The win streak is rolling, the Grizzlies are in the 7th seed, and we're gelling beautifully entering the beginning of the end to the regular season. A storyline that I feel needs a bit more love is that of 'back-up PG Nick Calathes'. After we all 'bearated' him through the start of the season, he found his feet with Conley sidelined, and coming off the bench for the last 6, he's had 29 assists to 6 TO's. He's been a spark for the offense, his no-look dimes on fast breaks are incredible, and he's shooting with a lot more confidence, so surely it's time we show Nick some Grizzly Bear love?
I blame my stupidly high expectations for Nick on David Thorpe of ESPN (who was his trainer for the lead-up to the 2009 draft), rather than my stupidity, who described him as 'the best passer in the draft and a terrific shooter' and 'not just the most amazing passer we've seen on pick and rolls... he's amazing just throwing you a regular chest pass'. Obviously, I haven't been following the Nick Calathes story since 2009, but these were the re-used storylines heading into the Grizzlies acquiring his rights this past off-season. Turning down more than double the salary offered by his former Russian team Lokomotiv, Calathes played well in preseason, in the three games that he played more than 25 minutes, he put up 9 (points) + 8 (assists), 11 + 3 and 4 + 10. He was looking like the man to run our second unit of J-Bay, Quincy, Ed and co. (man how this season has progressed).
I pictured this white guy with a mop of hair (I didn't look him up on google images) throwing ridiculous passes, making life easier for Ed Davis off the bench, someone that would find open shooters and help us get out of the lowest 3 pointers attempted/made club. So when he started the season poorly, I didn't think he needed time to get used to the NBA style of play (coming from Russian basketball), I immediately thought he was a failure. He would struggle at bringing the ball up, battling off defenders and shooting, so my genius solution was that we needed to either make a trade or sign a veteran guard that would give us some essence of reliable play (paging Keyon Dooling..?).
(Yes, I imagined for 15 minutes a night I would be watching Nash (Calathes) feed Amare (Ed))
Griz fans were horrified when Mike went down on February 1st (making me hate JJ Barea even more) and I was skeptical of Calathes' ability to run the point with and against starters. So skeptical, that I wanted Darius Miller to start, or for Memphis to start implementing no point guard line-ups or for James Johnson to bring the ball up and feed Tayshaun in the post....ANYTHING!
But in the 7 games he started and saw above 29 minutes, he posted 15 points, 5 assists and 2.5 steals on 52% shooting and 40% from deep. Granted the best opponent we faced was Washington or Dallas (your pick), but he showed this team and the NBA what he had in that stretch, and the confidence he built has dragged on past the all star break.
..........to the bench, as Mike Conley returned from injury. Our bench mob had emerged and everyone knew what chaos Mike Miller, Johnson, Koufos and the Grindfather could cause on a game. But what went under the radar was Nick emerging as the back-up point guard that we all desired him to be from the outset of the season. Sometimes being a spark off the bench doesn't have to include off the backboard dunks (although it is nice), but closing the quarter the right way....
or feeding the right guy at the right time...
(sorry about the quality, youtube screwed me over)
Nick's play has been great the past few games (sure his shooting, and his one on one defense isn't perfect), and although he hasn't posted monster stats, he hasn't needed to. If he was a Mo Williams or J-bay kinda scoring guard this would be a different story, but with depth at the wings and forward positions, Nick's job is to run the offense smoothly. To create a spark off the bench all he needs to do is bring some offensive rhythm and ball movement, and although it may be premature, I'm glad Nick Calathes is playing like the back-up PG we all longed for at the beginning of the season.
I think Nick needs a nickname so go wild in the comments, also here are the 15 assists he posted in the wins against Portland and the Pelicans.