post (he ate his lunch y'all), and finished over him on the other end.

Did the Kings fumble the Bagley by not drafting Jaren Ja... *special ops shoots me in the neck with a tranquilizer.

The Kings took the lead briefly in the middle of the second quarter, but the Grizzlies battled back and went into halftime up 62-51, after Conley hit a floater with 3.4 seconds left. Fox got a shot off on the other end, but Jaren Jackson blocked it at the buzzer.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
The Grizzlies never trailed in the second half. On one of the first possessions of the third quarter, Conley no-look deflected a pass that resulted in Marc Gasol getting fouled at the other end. The Grizzlies defense is scary good.

Memphis went back to their bread and butter to start the game in the second half, tossing the ball down low to Jackson and letting him feast. The Kings simply had no answer for him. He set his NBA career high in points (27), converting an alley-oop lob from MarShon Brooks. Jackson also finished the night with six boards (four of which came in the first quarter).

In his postgame press conference, Coach J.B. Bickerstaff lauded Jackson's performance and potential, saying: "He's just figuring it out. That's the blessing of it, is that he doesn't even understand how good he truly is yet."

Bickerstaff didn't finish the game with Jackson, however, opting to sit him in the final minutes, again. Familiar face Troy Williams made some clutch plays for the Kings and sank a couple triples down the stretch, and Sacramento got within three points in the final minutes of the game, but the Grizzlies managed to pull away just enough to close it out.

Two possessions at the end stood out. One featured the Kings' Iman Shumpert getting a second-chance opportunity in the corner. He waved off his teammates and shot a turnaround three-point airball over Garrett Temple.

The other happened when the Kings trailed by three with 1:41 to go, and an ultra-aggressive Gasol drove through all sorts of contact and for an and-one finish. Gasol would end the night with 19 points and 15 rebounds, and set the Grizzlies' franchise rebounding record (with former record-holder Zach Randolph in attendance, no less!).
  • Larry Kuzniewski
Conley had another solid scoring night, tallying 19 points on 7-16 shooting. He only hit 1-4 from three, but facilitated the offense well and notched six assists. It must be nice for both Conley and Gasol to be able to feed the rock to Jackson to start the game and the second half, and let him get his own buckets without either of the Grizzlies' elder statesmen having to exert much energy.

De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield led the way for the Kings, combining for 35 points. Fox finished the game with a game-high 10 assists, and was the fiery engine for the Kings' offense for most of the night. Their high level of play wasn't enough to earn the win on this go against the Grizzlies, however.

The Grizzlies were back to their usual ways of protecting the rock in this game, turning the ball over only 13 times to the Kings' 21. Memphis also won the battle in the paint 54-42.

One weak spot for the Grizzlies was their free throw shooting. Conley missed consecutive free throws for the second time this season, and the team shot only 62.5 percent on 24 shots from the charity stripe. The Grizzlies also continued to give up a hearty helping of open looks from deep, and are lucky that the Kings converted on just 12 of their 33 attempts.

While ZBo has yet to suit up for the Kings this season, nothing was going to stop him from seeing his daughter sing in the Lausanne choir at FedExForum Friday night. He also caught up with old teammates, coaches, and FedExForum employees.

The Grizzlies return to action when they take on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves in Minnesota on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

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Monday, November 12, 2018

Grizzlies Lose First Home Game to Utah Jazz 96 - 88

Posted By on Mon, Nov 12, 2018 at 11:04 PM

The Grizzlies hosted the Utah Jazz at FedExForum Monday night, where Memphis had been undefeated for the first five home games of the season. It was the third matchup between the Jazz and Grizzlies, with Memphis winning the first two.

Memphis entered the night having played their most exciting home game thus far with Saturday's Wrestling Night win over the Philadelphia 76ers. Mike Conley's shooting bounced back in a major way (32 points on 12-24 shooting, 4-8 from deep).
  • Larry Kuzniewski

The win against Philly was a trademark Grizzlies nail-biter, with Memphis coming back late, and winning by 6 in overtime. Unfortunately, they lost Dillon Brooks to a freak injury that will leave him sidelined 6-8 weeks with a Grade 2 MCL sprain.

The Grizzlies started Monday night's game in a stupor, playing sloppy on defense and shooting poorly (1-9) from the field, and stumbling out of the gate. Meanwhile, the Jazz got a Thanksgiving spread's worth of open looks from three in the opening period, but only converted on four of 12.

  • Larry Kuzniewski
The Grizzlies defense stabilized, however, holding the Jazz to 36 percent FG shooting for the half, and Memphis was able to claw ahead midway through the second quarter to head into halftime with a 43-40 lead.

Mike Conley and Marc Gasol led the way in scoring for the Grizzlies in the first half, pouring in 16 points. Despite missing Dillon Brooks' punch on both sides of the ball, the Grizzlies bench contributed 14 points in the half between Wayne Selden, Shelvin Mack, and MarShon Brooks. Surprisingly, Jaren Jackson led all Grizzlies in assists with 3 dimes in the half, and Memphis crushed the Jazz in the paint, 28-14.

Things were pretty much the same after halftime, with both teams struggling to score in a brawling defensive matchup. Both the Jazz and Grizzlies remained very much in the mud.

One notable defensive stop (that featured two new Grizzlies) happened when Donovan Mitchell drove to the hoop and Garrett Temple kept his position between Mitchell and the basket, and guided Mitchell right into a Jackson weak-side block.

Speaking of Jaren Jackson, his defensive impact was felt throughout the game, and he avoided foul trouble (earning his first personal with 5:59 left to go in the third quarter). Moreover, he notched his first NBA career double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Strangely, he only played 25 minutes, though he finished with 3 fouls, and wasn't on the court at the end of the game.
  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Grizzlies tied the Jazz at 62 with about 3 minutes left in the third, but Utah pulled ahead and didn't relinquish the lead. Memphis kept the game within striking distance until late in the fourth, and looked like they might make another late comeback, but couldn't hit enough shots (especially from deep).

Defense was the star of the matchup tonight, with Gasol continuing to helm the Grizzlies on that end of the floor in Defensive Player of the Year fashion. Unfortunately, Rudy Gobert (15 points, 16 rebounds, 3 blocks) looked very much like the reigning DPOY, and held Jackson at bay. True to form, the Jazz played tremendous, and highly physical, team defense.

One area of weakness for Memphis on defense was their coverage on the perimeter. The defense gave up a lot of open looks beyond the arc, and I'm surprised the Jazz didn't convert on more of their three-point attempts. Monday night also marked the first time this season the Grizzlies had more turnovers than their opponent, and the Jazz capitalized on those opportunities. Memphis lost on the offensive boards as well, pulling down 8 to Utah's 13.

In his postgame press conference, head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said the game got away from the Grizzlies due to choppiness. He said the game was choppy in the way it was being called, and the team struggled to find a rhythm amid funky, injury-adapted rotations and offensive disorganization.

Bickerstaff also spoke about how the Grizzlies need re-establish the strong bench chemistry they had before Dillon Brooks' injury.

Joe Ingles played exceptionally well for the Jazz, finishing with 27 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists. Garrett Temple's defense on Donovan Mitchell was pretty impressive. Mitchell had 12 points on 3-14 shooting and went 0-2 from deep.

Mike Conley had another good shooting game, leading all Grizzlies with 24 points on 43.8 percent shooting from the floor, and converted on 3 of his 8 attempts from three.
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Gasol looked way more aggressive in this game, and has been talking about how he needs to step up his game in that regard. He banged around in the paint, took quick shots, and made assertive moves to the rim. He finished with 16 points on 7-13 shooting (missing all four of his three-point attempts), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks. The Grizzlies need everything they can get on the offensive end, so hopefully Gasol maintains this level of aggression.

Kyle Anderson had a horrid shooting night, failing to convert on his sole three point attempt, leaving shots short at the rim, and shooting 27.3 percent from the floor on 11 shots. Anderson had a positive impact in other areas, however, gobbling up 13 rebounds, 5 assists, and a steal. But the Grizzlies will need Anderson to pick up his shooting if they want to stay above .500.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
Garrett Temple's defense was on point, but he had a cold shooting night, contributing just 6 points on 25 percent shooting, and missing all four of his attempts from deep. Shelvin Mack also failed to hit a triple.

MarShon Brooks had 10 points off the bench, shooting 4-9 and 1-2 from deep, but was often trying to manufacture a shot totally on his own when the Grizzlies offense went stagnant. The Grizzlies can't toss the rock to Brooks and expect him to pluck buckets out of thin air against an elite defensive team like the Jazz. Memphis definitely needs him to take shots, but he needed help getting better looks in this game.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
The Grizzlies return to action on Wednesday, when they travel to Milwaukee to take on the Greek Freak Bucks.

Spicy Stat of the Night:

Cursed Tweet of the Night:

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Saturday, November 10, 2018

Is It Time To Worry About Mike Conley?

Posted By on Sat, Nov 10, 2018 at 10:39 AM

What's going on with Mike Conley? His shot is cold from midrange and from deep. While he's shown surprising speed and burst — considering he's only been playing full speed basketball for about a month after having not played since November 13th, 2017 — his floaters and shots close to the rim aren't falling.

I think it's still too early to know for sure what Conley's new normal is, but currently he appears to be experiencing a shooting slump and hasn't gotten his legs back. He's consistently mentioned the importance of — and that he's working on — his conditioning in the few weeks he's been back on the court.

In Ten Takes after Ten Games, Chris Herrington broke down a couple things that alarmed him about Conley in Wednesday's game against the Nuggets. There was a moment where Conley sped between two Nuggets defenders to tap a loose ball downcourt for a Garrett Temple dunk, instead of handily beating his defenders to the ball and pushing the fast break himself. Herrington also pointed out that Conley often looked a little tired, and struggled to turn the corner like he used to in the game against Denver.

Are these things indicative of new physical limitations that Conley (and the Grizzlies) will have to deal with? I don't know yet. But consider that the Grizzlies played Wednesday night's home game coming off of a West Coast road trip that featured the Jazz and a back-to-back ending against Golden State.

Conley played heavy minutes in each game, including both back-to-backs. He was guarding Steph Curry till late Monday night in Golden State, flew back to Memphis, and played the 9-1 Nuggets on Wednesday. Jamal Murray nearly had a 50 point game against the Celtics before his visit to Memphis. I don't think we have to hit the panic button on Mike Conley yet. We'll need more time, and he'll need more time to get his legs back.

It is somewhat alarming that Conley is playing heavier minutes this year (31.5) than he did in his short stint last season (31.1). And this is happening when Conley has much better backup in terms of handling the ball and initiating the offense.

We've seen Wayne Selden, Kyle Anderson, and especially Shelvin Mack afford Conley the ability to play off the ball, and that's kicked the Grizzlies offense up a notch from when Conley had to facilitate everything. If Conley's experiencing a shooting slump and conditioning is a work in progress, I think the Grizzlies offense could vault higher than where it currently resides, in the middle of the pack.

I'm not sure what Coach Bickerstaff could've done to get Conley more rest on the West Coast road trip and the home game against Denver. The Jazz and Nuggets games were close, and the Grizzlies collapsed in the second halves of the Suns and Warriors games. As improved as the roster is, the Grizzlies can't live without Conley when trying to come back or close out a game.

Conley remains the crux for the Grizzlies' hopes for a meaningful playoff run. To me, his game looks like it's almost back where it used to be, minus shooting and conditioning, but maybe he isn't the player he used to be. How will it all play out?

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Grizzlies Close Out Wizards 107-95

Posted By on Wed, Oct 31, 2018 at 9:20 AM

Since the Grizzlies don't play on Halloween, FedExForum celebrated the holiday Tuesday night with trick-or-treating for the kiddos pregame, and spooky sketches and in-game music. Fittingly, the first half of basketball was a nightmare for both teams. The Grizzlies finished the half shooting 39 percent from the floor on 42 shots. The Wizards shot 41 percent on 37 shots. At the half, the Grizzlies led 46-45. By comparison, the Warriors scored 48 points in just one quarter on Sunday.

The Grizzlies coaching staff and players have been throwing around the word "thrust" a lot recently, saying that they need to more strongly initiate their offense quicker, and with more power and direction. Basically, imposing pressure on the defense and making the defense bend and react.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
The Grizzlies did not show any "thrust" in the first half of Tuesday night's game. Instead of lifting off, the offense taxied aimlessly, like they were cruising the parking lot looking for an open space, in no hurry whatsoever.

Indeed, the Grizzlies have a problem unfolding their offense in a reasonable amount of time. In his piece for The Athletic, Peter Edmiston crunched the numbers and the Grizzlies are the slowest team in the league, getting their shots off later in the shot clock than anyone else. Memphis started the game shooting 1-8. Conley missed consecutive free throws (for the first time ever?). Temple started 1-4. Jaren Jackson entered foul trouble early (and remained in foul trouble for the rest of the game).

Thankfully, the Wizards had a frighteningly bad half as well.

The Grizzlies have struggled coming out of halftime for a while now, but that wasn't the case last night. Jackson committed his fourth foul before a minute had passed in the third quarter, and wasn't able to make an impact on the game in the second half. Other than that, the Grizzlies came out strong on both sides of the ball in the third quarter.

Suddenly, the offense had flow. Conley and Marc Gasol worked their magic two-man game. People moved and were found off the ball. Good looks and shots were generated. The Grizzlies opened the quarter on a 18-1 run, at one point extending the lead to 19.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
On defense, the Grizzlies' energy and length generated a number off turnovers. Unfortunately, Memphis wasn't able to capitalize on these turnovers, and converted just three of their 13 fast-break opportunities.

The Wizards rallied in the latter part of the third, cutting the Grizzlies lead to 6, and finished the quarter with 27 points to the Grizzlies' 32. Their run continued till midway through the fourth quarter, getting the Wizards to within four points.

For a bit, it looked like the Grizzlies were poised to cough up another big lead (like they did in Sacramento). Instead, Memphis closed out the win with a steady hand. Garrett Temple's defense on Bradley Beal was clutch down the stretch. Aside from Omri Casspi officially becoming a Grizzlies defender by fouling Beal on a 4-point-play, Temple held Beal scoreless in the final period, and hit a three of his own.

Shelvin Mack, whom the Grizzlies leaned on heavily throughout the game, allowed Conley to play off the ball down the stretch, greatly enhancing Conley's scoring opportunities without over-taxing his stamina, and enhancing Conley and Gasol's two-man game overall.
In back-to-back offensive sequences, Gasol received the ball wide open from midrange and from deep due to his two-man game with Conley as Mack brought the ball up the court and initiated the offense. After drilling the dagger triple, Gasol let loose this celebration.

The Grizzlies have wanted to get Conley off the ball, and to alleviate the primary ball-handling burden, for a while now, and Mack enabled just that in last night's game. He scored 14 points in 29 minutes, shot 2-3 from deep, and handed out eight assists.

Another surprise from last night's game? The Grizzlies shot 46 percent as a team from deep, and made 13 threes. And the space that shooting provided Conley and Gasol was impressive to say the least. Also, Anderson quietly, finally, had a nice game. He finished with five points, 11 rebounds, three assists, and four steals. I expect his scoring to bump up a bit when he finds his groove with the team.

Special shout out to Ivan Rabb, by the way. Due to Triple-J's foul trouble, Rabb played nearly 12 minutes tonight and made the most of them. He played with composure, facilitated the offense, and outworked Otto Porter's defense in the post.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
The Grizzlies return to action on Friday, when the Jazz get a chance to even the score at home in Utah.

Tweet of the night:

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Saturday, October 27, 2018

Grizzlies Bounce Back, Defeating Suns 117-96

Posted By on Sat, Oct 27, 2018 at 10:54 PM

Uncertainty hung in the air going into Saturday night's home game against the Phoenix Suns. After a compelling win against a scary Utah Jazz team, the Grizzlies suffered a disappointing loss in Sacramento. The Grizzlies coughed up a halftime lead when the Kings clamped down on defense and clawed their way to victory.
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Worse than the loss, Marc Gasol suffered what appeared at the time to be a potentially season-altering injury when De'Aaron Fox came down on Gasol's upper back area fighting for a rebound. The good energy from the win over Utah evaporated.

Fortunately, Gasol wasn't seriously injured after all. "It was a pretty bad scare when it happened. Thankfully, everything is okay. No structural damage or anything too serious to worry about," he told The Daily Memphian.

Doubts remained elsewhere, however, regarding the team's rebounding, defense, and especially with Kyle Anderson. Anderson's length, ball-handling, and IQ portended to him quickly fitting in with the Grizzlies, but he's struggled to find his groove.

While Anderson didn't make much headway acclimating himself to the team in this one, the Grizzlies were able to hold their own on the boards, gobbling up 39 to the Suns' 35. The Grizzlies performed better on defense, as well, with Ayton being the only Phoenix player to score in the 20s, but the Suns' offensive woes were more indicative of their youth, inexperience, and lack of Devin Booker tonight.

The matchup also featured another marquee rookie matchup between number one overall pick DeAndre Ayton and fourth overall pick Jaren Jackson. With Saturday night's game, Jackson has faced off against every top-5 draft pick except Luka Doncic.

The Grizzlies built up a sizeable lead in the first half, creating a 25-point cushion behind 61 percent shooting, including 7-13 from deep.  The high shooting percentage may speak more towards the Suns' defense than the Grizzlies offense. The Grizzlies are currently rated last in the league in offense, and it shows. The offense frequently falls stagnant, and fails to generate good or easy looks for anyone.
Ayton, the lauded #1 overall pick for the Phoenix Suns, didn't impose himself at all in the first quarter. He routinely passed out of the paint despite having the physical advantage against his defender, and finished with 2 points on just one shot.
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Ayton turned that around, however, in the second quarter, going 6-6 and scoring 6 straight on Jaren Jackson when Gasol sat. He would finish the game with 25 points on 12-13(!) shooting, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists.

One thing that stood out in the first half was the Grizzlies' offense not immediately going down in flames when Conley exited the game for rest. Shelvin Mack buoyed the team nicely and dished 4 assists as backup point guard, and Wayne Selden chipped in 10 points and 2 two assists.

Gasol, Conley, and Selden all finished the half in double digits, with five other Grizzlies scoring at least 5 points. Ayton was the only Suns player to finish the first half in double-digits with 14 points, with only 3 players notching at least 5 points.

Anderson continued to struggle finding his groove with the team. After starting, he got the hook with 7:46 remaining in the first quarter after missing a couple bunny shots near the rim, and going 0-3. He finished the half with 0 points on those three shots.

The Grizzlies maintained their advantage in the second half, keeping a healthy points margin over the Suns. Their solid lead late into the game allowed Yuta Watanabe to check in, and become the second Japanese player to play in the NBA in league history. Japanese NBA Twitter definitely paid attention to the moment. My two most viral tweets, by an enormous margin, were crappy handheld phone videos of Yuta dunking in the warmup line, and spinning to the hoop, missing, but drawing the foul. Virtually all of the RTs and favs were from Japanese basketball fans.
Jaren Jackson had a rough game defensively. He wasn't able to deter Ayton, got into foul trouble early, and earned the first technical of his NBA career after receiving his 5th personal foul. It's funny that his offense has come along more quickly than his defense.
Garrett Temple has absolutely locked down the starting shooting guard spot. His defense has been crucial, his ball handling on point, and he finished the game with 15 points on 4-6 shooting. It appears to be for the best, as Dillon Brooks gets to come off the bench with more freedom to impose his will as a dynamic playmaker. Brooks actually ended up playing about four more minutes than Temple, but that's partially indicative of the Grizzlies comfortable lead for most of the game.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
The Grizzlies bench contributed nicely in this win. Wayne Selden continued to impress. He finished with 16 points on 6-8 shooting, and provided a nice punch at the two spot. Marshon Brooks played his role perfectly as instant offense off the bench, pouring in 18 points in 19 minutes.
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Gasol didn't look limited in his return to action. He finished with 19 points on 8-16 shooting, and hit 3-6 from deep (including a Steph-range near buzzer-beater to end the first half).
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Mike Conley had a solid game without having to soak up super-heavy minutes. He scored 11 points and tallied 7 assists in 28 minutes. Usually when Conley leaves the game to rest, the Grizzlies offense goes down in flames. Garrett Temple and especially Shelvin Mack were able to buoy the offense when Conley exited, and to not immediately enter a tailspin without Conley is a new development.

When I asked Conley what it's meant to be able to go to the bench and the offense stay afloat, he said Mack, Temple, and Anderson have been huge. "[It] allows me to keep fresh legs longer." He also noted that their play will allow him to regain his conditioning with each game as he returns to pre-injury form. J.B. Bickerstaff understood the importance of being cautious with how much the Grizzlies lean on Conley, saying "I feel bad because there's been times where it feels like we're wearing him down, so we've got to do a better job of giving him some breaks."

The Grizzlies are now 3-2 on the season, and return to action on Tuesday when they take on the Washington Wizards at FedExForum.

Epilogue: the Grizzlies blared Kid Rock's Bawitdaba to pump up the crowd late in the fourth, and I've never seen less of a reaction. Let us pray that this trash song gets retired and forgotten sooner rather than later.

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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Grizzlies lose game and Gasol in Sacramento

Posted By on Thu, Oct 25, 2018 at 9:43 AM

Memphis led confidently for the first half, boosted by nice bench play, only to come out flat in the third quarter. The Kings' defense overall was impressive in the second half, and allowed Buddy Hield and De'Aaron Fox to help them claw their way back from behind to win the game. Far worse, Marc Gasol left the game after fighting for a rebound when De'Aaron Fox came down on his head/neck/shoulder area.

But first, some fun things that happened in last night's game.

Usually when the Grizzlies play the Kings, nothing too notable happens. You don't get storylines like ZBo vs the CP3 and Blake Griffin Clippers. Tonight was different, however.

Grizzlies and Kings factions were at each others throats on social media about which franchise had the better draft pick: Jaren Jackson or Marvin Bagley? The real deal outlived the hype. Jackson showed his skill and touch, posting and toasting Bagley in the first half. Bagley fought back in the second half, proving difficult for Jackson to guard without fouling.

De'Aaron Fox and Mike Conley's duel down the stretch was a treat as well. Conley scored in the 20s for the second game in a row. Fox, however, stole the show in this game. He was unstoppable in the fourth quarter.

I've seen Greg Wissinger, the editor of SB Nation's Sactown Royalty, keep track of which players that sat out (or were afraid of) playing against Fox. Fox took over the game at the end, and I'm legitimately going to have nightmares about him for a week. He finished with 21 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists.

The Grizzlies had no answer for Fox. I kinda wish the Grizzlies had thrown Andrew Harrison out onto Fox late in the game, but there was too much ground to make up.

Fox's defensive energy was equally impressive. Jackson fouled out with 1:24 left in the game while trying to set a screen for Conley that Fox fought around. The rookie bumped Fox, and Fox slid back on the court, clapping his hands gleefuly as a dejected Jackson shuffled to the bench. I know I'm not the only one looking forward to all the Bagley vs Jackson battles yet to come.

I wish these matchups had defined the night. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies suffered a potentially catastrophic blow when Gasol went down. Was Gasol already dealing with an injury before this happened? He did look off in the second half, airballing a shot or two. Peter Edminston of The Athletic had this to say:

On the other hand, maybe the crazy pace the Kings imposed gassed Gasol's legs.

In any case, Gasol laid on the ground for an uncharacteristically long time before getting up and walking to the locker room. Worst-case scenarios are festering on the mind for the Grizzlies and their playoff hopes. If Gasol suffered a serious injury, the tanking conversation is likely around the corner.


Wayne Selden started to break out a little bit in this game. He shot spot up threes well (3-6) and had a particularly bouncy hop step that allowed him to knife between some Sacramento defenders and get into the paint for a bucket.

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Saturday, October 20, 2018

Grizzlies Maul Hawks 131 - 117

Posted By on Sat, Oct 20, 2018 at 7:02 PM

  • Larry Kuzniewski
Everybody poops. Just ask my 8-month-old daughter. Or the Grizzlies when they shat the bed in a 111-83 loss at the Pacers to start the season. It's a part of life. Poop is smelly and gross, but it can also be funny and heartwarming. Need proof?

As far as Grizzlies gamebreak entertainment goes, this one is immediately in my top ten. The premise is perfect for Conley and Gasol, both fathers with young children. The video says so much about them, even though the two men barely utter a word. You see them as humans and fathers. You see their personalities. You see how they're able to have a conversation without words.

Conley and Gasol scored 11 and 13 points, respectively, with heavy minutes in the season-opening blowout loss against the Indianapolis Pacers. The Grizzlies' overall team offense looked flat and dysfunctional. Nobody could break down the Pacers' defense. Grizzlies fans were quick to hit the panic button on Twitter, with some calling Gasol washed up.

That foul mood changed Friday night, when Conley and Gasol revived their high-level two-man play, proving they can still be the engine of a successful team. Conley sped all over the court, breaking down defenders off the dribble, swishing two threes, and setting up his teammates with 11 assists. Gasol didn't appear to be limited by the back spasms he experienced earlier that morning, running the floor normally and whipping crisp passes to his teammates to the tune of 5 assists.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
Although they didn't lead the way in scoring, Conley and Gasol's two-man game set the table for the rest of the team. The Grizzlies would hope to see this pattern repeated throughout the regular season, as Conley and Gasol are aging veterans with lots of mileage, and they should conserve their energy and health as much as they're able before the Grizzlies are (hopefully) wrestling for playoff seeding.
  • Larry Kuzniewski

In his first regular season game with the Grizzlies at FedExForum, Garrett Temple quickly caught fire, and that blaze raged for the rest of the night.
He lit up the Grindhouse with 30 points on 10-11 shooting, and was nearly flawless from deep, hitting 5-6. He also defended and handled the ball well.

Was he 100 percent happy with his performance? In the locker room after the game, Temple said "I was actually real upset at myself for giving up that three to Taurean Prince — the first three he got." When asked about Temple in his postgame presser, Coach J.B. Bickerstaff was quick to laud his defense, saying that there will be some nights where Temple won't hit as many shots, but he'll lock down the opponent's best player.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

How did the Grizzlies' top draft pick do in his first home game of his first NBA season?
Let's just say he's doing a pretty good job at endearing himself to the fanbase.

Triple-J poured in 24 points off the bench, shooting 8-12 and going 2-4 from deep. His length and quickness transformed the defense. His shooting and defensive impact come as no surprise. What does surprise me, however, is how good he looks in the post and attacking the paint. Consistently, he was able to use his size, strength, and athleticism to work his way into the paint and finished over defenders like 7'1" Alex Len. His touch around the rim has been impressive.
Chandler Parsons got the start over Kyle Anderson, but played fewer minutes than Anderson. Parsons shot 3-6 from deep and contributed 11 points in the game. One sequence stood out to me in particular: Conley beep-beeped through the defense and jumped beneath the rim, and slung a pass to Gasol at the top of the arc. Gasol immediately swung the ball to a wide-open Parsons for a made triple. It was a rare glimpse at the power of what the three highest-paid Grizzlies can do to a defense when they're healthy and in sync.

I wrote about this in-depth for the Flyer's cover story this week, but the Grizzlies basically haven't seen and don't know the capabilities of a healthy version of this team. I'm betting that those unknowns play out as unexpected positives. Did you know that the Grizzlies set a franchise record last night by scoring 77 points in the first half?

  • Larry Kuzniewski
The one down note from the home-opening win was JaMychal Green's injury. He broke his jaw colliding with a player's elbow while contesting a fast break dunk attempt. He hit the ground, pounded the court with his hand, hopped up, and ran straight to the locker room. He underwent a "surgical stabilization procedure" this morning.

J.B. Bickerstaff said the injury shows how selfless Green is — that he was the only one contesting a difficult play. And how tough do you have to be to leap up off the floor and jog to the locker room with a broken jaw?

Dillon Brooks saw limited minutes, logging just two in the first half, but got more run in the second. Even though he was (conspicuously, for Grizzlies fans) on the bench for most of the first half, Brooks was highly engaged, celebrating when Shelvin Mack hit a buzzer-beating floater, and jumping up and cheering harder than anyone else when Jackson slammed home a lob.

Andrew Harrison didn't play at all in the home opener. And unlike Brooks, he seems disengaged, seclusive, and dissatisfied sitting on the bench. I don't know how much to read into that, though, since their personalities are so different and perhaps that's just how Harrison is in general. In any case, people forget how good Andrew Harrison was at the end of last season, and he's by far the best defender among Grizzlies point guards. I hope Memphis manages to work him into the rotation again, because he brings a lot to the table when he's playing well.

The Grizzlies de-escalated an anxious fanbase on Friday. They'll look to build some momentum when they take on one of the West's scariest teams, the Utah Jazz, on Monday on the road.

Burn of the night:

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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Watanabe, Conley, Gasol, Jackson Speak Out at Grizzlies Media Day

Posted By on Tue, Sep 25, 2018 at 4:13 PM

Memphis inched closer to the return of Grizzlies basketball with media day on Monday. There were a couple of themes that ran throughout, including youth meshing with veteran leadership in the locker room, and the international media's infatuation with Japanese basketball star and two-way signee Yuta Watanabe. Here are some major takeaways (both basketball-related and not) from some key players.

Dillon Brooks seemed relaxed and focused. He cracked a couple good jokes while saying everything you'd want to hear from a dynamic young guard looking to take the next step as a player.
Asked about Marc and Mike getting older, Dillon Brooks said the Grizzlies have a lot of youth. "It's like when grandma and grandpa get a new grandbaby: it gives them new life." Despite literally calling them grandparents, Brooks expressed gratitude for Conley and Gasol. From Gasol getting drafted by the Lakers and traded to Memphis, and how he's changed his bod, to Mike Conley getting drafted 4th overall and experiencing a slow start to his career (where often he'd only play in home games), Dillon said they've been like mentors, sharing the wisdom they've gained from their adversities.

Jaren Jackson Jr. opened his inaugural media day appearance by saying he's excited for the new Young Thug album, and that casual ebullience characterized much of his interview and presence. When asked about his first post-contract luxury purchase, Jaren answered without hesitation: "Scorpion," by Drake. He followed that up by saying he's actually going to take it easy on luxury purchases.
  • Matt Preston
One thing that frequently bothers me in the NBA world is the lack of representation for Memphis in the league's TV promos, League Pass commercials, etc. I know Memphis is a small market, but the Grizzlies just drafted a theoretical unicorn with the fourth pick, and he had an amazing Summer League outing. So why is Jaren Jackson conspicuously absent from promos that tease the incoming rookie class? When I asked Jaren about this, he was at a loss for words, and said he doesn't pay much attention to sports on TV, lauding Netflix instead.
I asked Jackson what he's currently into on Netflix, and that kick started a lengthy aside about Ozark, and trying to remember a particular episode with another reporter. In some small way, I feel partly responsible for 40 percent of JJJ's appearance being Ozark-related, but it was a fun glimpse into Jackson's easygoing and easy-to-talk-to personality. But don't let Jackson's amiable spirit mislead you.

Leading up to training camp, Jackson says he's focused on conditioning, improving his shot, and being aggressive and explosive. While he amicably interrupted a couple other player interviews to bust chops or crack a joke, you get the sense that he's an open, positive, and constructive communicator, and the Grizzlies hope to see that translate into being a vocal leader and defender on the court. For what it's worth, Conley said Jackson's already a pretty good leader in his appearance. Speaking of...

  • Matt Preston
Conley appeared to be in good spirits, and there's plenty of positive buzz about his health. Responding to questions about the Grizzlies' dismal year last season, Conley said "last year was an anomaly," remarking on the all the consecutive playoff appearances in years prior. Conley also talked about helping younger players in the locker room, giving them advice on staying out of trouble, and the importance of nutrition and adequate sleep

Gasol spent a decent amount of his time fielding questions about saving lives and helping refugees stranded in the Mediterranean Sea. He said his love for his young daughter motivated him to get involved with helping refugee children in the off-season, and truly seems to have experienced something that was bigger than basketball and bigger than himself. Gasol said he wants to sit down with someone in the media and have a longer conversation about the issue.
  • Matt Preston
Gasol also mentioned he's heard the criticism that he's too harsh on his teammates when they make mistakes, and plans to adjust his leadership to be more supportive in that regard. Just don't ask him to be even slightly okay with lapses on defense.

  • Matt Preston
Kyle Anderson said he's ready to take on more pressure and responsibility in Memphis, and showed the old grit-n-grind Grizzlies a lot of love and respect (having played against Memphis as a San Antonio Spur). He believes that playing with Pau taught him how to move off the ball, and prepared him to play with Marc. Maybe they'll have quick chemistry?

  • Matt Preston
On an unsurprising note, Garrett Temple confirmed that he found out about his move to Memphis from NBA writer Adrian Wojnarowski, with his agent calling to confirm minutes afterward. Temple said he's excited to join a team that wants to win now, and expects the Grizzlies to make the playoffs. Temple came across every bit the well-composed veteran, which is interesting, because his locker borders Jackson's. "Most of the time he's smiling and laughing and telling us about rappers he likes," Temple said of Jackson.

  • Matt Preston
Monday was JB Bickerstaff's first Grizzlies media day as head coach, and he was dialed-in heading into his first training camp. He pushed back harder than anyone at notions of Gasol and Conley beginning their decline. It'll be interesting to see how this team looks out of the gate and into the mid-season, especially if the Grizzlies manage to avoid the Injury Vortex.

And finally, the one, the only, Yuta Watanabe. His presence was felt long before he even entered the room. It felt like half the media present at media day were reporters from Japan, solely there because of the 6'9" international sensation. His name bled into almost every player interview, as the international reporters asked everyone on the team about their thoughts on Watanabe.
Watanabe went out of his way to thank his family and friends for their support. One of his favorite players to watch growing up was Shaq, he said, and while he hasn't had any BBQ in Memphis, he has been to Sekisui.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Grizzlies trade Deyonta Davis and Ben McLemore for Garrett Temple

Posted By on Wed, Jul 18, 2018 at 3:03 PM

Deyonta Davis and Ben McLemore are Grizzlies no longer. Both arrived in Memphis as physically and athletically-gifted prospects with loads of unreckoned potential at a low cost. Deyonta Davis had been a projected lottery pick, and tantalized with the makings of a modern rim-protector that could roll to the rim on the pick-and-roll. Ben McLemore was the 7th pick in his draft, and shot nearly 40 percent from deep in the season before joining the Grizzlies.

Why did Deyonta fall so far in the draft? Tom Izzo blamed his shyness. Why didn’t McLemore live up to expectations in Sacramento? He languished under four head coaches in the turbulent Boogie era. Both were good buy-low bets on tremendous potential. Neither worked out, and it was time to move on.

  • Larry Kuzniewski

Deyonta Davis had ample opportunity to show progress as the only real backup center once Wright left. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to use his size, strength, and bounce to his advantage, with defenders routinely pushing him out of position for rebounds, or Davis never making a strong enough effort to get into good positioning. He may have fared better had he played more games with the Grizzlies' developmental league affiliate, but roster constraints in Memphis didn’t afford him that opportunity.

If he’d been here during the Zach Randolph years, perhaps ZBO would've imbued Davis with his fiery drive to rassle for position and clean the glass. Those guys should really link up! But it was time to pull the plug on DD’s time in Memphis, especially with Triple-J on the horizon. At least we have the memory of Vince Carter building Deyonta a room in his house (that Davis never visited).

Ben McLemore’s time with the Grizzlies feels like the distant memory of a hazy dream. He broke his foot in a pickup game before the season began, and by the time he returned from injury and joined the team, Conley was injured and the season was a wash. BMac does leave Memphis with one lasting impression, maybe the most memorable play of the last few seasons.

The Grizzlies have turned the page on longshots for high potential this offseason. For now, it appears they’re done with rolling the dice on unproven players that theoretically could widly outperform their contracts. Instead, they’re turning to players seen as “sure things” that are safer bets. We saw this when the Grizzlies signed Kyle Anderson. We’re seeing it again with Memphis shipping off DD and BMac for Garrett Temple. They want players who understand what they can do, and who can operate at a high level within a team context. They want guys who are reliable and have a high basketball IQ.

Adding Garrett Temple while shaving down the roster size and shipping off two players that won’t work in this Grizzlies era is a win, even if they had to pay Sacramento to do it. He’s a good 3-point shooter, and has proven his efficacy with good teams before joining the Kings. He’s a much better bet to improve after leaving Sacramento than McLemore ever was. I think the Grizzlies are on the right track picking solid players that should improve the stability of their rotations.

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Monday, July 16, 2018

Grit and Grind is Dead and Alive; or, Weird Things In The Night

Posted By on Mon, Jul 16, 2018 at 9:15 AM

Author's Note: This is my last week at the Flyer, and this is my last piece.


The basic idea was: it was a capital-M Moment, and I thought Herrington was the only one doing it any justice. There were Grizzlies blogs, and I read them, but none of them shared my view, or talked about it the way I wanted to talk about it, and none of them seemed to know how to explore what was happening: in 2011, Memphis burned with the blue flames of the Spurs and Thunder series. It felt like the whole city was boiling over with pride, or with a new energy we hadn't felt since the 2008 Final Four that apparently never happened.

So I messaged Matt Moore, then only of Hardwood Paroxysm but of a lot of other things in the intervening years, and he pointed me to a little blog called Straight Outta Vancouver, and I sent Tom Lorenzo a sample essay, and, well, if you're looking for someone to blame for all of... this... there you go.

Why am I talking about this? Easy: like the Grizzlies, I'm in a different spot along my trajectory now. I'm at (or approaching, really) the beginning of a new chapter, and this weird, scrappy basketball team I've been covering for a majority of my adult life is in the same place: ready to do something else, unsure how to honor the past and still step into the future, making moves for the next phase.

I. Grit and Grind is Dead

Future Memphis Mayor For Life Zach Randolph - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Future Memphis Mayor For Life Zach Randolph

Where the Grizzlies have been is not where they're going.

There's never going to be another Zach Randolph, in the same way that there's never going to be another Tyrannosaurus Rex: the conditions that allowed for the past's fearsome predator to operate no longer exist. And, really, there is no way to have a "Grit and Grind" team without Zach Randolph on it. Tony Allen named it, functioned as its Chaotic Neutral, embodied its space-cadet vibe to the fullest, but without Randolph on the interior infusing the proceedings with an appropriate level of contained violence, none of it happens.

And while "tenacious defense and a refusal to back down" is an easy way to gloss over what the "GNG" years meant, in a very real sense, there was always a level of danger baked into the proceedings. When Z-Bo got tossed for telling Kendrick Perkins "I'll beat your ass," he meant it, and was one of maybe five NBA players about whom that was true. Allen never threw hands on the court, but ask OJ Mayo whether TA was willing to get into it.

It seems unlikely that any future incarnation of the team will ever recapture the vibe of the 2010-2015 Grizzlies, in which a collection of the league's written-offs and misfits came together in the only NBA town that didn't much care whether they were rough around the edges, because, well, have you seen our edges?

Mike Conley, shown here beating the Warriors with a broken face - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mike Conley, shown here beating the Warriors with a broken face

So, then, it's important for the Grizzlies, for the people talking about them (especially nationally, where it seems like 75% of the people paid to talk about basketball can't remember whether they're still in Vancouver or not), and for the people watching them to remember that the previous era is over. Gone. The truth is, that era ended in the 2015 Warriors series, when they pushed the eventual champs to six games, a blaze of glory, a raging against the dying of the light, etc. That series felt so monumental at the time—that whole playoffs, really—that I thought it would be a good idea to try to write about it like Faulkner. That's what the first GNG period was.

We also have to come to terms with the fact that the last three years have been a wandering in the wilderness. From 2016's 28-man rotation, to the first Fizdale year, that flowering of false hope in a different Miami-infused future, to last year's, let's face it, outright tank job. (Take that for data.) There's a clear period of demarcation here, and just because they managed to make the playoffs in two of those three years doesn't mean there's continuity. Fleetwood Mac may have kept playing "The Green Manalishi" into the Buckingham/Nicks years, but do you think anybody bought that, either?

No, the door closed on that era in 2015. We know that now. Wherever they go next, no matter how much they keep saying the words "Grit and Grind," cannot be the same. Experience slips away, just like Geddy said.

Tyreke Evans and Tony Allen, in a photo that will never stop looking weird to me - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tyreke Evans and Tony Allen, in a photo that will never stop looking weird to me

II. Grit and Grind is Permanent

Something changed within the Grizzlies organization between the end of the 2017-18 season and the draft—something bigger than just announcing the hiring "for real" of JB Bickerstaff, last year's interim coach. What happened was this: The Grizzlies know what a Grizzlies player is now.

For years, we've seen this franchise take flyer after flyer on underperforming guys with high upside, guys who were McDonald's All-Americans in high school and played for Kansas (or some other college program that usually makes the Elite Eight) and hasn't put it together yet in the NBA. Guys who had bounced around and would be locks for massive contracts if they could only "figure it out." (Remember those training camps with Hassan Whiteside and Michael Beasley?) That strategy worked when the Grizzlies traded for Zach Randolph, and it worked when they signed Tony Allen for more money than the Celtics wanted to pay him, and it never worked again, not really.

There was another parallel but different strategy at work in the GNG years: adding veterans who could shore up the Grizzlies' "one piece away" rotation and who wouldn't make dumb mistakes, guys who played hard on minimum deals and could pull you through a bad Thursday night in Milwaukee if the team needed them to. Sometimes, of course, they got to Milwaukee, got ejected, and then chased John Henson into the tunnel, but that seems beside the point.

What there wasn't, in all of these years, was a concept, or a Platonic form, of a Grizzlies player. The MO of the front office seemed to be to repeat the process that led to the construction of the Zach/Tony/Mike/Marc/(Rudy and then Tayshaun) core, when that process was never a repeatable or reliable one to begin with. Garbage in, garbage out, and eventually that methodology nets the second-worst record in the entire danged Association.

Once Bickerstaff had the reins, one started to hear an alarming number of references to "bringing back Grit and Grind," references which raised the hackles of this Griz-Watcher more than once. What do they mean by that? Are they going to sell a pick to the Mavericks and sign Jeremy Pargo again? But now, of course, with the passing of the last few weeks, we know what they meant.

  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dillon Brooks

They Grizzlies have identified The Form Of A Grizzlies Player: excellent defender, high basketball IQ, big for his position (something that has always factored into their player evaluation—lookin' at you, Andrew Harrison), not a star but generally acknowledged to be good. Jaren Jackson, Jr. fits this bill. Kyle Anderson fits this bill (except maybe the size thing, but he's not undersized). Omri Casspi fits this bill, even—he's 20th among small forwards in Defensive RPM.

I'm sure there are other attributes they consider, but a prototype is emerging, and it's important, because: that's what it really means to have an organizational culture. Grit and Grind, whatever it was back in the dead past, was a culture, sure, but it was a player culture. It came from the guys on the team, and how the gelled, and what they were like. It probably also came from having a hardboiled, grizzled Lionel Hollins calling the plays. That's great, and it certainly lead the Grizzlies to their greatest successes as an NBA franchise, but the problem with a player culture is exactly what we've seen in the Griz since 2016: when those players are declining and/or gone, the culture isn't sustainable.

Grit and Grind is permanent because in its new organizational form—which is necessarily different from its previous player-based form—it's a sustainable model for player evaluation and basketball system decisions.

III. Grit and Grind Exists Outside of Time

OK, so what does that mean for next year? When are the Grizzlies going to be good again?

The bad news for Grizzlies fans is that a "new Grit and Grind" doesn't answer either one of those questions, and can't, and here's why: the moves the Grizzlies are making, and the philosophy they're putting in place, is intended to give them a path forward from the Conley/Gasol era, but they're still in the Conley/Gasol era.

Gasol has two years left on his max deal (one if he decides to opt out after this season). Chandler Parsons has two years left on his max deal. Mike Conley has three years left on his max deal. The plan, at the time of the Parsons signing, was to build the Grizzlies' next four years around that trio, and thus shift philosophies while maintaining their streak of success for the length of Gasol and Conley's contracts.

Chandler "Knees" Parsons - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Chandler "Knees" Parsons

We've seen—not least of all in Parsons' nearly continuous knee injuries—how well that plan has gone. Because of the myriad ways in which the Grizzlies' Summer 2016 plan for The Next Core has gone pear-shaped, they're now in a position where their only option (given the two first round picks traded back when the first plan was coming together: the 2017 first traded to dump Marreese Speights' salary and the 2019 protected first traded to bring in Jeff Green, the latter of which still makes me want to vomit) is to work with what they've got.

What might "working with what they've got" look like in 2018-19 and beyond? If Mike Conley returns from injury looking anything like he did in the single full season under David Fizdale, and if Chandler Parsons can contribute more than he did last year and play in more games, and if Marc Gasol's foot holds together another couple seasons and the drop-off in his play last season was because of the bad team and the poor motivation and not because he's 33 this summer and starting to decline because he's played pro basketball since leaving high school...

...they might make the playoffs. They've certainly shored up the rotation. But given that Conley has missed large portions of two of the last three seasons, and that Parsons has done the same and moves like a 29-year-old trapped in a 37-year-old's body, and that there's no way to know what Gasol might look like until we get into the season and see, that's a bet I'm not sure I'd take.

If they were healthy all season last year, the Grizzlies probably would've made the 7 or 8 seed. That much seems clear. But no team in the NBA is healthy all season, not even the Warriors, and a team that can't survive a single injury to any of its best players is not a team that can be counted on to do much of anything.

And here's what I think: it actually doesn't matter much whether the Grizzlies make the playoffs next year; what's much more important is that they win enough games to escape the protections on the pick owed to Boston. If the Grizzlies finish outside of the top 8 of the 2019 draft, their first round pick goes to Boston. If they're bad enough to be in the top 8, they keep the pick and then their 2020 pick goes to Boston if it's outside the top 6. If, for some reason, the Grizzlies are so bad in 2018-19 and 2019-20 that their pick doesn't convey to Boston, their 2021 first round pick goes to the Celtics completely unprotected.

Jeff Green, in happier times - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jeff Green, in happier times

This is why you (1) never trade a first round pick five years in the future, because you don't know what your team will look like then, and (2) especially never trade any pick that could potentially become an unprotected first for Jeff Green. You shouldn't trade a Tops cheeseburger for Jeff Green. You shouldn't trade a nice, well-used Snapper lawnmower for Jeff Green. I hated trading that pick at the time and I continue to hate it, and I hope the summer of 2019 is the last time I have to get worked up about it.

But what does that mean? It means the Grizzlies really need to win enough games to finish, by my reckoning, 9th or so in the Western Conference, so they can give a back-end lottery pick to Boston and move on with their future. If they can't make it to 40 wins, or 38, or whatever that means, they're going to need to try to move Conley, Gasol, or Parsons (LOL) and press an even bigger reset button. They have good young talent around, and if they're going to be bad anyway, they might as well try to recoup that missing draft pick somewhere along the way.

And while they're doing whatever they're doing, there's old Grit and Grind. The next two years could be great—it's plausible if not likely that they could, say, be the 8 seed one of the next two seasons. But they could also be a storm to be weathered, with the "tear down the old core" portion of the rebuild happening after the "bring in young talent" portion has already happened. That's a good thing, really: in Jackson, Anderson, Dillon Brooks, and maybe Andrew Harrison, they've got some very good young pieces around which they can build already on the roster. That's not how rebuilds usually go.

But Grit and Grind, in its new top-down form, suffusing the whole organization with its endless determination Not To Bluff and to be Vs. Errbody and whatever else, will still be there, still be evaluating players, still be creating a system and a style of play from the ashes of long ago playoff successes (and failures, because let us not forget that what made the Grizzlies vulnerable was ultimately their inability to cope with the new "Pace & Space" NBA that sprouted some time around 2012-13).

It'll still try, in its new and grasping way, to be a basketball culture that reflects something of the identity of its host city: an underdog mentality bordering on a complex; a flat refusal to go along with what's happening in the more glamorous places, whether that's Nashville and Austin or Golden State and Houston; a collective of weird people doing weird things in the night, whether that's Lawler and Kaufman at the Coliseum, or whatever studio allowed Mystic Stylez to be recorded on its equipment, or FedExForum when Zach Randolph gets ejected from a playoff game.

Grit and Grind is gone, and it will never go away.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Beyond the Arc Podcast #96: The Draft, Free Agency, and the Return of GNG

Posted By on Wed, Jun 27, 2018 at 9:18 AM


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

  • The Grizzlies' decision to make JB Bickerstaff the head coach, like, for real
  • What will the Grizzlies be next year? Do they know?
  • The Grizzlies drafted well
  • The future potential of Jaren Jackson, Jr. and what that might look like in his rookie season
  • What motivated the Jevon Carter pick?
  • Should the Grizzlies trade Gasol and Conley?
  • What were the Hawks thinking on draft night?
  • How will David Fizdale do with the Knicks and will LeBron go play for him?
  • Who can the Grizzlies sign this summer? Can they fire Ben McLemore's contract into the Sun?

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 21, 2018

Grizzlies Draft Jevon Carter in Second Round

Posted By on Thu, Jun 21, 2018 at 10:04 PM

The Grizzlies have selected West Virginia guard Jevon Carter with the 32nd pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Carter was on many people's draft boards as a very "Grit and Grind" selection for the Griz; he was an excellent defender in college and a relentless, high-motor player.

Seems like most of NBA Twitter agrees:

And here's one calling him "the best on-ball defender in the draft":

Seems like a fine choice for a second-rounder. It remains to be seen whether the Grizzlies will have room for Carter on the 2018-19 roster, but hey, that's what the Hustle are for—though I would expect Carter to challenge hard for a roster spot in training camp.

Grizzlies Draft Jaren Jackson, Jr. in First Round

Posted By on Thu, Jun 21, 2018 at 7:26 PM

Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace.
  • Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace.

The Grizzlies got their man, it seems. After Dallas and Atlanta pulled off a pick swap that sent Luka Doncic to the Mavericks at the #3 spot, the Grizzlies selected Michigan State freshman Jaren Jackson, Jr.

Jackson is a long-term play, for sure, but given that the Grizzlies have a new coaching staff focused around player development, and that Jackson figures to get real rotation minutes in the upcoming season even as the Grizzlies try to make the playoffs, I can't say I'm disappointed in the outcome.

Of course, two things make drafting Jackson sting: firstly, if the Grizzlies had lost a couple more games, they'd have had a better chance to get the #1 overall pick and better odds at picking higher than fourth rather than falling two spots in the lottery. Second, if they hadn't traded a first round pick to Boston in the Jeff Green trade all those years ago, they'd have had a future first to trade to Atlanta for the 3rd pick instead of watching the Dallas Mavericks leap frog them to get their man.

Once it was clear Doncic would be off the board, Jackson was a logical pick. If there were other guys they preferred—guys like Kevin Knox and Wendell Carter—those guys were available farther down in the top 10, and they should have traded down. Drafting Jackson shows they think they can develop him, and that they had a plan going into the draft (even though apparently JB Bickerstaff had to sell him on the organization so he'd release his medical info to the team, according to one report). I'm fine with it. It's not the most exciting outcome, but Doncic wasn't likely to be around at 4 anyway.

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