Author’s Note: this is the second of a two-part series in which Kevin and I take a look at where the Grizzlies are right now and where they can be going forward. If you haven't already, do go read his excellent piece, which takes a cynical but honest look at our future prospects. However, it's my job to cheer everyone up. This article will hopefully convince you to remain optimistic both for the remainder of this series as well as the Grizzlies' long-term future. Before you begin, take a long hard look at the cover picture. Then listen to this song. Hopefully you're now in the right state of mind to read this.
Lately, I seem to have developed the nasty habit of talking too much about myself in my posts. Despite my best efforts, those damn first-person pronouns keep forcing their way into everything I write (you see?). Seeing as how the use of the first-person implies that you, the reader, actually care about the writer as a person (which is an honor I certainly haven't earned), it's a habit that really needs to be curtailed. That being said, I think it's important to understand where I'm coming from when I say that the Grizzlies are in a good situation for the relative future. So if you'll forgive me, I'm going to indulge in one more paragraph talking about myself.
In basketball, like in almost everything, I'm pretty a pretty positive person, probably because in my life so far I've never been given any reason to be negative. Although my background is pretty much average for an American in terms of wealth, family, education, etc., I've always been luckier than most. Don't get me wrong, it's not like there's a winning lotto ticket in my apartment or I'm a rockstar, but every time things have started to look problematic for me, some opportunity has arisen and sorted everything out. An uncle once said to my mom, "Scott sure lives a charmed life, doesn't he?" And yeah, thanks to some massive stock of karma (maybe I was Gandhi or a saint or something in a previous life), I guess I do. However, many of my friends and probably many of you have faced significant hurdles in your life and have been considerably less fortunate than I, despite being infinitely more deserving. It's understandable that when you're struggling in life, it's hard to look at anything, especially your favorite sports team which happens to be in a 3-1 hole, with rose-colored glasses. Yet, the Death Star isn't quite within range of the Rebel base, and there's still time for a new hope in Memphis.
Obviously, history has not been kind to teams down 3 games to 1 in a best of seven series. The last NBA team to overcome such an obstacle was the 2006 Phoenix Suns, who had fallen behind the Lakers due to poor play and even poorer officiating. While the temptation is always to look to that Suns team as a source of inspiration, it's a completely inappropriate comparison. Whereas we're fairly evenly matched with the Clippers, Phoenix was worlds better than the Lakers, who featured Kwame Brown, Luke Walton, AND Smush Parker in the starting lineup. So is there any hope left? Well...sort of:
Based on their regular season numbers, there's room for improvement from the Grizzlies. Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, O.J. Mayo, and Tony Allen have all seen a significant decrease in their PER. Obviously, the biggest problem for Memphis has been the 4th quarter, where we have only outscored the Clippers in one game (Game 2, which we won). A lot of our clutch struggles can be attributed to poor execution, but, frankly, a lot of it is also bad luck. Game 3 is one of the best examples of this. Sure, the Grizzlies took some bad shots, but they did get plenty of good looks that they just couldn't convert. If Memphis can execute more consistently, then at some point the Law of Averages has to work in our favor, right?
Ultimately, here's what this series comes down to: three games, two at home and one in LA. The odds are firmly and justifiably against Memphis coming back, but there's still a chance. Look at this way: Memphis will probably win tonight, if for no other reason than because they're at home and this team has too much pride to allow themselves to be knocked out on their home floor. Then, we have to win one game in LA, the chances of which, I'll be completely honest, are insanely remote. And yet....So far, the writers at SOV have correctly avoided playing this card, but, we're on the verge of elimination, so fuck it, I'm playing it now: it's the Clippers (apologies to everyone at Clips Nation whom I have the utmost respect for). This is a team whose entire history seems to suggest a massive curse. If the Basketball Gods chose to crap on any team, even their fans would admit that they'd be the most likely candidate. And then, it's just a Game 7 at home where anything could happen.
Finally, here's something to consider: when, in all probability, the Grizzlies are knocked out of the playoffs by LA, we've handled ourselves with class and dignity in a series that has easily proved to be the most exciting first round match-up. Further, while I can't speak for everyone at SOV, I don't bear the Clippers any ill-will and wish them the best for the remainder of the postseason.
In spite of this team's unexpected playoff failures, the future is still bright. Let's begin by addressing our two most troubling concerns: Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph. The general belief was that, as the highest paid players on the squad, at least one would step up his respective game in the postseason and carry the team to another deep playoff run. In that regard, both have failed.
By the numbers, Rudy is an interesting case. Surprisingly, his postseason statistics about the same as his regular season stats. His regular season is important because, in terms of advanced metrics like PER and Win Shares, it was the best of his career despite the fact that he was putting up the worst shooting percentages since his rookie season. Rudy is by far and away our most polarizing player. Some of us here have defended him already, but there's a few things we can all agree on. One is that while Rudy's shooting was down this year, every NBA player experiences a "down" year or two, after which they bounce back. Thus, Rudy will probably be scoring more points at a more efficient rate in 2013. Also, while we tend to think of him and his contract as an albatoss, it's far from true. If you simply browse through the various SBN blogs, especially those of lottery teams, you'll see that there is considerable interest in Rudy Gay. He's far from "untradeable"; two separate teams traded for Hedo Turkoglu! If you don't think the majority of GM's would trade for a healthy, productive, if somewhat overpaid, 25-year-old, then you don't understand how the NBA works. Were the Grizzlies so inclined, they could easily trade him. Here's a quick test: go to Canis Hoopus and propose Gay for Derrick Williams, Wes Johnson, and a 2nd-round pick. How quickly do you think Wolves fans jump on that deal? The reality of the NBA is that small markets inevitably have to overpay for good players, and a place such as Minnesota, Sacramento (fans, not the Maloofs), or Phoenix would gladly overpay to get a player of Gay's caliber.
Zach is a different case. I would maintain that he's not untradeable either, but first the team needs to get an honest assessment of where's he's at from a health standpoint. It's entirely possible that he never gets back to where he was last year. However, no one can say that for sure at the moment. Regardless, he did show us that he could be productive in either a starting or bench role.
Outside of those two players, the future is bright for the rest of the team. After having an career-best season last year and getting a large extension, Mike Conley had an even better season this year. More importantly, he's been incredible this postseason with a PER of 22.2 (compared to his regular season PER of 16.8). Likewise, Marc Gasol didn't dissappoint after his big payday in the offseason. Our other reserves are all cheap and incredibly productive relative to their salaries. While we may lose some (Mayo, Arthur, Speights) in free agency, this front office has proven that it can acquire solid players, and the coaching staff has consistently made the most of these players. For these reason, you can feel confident about the Memphis Grizzlies going forward.