I was at the Grizzlies-Hawks preseason game yesterday, and let me tell you: this is going to be an interesting year. I went in hoping to get a good look at Tony Wroten for the first time, but he sat out with a sprained ankle, apparently acquired during the pre-game shootaround. With that off the table, I was there to get a feel for the team, to get a good first (this is the first game I’ve been able to go to) look at new Grizzlies like Jerryd Bayless and Wayne Ellington, and see how the guys who were new last year look after a real training camp with the team.
The verdict? Mostly, they looked good. A few of them looked really good. A few of them, well, didn’t. Here are some notes on the game.
Zach Randolph is back. At least, most of the way back. Last night he was in vintage ZBo form, dropping that big rainbow jumper over Al Horford at every opportunity. On the defensive end he was, well, typical Randolph, maybe not the best defender in the world but good at getting the rebound. Randolph started slow, but ended up with 14 points and 10 rebounds – another ho-hum double double for ZBo. What was even more encouraging to me than Randolph’s stat line was his demeanor. Once he found his groove, he started doing the Classic ZBo: hollering for the ball from the post, maybe re-posting a couple of times, making that face he always makes, and dropping bucket after bucket on poor Al Horford’s head. It was a glorious thing to watch.
Mike Conley was on fire last night. Coach Hollins experimented with a small lineup of Conley-Bayless-Allen-Gay-Gasol, and having two point guards on the floor freed Conley up to move off the ball. He ended up going 5 for 5 from beyond the arc. At least two of those were made while Bayless and Conley were on the floor together.
Speaking of Jerryd Bayless: he looked good. Really good. The team came out slow and lazy – it was, after all, a preseason game at 5 P.M. on a Sunday – and quickly got themselves into a hole, at one point going down 13–2. Bayless calmed everybody down, forcing the offense to get into a rhythm and start running their sets. His poise was evident. I think if Conley can play 30 minutes a night and Bayless can play 20-something (allowing for those dual-PG lineups), this team is going to be more poised on offense than ever, because both of these guys are good point guards. Having Bayless around isn’t just so Conley can have a rest; he gives the offense a different look, a new aspect. This guy is already the best backup PG the Grizzlies have had since Kyle Lowry, and he’s only going to get more comfortable.
The other new Grizzly that impressed me was Wayne Ellington. I was hoping Summer League co-MVP Josh Selby was going to get some playing time, but he’s still nursing a sore ankle. That’s allowed Ellington to fill in spot minutes, and it looks like he’s gotten the message about three-point shooting. Ellington was constantly looking for the long ball, ending up shooting 2 for 5 from long range with 10 points overall. If he can play 15 minutes and make two or three 3’s a game, he’s got a spot on this roster, which so desperately needs long-range shooting threats. More surprising to me than his shooting stats was the way he looked on defense. He looks like he’s been indoctrinated into the Grizzly School of Defense, and it’ll be intersting to see how that develops.
Transition scoring. As in, there was hardly any. The Grizzlies ran the break the way a two-year-old drives a Cozy Coupe: not very well at all. Highlights of the Grizzlies’ transition offense included Marreese Speights throwing possibly the worst outlet pass I’ve ever seen in my life, which ended up turning into a transition basket for the Hawks, and also Hamed Haddadi throwing Ivan Johnson – who, with teammate Zaza Pachulia, looked like they’d been trying to see who could hip-check more Grizzlies running over screens – to the floor and being called for a tech. (To be fair, Johnson probably had it coming.) The Grizz ended up with 7 fast break points and 40 points in the paint, to the Hawks’ 19 transition points and 42 in the paint.
I lost count of the number of passes that hit people in the feet in the first quarter. It looked like the guys had maybe all been watching football until the end of the first Sunday afternoon games, and then remembered they had a preseason game. As the game went on, execution got better, but it started out beyond rough.
I think the referees might have been replacement refs. There were some terrible calls made, including more than one foul on what the replay showed to be a clean block.
Poor Quincy Pondexter. He played a good game, making some big shots late, but his main memory of the night is going to be when he got put on an Al Horford poster:
Oh well. These things happen.
All in all, it was a good Grizzlies game. The second half felt like a regular season game, almost. The intensity and energy in the second half was very different from the first. It was a good look at some of the things that this year’s Grizzlies have to offer, and a glimpse at some of the things they still need to work on.
We’ve got a good shot at doing good things this year. The thing I came away most excited about was the Conley-Bayless lineup, allowing both guys to move off the ball, which, given Conley’s speed, is going to create some serious problems for opposing defenses.
Mainly, though, I just can’t wait for the regular season to start. Maybe the league will contract the Clippers between now and then.