There's been so much talk going on about the Grizzlies lately, from trade rumours to questions of whether we should treat this season merely as a precursor to competing next year. I'll try and detail the major negatives and slim positives that have come from the season so far, and things to look for as we enter the middle of the season, a time which will hopefully bring the combustion of every other team in the middle of the Western standings, and a healthy stretch of games for the Griz.
The Injury Ward
The season thus far has been the total inverse last year, where the team by and large were able to stay healthy and compete each game together. We've missed games from Zach, TA, Ed and most recently Conley, but the biggest blow clearly has been Gasol. Counting the Spurs game in which he was injured early, the Grizzlies record is 3-9 without Big Spain, ie we have kinda sucked. The season ending injury to Pondexter was another low blow, and along with his growing offensive production, I was looking forward to seeing him have to fight for his rotation spot.
Here's our depth chart without injuries and the addition of James Johnson. The only shocking thing here is that Basketball Reference classify Calathes as a shooting guard.
Here's where we are now, aside from an alright big 4 man rotation of Z-bo, Leuer, Davis and Koufos, everything else looks fairly ugly. Picking up Koufos was a great move last offseason, even though the last few games haven't been flattering for him, but we're still lacking in a back-up point guard, and a swingman who could offer the same skill set that Quincy gave us. (As a side note, did we really need to send Jose Calderon to the Pistons for Tayshaun in last year's Rudy Gay trade? Pondexter wasn't ready to start but could've grown into it, whilst we would've had more money to sign another swingman in the offseason)
Injuries aren't and shouldn't be an excuse to the horrible play the Grizzlies have been exhibiting lately, but they definitely don't help. The major reason for this I believe is due to:
Conflict of Play Style
A big storyline for the Griz this season has been their move toward a more efficient offense, based on ball movement as opposed to an old school style of play that Lionel Hollins employed, that relied on big men creating their own shot and dominating the glass. Joeger's overall coaching philosophy of "By and large, quicker pace and ball movement", isn't one that is consistent with the roster.
The major conflict obviously, is the presence of Z-bo on the block, and after feeding him, everyone on the court seems to just stop and watch rather than work off him, and make the defense work. The last few games line-ups with Ed and Leuer on the floor have looked nice offensively, as they don't need to hold the ball for long to make their impact (shooting, finishing of the pick and roll).
I'm strongly opposed to a Z-bo trade, as the character of a team, and how well pieces mesh together I think are always under-appreciated. If the Griz traded Zach before the next game, what would be of TA, how would Mike and Marc react? I also am of the faith that when Marc comes back they'll be able to incorporate Z-bo's unique skill set into the new offensive plan.
Here's a lazy post-up of Z-bo (that he can still capitalise on however) to open to game against the Lakers. This style of Randolph doesn't mesh with Joerger's offensive style, as only one meaningful pass has been made, and only one option for a bucket has been created whilst Z-bo holds onto the ball with the others watching.
Essentially what I'm trying to say is that Zach Randolph isolation post-ups that were the saviour for our offense a few years ago are now acting as more of a hindrance. Teams know how to react, and without anyone cutting or working around him (he's not a black hole in the post anymore - look for the pass from him Griz), the ball generally stays with Z-bo until he makes his move and shoots.
Marc will allow for Z-bo to take a meaningful part in Joeger's offense when he returns, as he can feed him in spots where all he has to do is catch and finish( he's one of the best in the league at this), as opposed to create for himself (where he's still great, but it isn't as efficient play). The Griz employed a fair bit of this high low play last season, so its nothing new, but it allows for quicker, more efficient shots and greater ball movement (in line with Joerger's intentions). The play below in our win against the Clips created a look for TA, Marc and then in close to Z-bo, who just had to finish.
Starters offensive production has been horrible as its relied on these Z-bo post-ups far away from the bucket. The return of Marc will see greater ball movement and hopefully shift Z-bo's post isolation plays to sets that see Zach as more of a finisher and rebounder around the hoop rather than a player operating and trying to score further away from the hoop.
Other Negative Notes
- Jerryd has been horrible, except against the Celtics. So really the only situation in which he could prove his worth is a Griz - Celtics finals match-up. He was awesome last year, our confident scorer off the bench, so hopefully it's just a short slump, and lately he has had success driving and with his right handed floater
- Calathes has me cheering one second then cringing the next. Any possession where he holds it and seems to just want to get the final pass for the assist makes me want to kill him, but when he gives it up and works off the ball, creating for others, I love him. He ruined a few possessions against the Lakers by holding it too long, then had some great cuts off the ball and nice set-ups. I'm going to blame this on the worse Euro League competition, keep improving Nick!
- Koufos hasn't played well the last few games but he hasn't been put in a position to succeed either. You can only have one big down low, so when he plays with Z-bo neither have been overly successful. Z-bo has been playing with Davis and Leuer however whilst Koufos has been left on the bench, I'm sure he'll look good again when he plays with someone other than papa Z
I think there have been positives, obviously not as big as the negatives but screw it.
Jon Leuer (nuf said?)
As well as being an unexpectedly good 3 point shooter, defender and athlete, Jon Leuer's emergence gives the Griz some flexibility in the event they pull the trigger on a trade. But we'll focus on his play first.
Who on earth saw this coming? After being unleashed for 24 minutes against the Nets he put up 23 points against Phoenix. Our last 8 games in which he's played 25 minutes or more (and we've lost 6.......), he's averaged 15.5 pts and 8 rebounds on 55% fg and 54 % 3fg. The variety of ways in which he scores is great, he can operate as a pick and pop player, he can beat bigger men off the dribble and he has shown some ability in the post.
I was extremely annoyed at the salary dump Memphis performed last year, but i suppose they saw something in Leuer that is shining through now. So..... who can we trade? I think Gasol and Z-bo (who will hopefully resign for below 10 mil/yr) should be untouchable, and although it would suck to see any of Ed/Koufos/Leuer to go, I think there does need to be more balance between our front and backcourt, and all three now have value in a potential trade for a swingman that can hit the 3 and uphold our defensive identity.
The Trade Game
Some players i think would be great to good pick-ups (I haven't proposed any trades but think essentially one of our big men for one of these players is what I'm suggesting) :
- Iman Shumpert - If the Griz could get Iman without losing a starter, that would be amazing. He looks downcast and seems to have stopped giving a crap In NY and that's probably because they shopped him around like crazy. A great defender, his 3 point game hasn't looked that great this year, but he was absolutely on fire last year. In the elimination game 6 against the pacers he was on fire from deep, hitting a few consecutively in the third quarter before Carmelo ball-hogged his way into the off-season in the fourth. Players that catch fire like that in closeout playoff games are special commodities, lets hope the Knicks have forgotten that. (33.3 - 3fg%)
- Courtney Lee - A solid 3 and D player, who seems to have been buried underneath a deep rotation for the Celtics. He lit us up when we played him and underrated aspects of his game are his off ball movement and his athleticism. Also played on the Magic team that went to the finals with Dwight, so a little playoff experience to go with his shooting. (48.6 - 3fg%)
Again, this is just a list of a few players I think that are stuck in situations that aren't great for them, and could be a great asset for the Griz moving forward.
If we manage to sneak into the playoffs...
I hate to sound like a ridiculous optimist, but doesn't it seem like so many teams have moved towards a style of play (fast, lots of 3 pointers), that hasn't proved to be successful in the playoffs? Before you scroll to the comments to tell me I'm an idiot, yeah we probably (definitely at this point) can't beat the Spurs and potentially the Thunder/Warriors (who are 9th), but what about the Trail Blazers, whose defensive scheme refuses to double anyone in the post, or the Clippers and Rockets who are the epitomy of the fast paced, poor defensive, three point shooting direction the majority of NBA teams seem to be headed in?
And if we can't beat Phoenix/Dallas/Denver then I suppose we really just aren't that good. But after this torrid start to the season, surely the character and chemistry of this team has been trialed and tested in a way that can help further on in the season. Our role players should have the confidence now to come in and make an immediate impact in close games, and our starters should have confidence in them that many other teams simply haven't had the experience of. Maybe, just maybe, I'm talking out of my arse but a struggling, fighting group of nba players can wreak havoc in the playoffs, and isn't that what the essence of the Grizzlies is?
We're in the mud, amidst trade rumours, tanking rumours and a transitional phase from an old school to new school style of play. But the reason I still love the Grizzlies and believe they can still hold relevance come June is this old school style of play. As every single team moves toward the same blueprint for success, this success moves to a different style of play. The Griz are in a rough spot, but there's still hope on the horizon, with players returning from injury, possible trades and a meshing of old and new school play giving hope for a mid season run for the Griz.
(Okay I'm being hopelessly optimistic, the seasons desperation was shown when Lou Admundson called bank on a free throw to mock us and hit it, and JJ Barea started hitting shots and smack talking to Mike Conley. But we'll come good, up the Griz!)