Due to the emergence of Mike Conley the Memphis Grizzlies now boast quality players at all five positions on the court. Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t enough to allow the Grizzlies to overcome the New Jersey Nets, losing at home 101-94. Let’s examine what the Grizzlies did and didn’t do well to determine what lies ahead for them this season.
- Rudy Gay is Memphis’ fail-safe scorer. He’s improved his jump shooting from the perimeter, but his best attribute is his fantastic athleticism. Gay simply drives to spots and shoots over opponents, the majority too landlocked to contest his attempts.
- Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol play with perfect harmony on offense. One is always ducking into the low post, while the other is always looking for his teammate from the high post. And after every play involving the two—good or bad—there’s always a handshake and communication about the play. Past criticisms of Randolph as a poor teammate seem like ancient history now that he’s playing with a team comprised mostly of mature individuals and coaches.
- Mike Conley is starting to figure it out. His defense is suspect when an opponent takes the ball right into his chest—as Devin Harris did to create separation—but he’s starting to understand how to use his quickness and wingspan to keep opponents in front of him. On offense, he makes terrific passes on screen/rolls and has a tricky hesitation dribble he pulls out to get to the rim. Most impressive is his decision-making—8 AST, 0 TO—with no forced passes compromising Grizzlies possessions. All indications point to his megabucks contract signed this offseason being justified.
- The Grizzlies interior passing and offensive rebound are each terrific. Gasol makes terrific decisions with the ball, while Randolph’s anticipation, unselfishness, and snappy passes resulted in five assists against only one turnover. Randolph was also a bear on the boards, with five of his 14 total offensive rebounds coming on the offensive end.
- Xavier Henry is a smart rookie who doesn’t need the ball to be effective. He played alert weak-side defense making several fine closeouts and anticipating a Harris pass to Brook Lopez on a screen/roll, rotating over from the corner to intercept it for a steal. On offense he didn’t do too much, acting as a safety valve for the Grizzlies’ offense. He knocked down three of his four open jumpers, while showing great body control in finishing a pair of plus-one’s in transition.
- O.J. Mayo can light up the scoreboard in a hurry.
- Gay has great timing on defense. His athleticism and quick rotations led to four steals and four blocks.
- Hamed Haddadi set a terrific screen to free up Conley for a layup.
- The Grizzlies will move the ball and aren’t as isolation-oriented in years past. Plus their perimeter defense is acceptable. This, combined with their overall talent level makes them a formidable team.
- Gay drives parallel to the hoop and not directly towards it. As such, he isn’t a terrific finisher, and his free throw totals were unacceptable—2-2 in 44 minutes.
- Because of Gay’s, and the team’s, relative softness, the Grizzlies missed just shy of 30 shots (30!) inside the paint.
- Gay and Mayo forced over a half dozen shots, namely perimeter jumpers with no rhyme or reason.
- Gay normally can pick a spot on the court and shoot over a player, but Travis Outlaw’s length and leaping ability neutralized that aspect of Gay’s game and he wasn’t able to compensate.
- Memphis’ perimeter defenders tended to get strung up on too many screens.
- Gay’s athleticism helps, but Memphis interior defense is poor because Randolph and Gasol don’t jump high enough. Whether rolling to the basket or posting up, the Grizzlies had no answer for Brook Lopez.
- Hasheem Thabeet did deflect a crucial pass late in the game, but his development is at a crawling pace. He let Brook Lopez blow by him from 20 feet out for a dunk, and his interior rotations were habitually absent.
- Tony Allen played out of control and his lack of spacing hurts Memphis’ offense.
- Memphis’ bench doesn’t play with the cohesion of its starting unit. Part of this is a relative lack of talent, and part of it is Mayo’s ball dominance.
The Grizzlies are certainly a formidable team with a lot of unique strengths, namely terrific interior passing, strong perimeter defense, and explosive offensive firepower. Despite Memphis’ slow start, it’s probable that they’ll finish the season somewhere around .500. However, Gay isn’t a consistent enough isolation player to take the Grizzlies to the playoffs in the West, and the presence of Gay and Mayo is somewhat redundant.
Furthermore, Memphis’ interior defense isn’t as consistent as some of the other teams contending for the final spots for the playoffs out West (Phoenix, not included).
As such, the Grizzlies are still another year of internal development and another player (A more team-oriented shooting guard? A shot-blocking big more reliable than Thabeet?) away from making the postseason.