The past couple of years, Tony Parker is mentioned in the MVP conversation. Yet, every year, one point guard or another is considered better. Last year it was Deron Williams. This year it was Chris Paul. We always feel like, when is this guy going to get any credit? But Mike Conley now, he is not even in the conversation for best point guards in the league. Yet he seems like he has been playing phenomenally. Is that a function of certain match ups, or has he elevated his game to a new level? And if so, is that sustainable? Are we going to be hearing about Mike Conley as a top point guard? Is he going to be an All-star? Are we going to hear about Memphis’ big three of Randolph, Gasol, and Conley? How much of that is dependent upon them getting to the finals or winning the championship?
And speaking of underrated players, Gasol is being touted as arguably the best center in the league, is the reigning defensive player of the year, yet he can’t even get an All-Star berth. What’s up with that?
Just one more question. As someone familiar with basketball and the Grizzlies, can you help us appreciate what we’re seeing in the Grizzlies offense and defense, point out some subtle things to look for that the casual fan might not notice?
Conley has elevated to a new level. He’s been good for two or three years now, but now that Rudy Gay is gone, the ball ends up in Conley’s hands in those late-game situations where Rudy would, in the past, dribble to the right baseline and shoot over three dudes and hope it went in. Conley is quicker and a much better ball handler, so he’s much more prepared to be "the guy" at the end of the game (to me). I don’t know that he’ll be an All-Star in a Conference that includes CP3, Parker, Westbrook, and Curry, but he’s juuuuuust below that tier if he hasn’t now reached it.
I think this year’s playoff run has put this Griz squad on the map for a while, Finals or no Finals. (Though obviously I’m hoping for Finals.)
I don’t want to talk about Gasol getting left off the All Star squad and Dwight Freaking Howard being on the team. I’m still mad about that.
The most wonderful thing you can do when watching the Grizzlies is to watch Marc Gasol on defense. Don’t watch the ball—watch Marc Gasol. He knows everybody’s plays, and he knows where to be and when to be there. He’s constantly trying to blow up whatever’s developing for the other team offensively.
Game one is over. Wow. That was unexpected. That was without a doubt the best game the Spurs have played in a couple of months. Tony is looking like he is steadily coming back from his injury. Not quite MVP Parker yet, but moving pretty well. But looking at the box score, the Spurs were not dominant. Memphis had more Free Throw Attempts, Free Throws Made, Steals, Blocks, Offensive Rebounds, Total Rebounds, and only one more Turnover, and two less Field Goal Attempts. The Spurs won, and won by so much, because their shooting percentage was higher, and a lot of them were 3s. And that’s a little bit disconcerting to me. We’ve seen plenty of games with poor shooting, even in the playoffs. Live by the 3, die by the 3, as the saying goes. And I can’t imagine Z-Bo having another game like that, regardless of who is defending him, or what defensive schemes are used against him.
I don’t even know what to ask you except, what are your thoughts after watching Game 1?
The Grizzlies’ help defense was terrible. Plain and simple. They were over-helping almost every Spurs possession and leaving guys wide open in the corner, which is a really great game plan if you want to lose to San Antonio by more than 20 points. It was crazy. Tony Allen just refused to stay on his man, going for steals and jumping passes and leaving his man wide open behind the three point line. The Spurs made 14 threes, but that number easily could have been 20.
The bad news for the Spurs and the good news for the Grizzlies is that that’s not going to happen again. This tweet from Mike Prada sums the whole thing up:
Grizzlies beat two teams that mostly play offense on one side of the floor. Spurs are the antithesis of that. Major adjustment.— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) May 19, 2013
The Griz just weren’t prepared for what the Spurs were doing. They came out amped up and excited to take on the Spurs and set the tone, and it blew up in their faces. Fortunately, the Grizzlies (1) haven’t won a Game 1 yet in the playoffs and (2) have been really good at adjusting after bad outings all postseason. Hollins will find something that works. The question is whether he’ll be able to do it before the end of Game 2, and whether the Grizzlies will be able to steal one on the Spurs’ home court before bringing the series back to Memphis next weekend. I genuinely don’t have an answer to that.
It sure can’t keep happening this way, though.
I want to ask you about a few individual players. Bonner has been praised and much maligned PtR. He is perhaps the most polarizing player that we have. I’m not really sure if there has been more discussion about any other player, where he should be in the rotation, if he should be off the team, if he should just be a regular season player, if he should be buried on the bench. He’s picked up the nickname "Winter Shoes" I believe, because he plays great in the regular season - with 3pt shooting percentages approaching 50% and the best +/- of any player, and then just disappears in the post season.
Except this year. This year Pop played him sparingly in the regular season. And at the same time, perhaps not coincidentally, Bonner’s game evolved. He started showing us pump fake and drive, finishing with a pull up jumper or a baby hook - left and right. Shocked the heck out of some of us when they went in at a fairly good clip. He also change his release so that it was quicker, which of course is gold for a spot up shooter wanting to beat the closeout. So playoff time rolls around and we all kind of expected Bonner to disappear again. But he hasn’t. He’s been solid. At first, most of us were skeptical. I remember one poster saying something to the effect of, "I hope this continues, but I’m not a believer yet. You’ve fooled me too many times, Red Rocket."
So anyway, with a bench sporting Boris Diaw, Manu Ginobili, Gary Neal, it was interesting to hear Lionel Hollins say that Bonner presented the most challenges of all the bench players. As I said, we’re pretty divided, and can’t really see clearly here. What’s your take on Bonner?