Thursday, November 23, 2017

Mavericks 95, Grizzlies 94: Five Grumpy Thanksgiving Thoughts

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

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tweet of the Night

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

Up Next

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


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Blazers 100, Grizzlies 92: Five Thoughts

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

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

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

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

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

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

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

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

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

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

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

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

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

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

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

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

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

Tweet of the Night

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

Up Next

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

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

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Hustle Report: Week 2

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

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

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
  • Memphis Grizzlies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miscellaneous Notes:

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


Tags: ,

Pacers 116, Grizzlies 113: Five Thoughts

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

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

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

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

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

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

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

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

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

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

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

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

Tweet of the Night

This about sums it up:

Up Next

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

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


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

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

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

bta_004.jpeg

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

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

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

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

You can download the show here or listen below:


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Bucks 110, Grizzlies 103: Haiku Road Recap

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

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

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

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


1.

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

2.

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

3.

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

4.

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

5.

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


Friday, November 10, 2017

The Hustle Report: Week 1

Posted By on Fri, Nov 10, 2017 at 8:50 AM

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
  • Memphis Grizzlies
Introductory Editor's Note: now that the Grizzlies' G League affiliate is located here in Southaven, there are twice as many games to cover. As much as I love basketball — especially the garbage time variety — that's a lot of games. So we here at Beyond the Arc had a board meeting and decided what to do: send our Hustle Intern, Sam Cicci. He's going to be reporting weekly on what the Hustle are up to. Mostly, I think he's just happy we let him out of the supply closet we keep telling him is an office. — KL

The Memphis Hustle’s first week of competitive existence offered a mixed bag results-wise. Last Saturday, a promising start to the G-League franchise’s season was cut short as they let a large lead slip against the Sioux Falls Skyforce. The Hustle, led by Grizzlies two-way player Kobi Simmons, remained mostly consistent throughout the first half but ultimately succumbed to Skyforce’s third quarter surge.

Simmons scored nine of his 25 points in the first quarter to help the Hustle take the lead, while the teams matched scoring at 27 points apiece in the second quarter to leave the Hustle ahead 60-51. Everything looked rosy as Grizzlies assignee Ivan Rabb (20 points on 6-7 shooting) and Vince Hunter (23 points) stayed hot to give the team an 18 point lead, but after that, it all went downhill as Sioux Falls roared back. The Hustle’s first-quarter shooting percentage (57%) dropped over the course of the game. The third quarter, when Skyforce gained the lead, saw a drop to a measly 33.3% shooting statistic for the Hustle. Skyforce held on for the rest of the game and finished with a four-point lead, 116-120.

That sluggish momentum unfortunately carried into next day’s home game against the Salt Lake City Stars. In the early goings, the Hustle defense struggled to contain Stars point guard Nate Wolters’ penetrative runs, which created simple layups for his teammates or a kick out to the three point line for an open look. Meanwhile, on the offensive end, Hustle players were continuously forced to dribble into traffic and take contested shots for much of the first quarter. The Stars managed to pull out to a 25-12 lead, but the Hustle managed to claw it back to a one point deficit by the end of the half thanks to vital contributions from Trahson Burrell (20 points, 14 rebounds).

With a little over nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the score was tied at 81-81. The Hustle embarked on an 8-0 over the next few minutes and didn’t trail again, closing out the game with a 102-99 scoreline to record the franchise’s first ever win. There were encouraging signs after the victory; Ivan Rabb (16 points, 12 rebounds), Vince Hunter (13 points, 12 rebounds), and Burrell all recorded double-doubles, while Marquis teague, Omari Johnson, and Simmons joined them in scoring into double figures. For fans of new Grizzlies signings, Sunday’s game offered a return to the court for shooting guard Ben McLemore. While the experience was mainly about building fitness and sharpness, a few of his confident drains from the three point line should provide a boost when he returns to NBA action against the Rockets this coming Saturday. “You can tell he’s a bigtime NBA player,” says Hustle coach Glynn Cyprien. “And that’s not just because of his shots, but because he plays with a certain pace and a certain confidence.”
If the past weekend’s games are anything to go by, the Hustle’s inaugural G-League season should be packed full of dramatic, closely-contested games. It was encouraging to see the team stand back up after an opening-day defeat, but the second game against the Stars provided some clear insight into some of the team’s strengths and weaknesses. The Hustle’s first quarter deficit was partly owed to their poor shooting from beyond the arc, where they went 5-of-27 vs. the Stars’ 13-of-30. However, Memphis managed a steady resurgence thanks to their domination of the glass, 55-40, with a huge edge in offensive rebounds at 20-9. That aggression is what coach Cyprien wants to see from all of his players. “At times we’ll have Grizz guys, sometimes we won’t, but we need this to be consistent, and tonight all our guys were very consistent on the glass. It could have been really easy for them to lie down during a back to back and make some excuses, but they didn’t. I think we’ve got a quality team here.”

If these back-and-forth games keep up, it’s going to be a wild, frantic season at the Landers Center, even if it looks like the Hustle’s turtle mascot is sometimes asleep in his chair. If the close, nervy games aren’t quite your thing, there’s always the bounce-castle tucked away behind the court. Good thinking, Hustle.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Beyond the Arc Podcast #86: "Mario Made A Ridiculous Play"

Posted By on Fri, Nov 3, 2017 at 9:06 AM

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

  • How Phil said Jeff Green was decent for the Cavs, but Kevin is not having it
  • Whether Andrew Harrison can really keep starting if he’s going to struggle like this
  • Fizdale got outcoached by Rick Carlisle and probably by Steve Clifford too—but roster limitations limit his ability to adjust
  • A comparison of Dave Joerger and David Fizdale
  • Fizdale’s epic rant after the Orlando loss
  • Mario Chalmers’ meltdown against Orlando, and whether it was a fluke. (It probably wasn’t.)
  • Tyreke Evans’ huge (huge) game against the Magic
  • How long can the injury histories of the Grizzlies be kept at bay?
  • Should the Grizzlies pick up Jahlil Okafor if he becomes available? Why did he have so many problems in Philly?
  • The Grizzlies’ upcoming road trip to LA and Portland this week
  • Why do teams always play poorly in NYC and LA matinee games? Phil knows because of JR Smith’s Twitter activity.
  • Whether there will be a show next week, given Phil and Kevin’s proximities to their respective deathbeds

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, November 2, 2017

Magic 101, Grizzlies 99: Five (Cranky) Thoughts

Posted By on Thu, Nov 2, 2017 at 8:28 AM

Tyreke Evans scored 32 on 65% shooting in last night's loss. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tyreke Evans scored 32 on 65% shooting in last night's loss.

The Grizzlies lost to the Orlando Magic last night, 101–99, and they just flat-out shouldn’t have. Orlando is playing well—they rolled into town as the #1 team in the Eastern Conference—but not so well that the Grizzlies could afford to make the careless mistakes and poor plays that they did last night. It’s their second straight loss, and the second of the season in which they sabotaged themselves rather than just being outworked. (I’m counting the Charlotte loss in that latter category, because Charlotte as an excellent defense and put the clamps on the Griz in the second half. There were no clamps last night.)

I have five thoughts about what went wrong for the home team last night, and though most of them are similar, the subtle differences roll into one slightly cranky narrative of a team that just didn’t do many things right.

Five Thoughts

Mario Chalmers played like hot garbage in crunch time. After Marc Gasol came to life and tied the game at 97, and then immediately put the Grizzlies on top by 2, Chalmers had three of the most bone-headed possessions I’ve seen from a championship player to close out a game. He turned the ball over on the base line; he blew a fast break layup by anticipating contact instead of, y’know, trying to make the layup (which I can only assume was a wayward tribute to the departed Tony Allen); and then in a pick and roll with Marc Gasol on a play that could have put the Grizzlies ahead, he went around the screen and immediately pulled up his dribble, sat there a few seconds with it, and launched a bad three.

To be fair, Chalmers owned his mistakes after the game, and said he felt like he cost the Grizzlies the game. I find it hard to disagree. I was reminded of all those Heat championship years when everyone always seemed to be yelling at Chalmers.

David Fizdale looked like this most of the night. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • David Fizdale looked like this most of the night.

David Fizdale put his team on blast after the game, and then told us everything he said. It wasn’t just Chalmers who caught hell from the coach after the game. In the press conference, in what I can only assume was a G-rated version of the rant he’d just unleashed on the players, Fizdale said “We didn’t deserve to win this game. Our huddles were a joke, our communication was ridiculous. No one owned anything tonight.” Asked about Chalmers’ handling of the end of the game, he said “Mario made a ridiculous play.”

His frustration was apparent. He praised Marc Gasol’s leadership and his efforts to get the game back on track, but other than that, he seemed very frustrated by the team’s demeanor from moment one of the game. He went on to stress the teachability of these kinds of games, that he was going to watch it a couple more times and make the team do it too. He also pointed out that the Grizzlies were trying stuff like lobs off the backboard (Tyreke Evans’ missed connection to James Ennis) with the game on the line.

Fizdale’s bluntness has gotten him in a little bit of hot water with players before, but last night there’s no way they could have disagreed with his assessment. Nothing was working for the Grizzlies on either end of the floor for long stretches of last night, and even though they built up a double-digit lead at one point that only made them even more casual and even less willing to dig in and communicate. It’s worth monitoring what the team chemistry situation is as they leave town for a long pair of road trips; these issues could get worse before they get better, and if they do, batten down the hatches.

Andrew Harrison - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Andrew Harrison

Andrew Harrison is barely able to stay on the court. Harrison made some nifty plays last night when the game tightened up, but for the most part, he was not good, and without Mike Conley the Grizzlies’ starting lineup was even worse than it has been, which is no mean feat. Single game +/- is not often instructive, but it can point you in the right direction, and last night Harrison was –18 in a 2 point game, in only 20 minutes of play. (And Jarell Martin, the other young guy currently starting because of injuries, was –23 in 19 minutes. Whether or not these numbers are very meaningful, they’re not not meaningful.)

The bottom line is that the sooner Ben McLemore and/or Wayne Selden return from injury and push Harrison back down towards the bottom of the rotation, the better. His defense is good, but he still lacks any other distinguishable NBA skills, and he’s just not good enough to carry major minutes as a starting shooting guard. There’s no one else to start if Fizdale wants to keep the bench unit of Chalmers, Evans, Brooks, Parsons, and Wright together, but he may be forced into further experiments while awaiting Selden and McLemore. It just doesn’t seem like this bad of a starting lineup is in any way tenable.

The longer these guys stay hurt, the worse the Grizzlies will get. With Conley out, an uncertain injury situation became a bad one. One hopes he’s just taking it easy because it’s early in the season. JaMychal Green’s absence is certainly felt on the defensive end. And Selden was never supposed to have been hurt this long in the first place, and was expected by many (including me) to be the starting 2 guard until McLemore returned from his foot injury to challenge for the spot. The net result is a Grizzlies team that has about seven players who play well together but needs to play ten guys to make it through a game. If guys don’t start coming back soon, I don’t see any way they do more than tread water, and headed out on the road for a couple of weeks, that has the potential to get very ugly. Because:

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

This group of personalities has not gelled completely yet. There are young guys, brash characters like Tyreke Evans and Mario Chalmers, whatever you want to call Chandler Parsons, the quiet solid guys like Ennis and Wright, and Conley and Gasol’s still-evolving leadership roles. There are a lot of opportunities for the chemistry on this year’s Grizzlies team to go south, and they may be coming up on one of those opportunities with this road trip.

Fizdale seems to have a handle on what’s going on, but he can only do so much, and with the injuries taking a toll on what the team is capable of, the Grizzlies, this early in the season, are already in a bit of a pressure cooker, having so outperformed early expectations. I think things might get weird.

Tweet of the Night

If I’d had six thoughts instead of five, the bonus one would have been that Tyreke Evans scored 32 points last night, and shot 65% from the floor. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him shoot as well as he’s shooting so far this year, which bodes well for how the Grizzlies can use him. But last night wasn’t just about shooting jumpers:

Up Next

The road awaits. A pair of games in LA this weekend, one a Saturday matinee against the Clippers (and the Grizzlies almost always lose road matinee games, same as every other team who goes out on the town in LA the night before—which is to say every team in the league). Then it’s up to Portland, before coming home and heading back out on another road trip without playing a home game.

The chemistry is the thing to watch. Can the Grizzlies correct the issues they’ve developed in these two losses, or will the added isolation of a road trip only intensify and deepen their issues? That’s the story of the next week.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Hornets 104, Grizzlies 99: Five Thoughts

Posted By on Tue, Oct 31, 2017 at 7:44 AM

Mike Conley continues to struggle. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mike Conley continues to struggle.

The Grizzlies finally lost a home game on Monday night, falling 104–99 to the Charlotte Hornets after leading by as many as 13. A lot of things combined to take down the home team on Monday night but the biggest story is that the struggles of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol finally caught up with them. Conley and Gasol shot a combined 8 of 33 (that’s 24.2% for those of you keeping score at home) and the rest of the offense went cold as they tried to chuck any and every three point opportunity that came their way so the Grizzlies could keep up. That’s never really worked for this Memphis team, and it’s not about to start working now.

Here are five takeaways from last night:

The Grizzlies can’t pretend they’re a 3-point shooting team. Totally restored vintage Chandler Parsons or no, the Grizzlies have yet to win a game when they’re shooting threes at the expense of initiating any other offense. Last night, the shots weren’t falling, and in the third and fourth quarters, the Grizzlies refused to compensate by taking the ball to the rim. A good deal of credit for this, obviously, goes to Charlotte’s defense—but certainly not all of it. The offense stagnated when it started trying to shoot over the Hornets’ defense instead of working through it. The Grizzlies took thirty five threes last night and only made 8 of them. That’s never going to be a winning formula, especially if they’re all coming in half court sets instead of in quick offense generated off of defensive stops.

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

The starters are bad. Period. The bench has bailed out the team in every win so far, and with Conley and Gasol both struggling now in addition to Andrew Harrison and Jarell Martin (maybe “because of” rather than “in addition to” but I haven’t rewatched enough game tape yet to say that), there’s no relief in sight unless (1) Selden or McLemore and JaMychal Green return to the starting lineup or (2) Gasol and Conley miraculously pull themselves out of the slump they’re in. Given that Selden’s injury was supposed to be a short thing—Fizdale even said at one point during the preseason that they were targeting an opening night return—I’m not sure what his timetable is anymore. But the sooner the starting lineup can be filled with slightly less marginal NBA players, the better.

Dillon Brooks finally looked like a rookie. He hesitated to take shots last night, defended well but also got burned a few times, didn’t shoot well even when he got good looks. The whole rest of the team looked like that too, but last night was the first time I’ve seen Brooks look so tentative, like he’s still so young and pure of heart that he was shocked when Gasol kept feeding him the ball instead of trying to drive. Those of us who have watched this team a long time know better. Speaking of which:

The offense got some great looks for the wrong guys. Ball movement is meaningless of Jarell Martin is the guy you’re hoping will hit a bunch of crunch time 3’s, or that Dillon Brooks will somehow save you. The Grizzlies, and Gasol especially, were overpassing down the stretch of the fourth quarter, kicking out to guys who were open for a reason. I’d be more upset about it if Gasol hadn’t been doing that since about 2009. (Remember all those times he fired a beautiful skip pass to a wide-open Tony Allen instead of taking it to the rim?)

Charlotte is good. This was not a loss to a bad team. The Hornets are #7 in the East, but I think they’ll rise in the standings as the season grinds on. The Grizzlies are somehow still in first place, having only lost one conference/division game and only two games overall.

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Tweet of the Night

From happier times in the first half when it looked like the Grizzlies were rolling, fueled by another big scoring night for the bench:

Up Next

The Grizzlies, #1 in the West, take on the Orlando Magic, #1 in the East before the Celtics finally pushed them down to #2 yesterday. No one expected either of these teams to be anywhere near as good as they’ve been to open the season, so this should be an interesting test game to see how good they really are.

Historically, this is a game that the Grizzlies would not get up for, so it’ll be interesting to see what kinds of effect that has on the starting five. But Orlando, like the Grizzlies, does not look to be a bad team that’s randomly hot; they look like they’re legitimately better than people expected. Should be a good one.

Also, when these two teams played in preseason, Jarell Martin did this to Bismack Biyombo, so Orlando has to play with four players. I think that’s how that works.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Grizzlies 103, Rockets 89: Five Thoughts

Posted By on Sun, Oct 29, 2017 at 7:50 AM

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Grizzlies pulled off a big win over division rivals the Houston Rockets last night at FedExForum, 103–89, and the final score is actually closer than the game felt by the end. The 5–1 Grizzlies now have two wins over Houston already. Houston, without Chris Paul and Eric Gordon, was unable to keep up with the Grizzlies’ second unit on either end of the floor, which is the story of the young season for Memphis so far.

The Griz are lucky the bench had a big night, because wasn’t a pretty game for the starting unit. But more about that later. Here are five thoughts about what happened last night and What It All Means:

Chandler Parsons had himself a game. For the first time in a Grizzlies uniform, Chandler Parsons looked like the platonic 2014–15 ideal of Chandler Parsons. In 18 minutes, Parsons scored 24 points on 9–11 shooting, including 6 of 8 from 3. Most of that came in even less time than that. Not shown in the box score is the time he drove the lane on Ryan Anderson and dunked, which I think we can all agree is something that seemed unlikely (if not impossible). After the game, Mike Conley said the last time he saw Parsons play that well was when Parsons played for Houston and dropped “about 10 3’s” on the Grizzlies, and Parsons referenced the same game in his postgame interview. At any rate, it’s been a long time since Parsons has been that player, and it was wonderful to see it happen last night.

I had no expectations for Parsons this year. I thought it was possible that me might not be able to play at all, and so did people inside the organization. But all year long he’s been solid defensively, and as he’s gotten more comfortable in the flow of the game, his shot has returned to him as well. Even if he never has this sort of outburst again, the fact that he’s able to be a key contributor to a very good second unit is a positive outcome for everyone involved, and makes for a much happier vibe around the season. Good for Chandler Parsons. Maybe his Instagram manners will come around next.

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Grizzlies’ depth is their strength. The Grizzlies beat the Rockets by 14 points, led by as many as 19, and didn’t have a single starter score 10 or more points. The leading scorer among starters was actually Jarell Martin who finished with 9. Counting the basket made by Deyonta Davis after the game was in garbage time, the Griz bench was responsible for 67 points last night, compared to the Rockets’ bench’s 25. The Grizzlies are crushing people without any starters on the floor this season. It’s been the story all along. But last night it was even more important, with the injury-hobbled starting lineup failing to get anything done.

After the game, coach David Fizdale had some interesting things to say about how he’s approached the bench. With the injuries to JaMychal Green, Wayne Selden, and Ben McLemore, the starting lineup is sure to change as guys come back, so Fizdale has focused on keeping his second unit—Mario Chalmers, Tyreke Evans, Dillon Brooks, Chandler Parsons, and Brandan Wright—as cohesive as possible while letting the starters carry the weight of the missing players.

That explains why Andrew Harrison and Jarell Martin are still starting, especially Harrison, who has struggled mightily and played his worst game so far last night. Green is sure to return in Martin’s spot, and one assumes either Selden or McLemore will start in Harrison’s spot, whichever is healthy first. But if the bench unit is staying together, including sensational rookie Dillon Brooks, either Selden or McLemore may find himself on the outside looking in once they’re all back. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out as guys return.

Dillon Brooks is smooth. That’s all I have for this one. Brooks had 6 points and went 2–7 from the field, and even in an “off” night I was impressed by his poise on the court. He guarded James Harden some. But his pull-up 3 in transition showed an ease with the NBA game that the Grizzlies haven’t seen in a young guy in years.

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Mike Conley’s struggles are not getting better. Conley was flat-out bad last night. Marc Gasol was off, too, but he’s had enough MVP-like games that he gets a pass. Conley, on the other hand, struggled for all four quarters last night, unable to turn it on for the final frame like he has in other big games this year.

When I asked Fizdale about it postgame, he pointed out that defenses are keying in on Conley even more than in the past, and it’s taken some time to get used to it. He also pointed out that he’s not worried—that he knows Conley’s game will come around when it comes around. Last night the Grizzlies were able to see their way to a blowout without Captain Clutch, but one wonders how many more big wins they’re likely to get with Conley and Gasol both in single digits.

Tyreke needs to facilitate more instead of looking guys off. Yeah, right. But he did miss white-hot Parsons wide often for three, more than once.

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Tweet of the Night

Up Next

Monday night, the Grizzlies take on the Charlotte Hornets at home, and then Wednesday night the home stand wraps up against the Orlando Magic. Given the Grizzlies’ track record against East teams, especially mediocre-to-bad ones, it’s anybody’s guess how these next two play out (although the Magic are currently on top of the East standings, so I suppose anything is possible). After that, it’s a weekend in LA, which we’ll talk about more later in the week. For now, the Grizzlies are back on top of the West standings, and anyone who says they saw this start coming is probably full of it.


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Beyond the Arc Podcast #85: Thrown Mouthguards

Posted By on Wed, Oct 25, 2017 at 9:11 AM

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

  • The 3-0 Grizzlies' victories over the Pelicans, Warriors, and Rockets (which actually happened!)
  • The impressive defense from the Grizzlies, ahead of schedule
  • Mike Conley's three bad quarters and one great one against the Rockets
  • The ejections of Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, and the Chalmers/Harden scuffle
  • Chandler Parsons' not-dead-yet first three games
  • The week to come: Dallas twice, Houston again, and Charlotte—can the Grizzlies go 8-0?

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, October 24, 2017

Grizzlies 98, Rockets 90: Road Rundown

Posted By on Tue, Oct 24, 2017 at 8:54 AM

Tyreke Evans - JOE MURPHY (NBAE/GETTY IMAGES)
  • Joe Murphy (NBAE/Getty Images)
  • Tyreke Evans

Fresh off a victory over the Warriors, the Grizzlies went to Houston last night and beat the Rockets 98–90 in a classic, Grind-inflected battle of wills. It was an unexpected win, but once the game got going, you could see what was happening: the Grizzlies’ defense, well ahead of schedule, was driving Houston crazy, and as usual, the offense was just doing enough to break even. A fourth-quarter outburst from Mike Conley pushed the Grizzlies over the edge (and the Rockets over the edge of frustration) and the Griz were suddenly 3–0 and in possession of first place in the Western Conference. (You can go on and start the playoffs now, Mr. Silver.)

Here are four key points from last night, in abbreviated “road game” form:

TA left, but Grit and Grind did not. I thought the Grizzlies would struggle on defense this year, but in Tony Allen’s absence they’re actually doing a better job implementing the system Fizdale tried to put in place last year. The Grizzlies switch now, and they do it well, and the fact that they’re all bought in instead of gambling for steals at every opportunity might mean they’re actually better off. If driving the opponent’s star player to draw a frustration-based tech while holding the score under 100 isn’t Classic Grizzlies, I don’t know what is.

Jarell Martin has to get better defensively. Houston saw a weakness in Martin’s pick and roll defense and exploited it ruthlessly. Of course, he’s not the intended starter at that spot, but until JaMychal Green gets back, Martin needs to do a better job of holding down the fort on that end. I was having Zach Randolph Western Conference Finals flashbacks watching him get burned on possession after possession.

James Ennis is the best starting small forward since Rudy Gay and it’s not close. I said that already after the Warriors game but I think people are still sleeping on this fact.

The second unit is going to get weird when the injured guys return. I’m not sure who I’d give the minutes to right now, or from whom I would take them. The current ten-man rotation feels straight out of the Hubie Brown playbook.

Tweet of the Night

Up Next

The Grizzlies are in Dallas Wednesday night and then return home Thursday night to play… Dallas. After that it’s another matchup with the Rockets, this time in Memphis, on Saturday night, which—given the near-fisticuffs between James Harden and Mario Chalmers near the end of last night’s game—may get interesting.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Grizzlies 111, Warriors 101: Five Thoughts

Posted By on Sun, Oct 22, 2017 at 8:50 AM

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Saturday night at FedExForum, the Grizzlies pulled off an improbable win over the defending champion Golden State Warriors in a game that was really only ever close in a few spots. After taking the lead somewhere in the middle of the first quarter, the Grizzlies put their collective foot on the gas and never looked back, leading by as many as 19 points in the third quarter.

I won't say I was shocked by last night's outcome—the Grizzlies have had the Warriors' number for a long time now, and there always seems to be at least one game per year in which the Grizzlies get in the Warriors' heads and camp out for a while. But I didn't expect the Grizzlies to look so dominant, or for the bench to outperform the starters so thoroughly. (Well, except Marc Gasol, but we'll get to him in a bit.) It was a good all-around win for a team with a lot to prove, and it came much earlier in the season than was probably fair to expect. For all of the doom-and-gloom about the Grizzlies headed into this year—and make no mistake, they're only two games in and there are still questions yet to be answered—it does seem like maybe the "rebuild in place" is happening a little faster than the national basketball commentariat predicted. Here are five other things that stood out about last night:

Marc Gasol is not from this planet. Gasol ended last night with 34 points on 16 shots, 14 rebounds, and a career-high 17 free throw attempts. Gasol was everywhere last night, shooting 50% from three, cooking in the post, defending well, pulling down rebounds at a rate we've never seen before1, and mostly making up for Mike Conley's off night in every statistical category. It was a marvelous game from him last night, one of the best I can remember in a long time.

If Gasol is going to play like this all year (barring the nights when the conditions just aren't right for him to create his basketball art) the Grizzlies are going to make the playoffs, simply by the sheer force of his will towards perfecting each individual possession.

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

The current second unit is unstoppable so far. Mario Chalmers, Tyreke Evans, Dillon Brooks, Chandler Parsons, and Brandan Wright got the Grizzlies the lead in the first half and played a big role in their keeping it. Gasol already had a double-double by halftime but the rest of the Grizzlies' starters stumbled out of the gate a bit, and it was up to the bench to salvage the situation. Chalmers only took 4 shots but got to the line for 8 FT attempts, Brooks ended with 9 points but was more impressive on the defensive end (except for the few times he got burned, because, y'know, rookies get burned), Parsons was 2 of 4 from 3 and moved the ball well, and Wright, even though the stat sheet doesn't really show it, kept things moving with his length and athleticism.

It's been quite a while since the Grizzlies had a bench that was this reliable. And they did this, last night, missing two or three rotation players (JaMychal Green, Wayne Selden, and Ben McLemore, all of whom will presumably play—though maybe not if Brooks continues to perform at this level). I wrote in my season preview that the Grizzlies' wing rotation top-to-bottom was better than it's been in a long time, and I think even then I wasn't positive enough. The bench is good. This, apparently, is a seriously deep team.

Jarell Martin probably isn't ready to be a starter yet, but held his own. Martin got the start in place of the injured Green. Before the game, head coach David Fizdale said he wanted to start Martin as a test to see where he's at, but also that Martin's versatility "fits this game." Once the game was underway, one could see what he meant: Martin seemed overwhelmed at times against the Warriors' starters, especially when the Griz defense started switching more rigorously, but he was able to make plays with his athleticism that he 100% would not have made in the previous two seasons. There is real growth happening there with Martin, even if it's still the early stages of what he can be. "Everyone's consensus pick to be cut at the end of camp" to "starting against the Warriors in Game 2" is a heck of a recovery.

James Ennis is the starting 3 the Grizzlies have needed for five years. Since Rudy Gay was traded, the Grizzlies have had issues at the small forward spot. Tayshaun Prince was a good facilitator and defender but he was on the downslope of his career and his shot had mostly started to fail him. Jeff Green was apparently on the Grizzlies for a while. Chandler Parsons was forced to start for 20 minutes to rehab his knees and clearly couldn't play. But this year, with Ennis in that spot, he's everything they've needed for years. He's athletic, he can defend, and he doesn't need to produce much offense, but when he does, it's extremely efficient. Ennis was 6 for 6 last night, finishing with 13 points, and it felt like all 6 of those made field goals were lob dunks or putbacks. He's the cleanup guy, not doing anything flashy but making sure the Grizzlies aren't leaving points on the board. Every game he has like this I get retroactively more upset that Dave Joerger once cut him to re-sign Ryan Hollins. Sure, when the Griz signed Parsons, the plan was for Ennis to be farther back in the rotation while Parsons manned the starting 3 spot. But plans change, and Ennis has changed them as much as any other circumstances have. If only this Ennis had been on the 2014 or 2015 Grizzlies.

LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

The defense is much farther along than I expected it to be. Last year's model of Tony Allen was not the Tony Allen of old; he'd lost a step and was making up for it by gambling for steals and cheating into passing lanes, often leaving Marc Gasol home alone under the rim to deal with whatever got past Allen. But even with that being the case, I still wondered what the Griz defense would look like without him. It's been seven years since I had to think about it.

Last night was at least an early sign of what this team can be defensively. Fizdale and Gasol both stress repeatedly that the defensive end is still their focus, and last night it showed. Everyone was locked in, forcing 17 turnovers, holding the Warriors under 40% from the field, frustrating ball handlers and denying the ball to anyone not named Durant or Curry. Durant finished with 29 and Curry finished with 37. Klay Thompson had 14, but most everyone else on the roster finished with 0, 2, or 4 points (though Shaun Livingston had 8). They switched, and it worked. I repeat: They switched, and it worked. This is not the 2013 Grizzlies, who overloaded the strong side and stayed there until Tony Allen forced a turnover. This is a totally different defensive system than the one in which Marc Gasol once won a Defensive Player of the Year award, and yet it's still working for them. Maybe he can win another one.

Tweet of the Night

It's a tie. First, from noted Warriors fan Jacob Greenberg of The Diss:

Then, Marc Gasol is going to cause Klay Thompson to run up an expensive therapy bill for this one:


Up Next

The Grizzlies are in Houston Monday night to take on the Rockets, who find themselves without Chris Paul. Without Paul, the Rockets look to be... exactly like they were last year, when they were really good. Even after knocking off the Warriors, in some ways Monday's game is more important; the Griz play the Rockets four times by November 18, which is insanely early to be completely done playing a divisonal opponent. They need to win as many as they can even while it's the first month of the season, because the West playoff race will be tight and every tiebreaker they can rack up now will undoubtedly pay off later. If Paul is out that whole time, maybe that helps, but the Rockets were a very tough out for the Grizzlies last year even without him. In some ways, it's a more interesting test of where the Grizzlies are this early in the season than the Warriors game.


  1. Let's pause for a moment to ponder that Gasol, at this point in his career, has simply decided, "Now I will be good at rebounding," and is immediately a force to be reckoned with on the glass. Is there anything more "Marc Gasol"?


Friday, October 20, 2017

Beyond the Arc Podcast #84: The Dillon Brooks Era

Posted By on Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 9:37 AM

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

  • The dawning of the Dillon Brooks era
  • Chandler Parsons' new life as the Grizzlies' backup power forward
  • The injury to JaMychal Green, and whether Jarell Martin is ready to step into his role immediately
  • The void left by Tony Allen's departure and the emotional tribute during Wednesday night's game
  • The development of Andrew Harrison
  • The Grizzlies two big upcoming games against the Warriors and Rockets

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:


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