Because we’re joining Straight Outta Vancouver with more than half of the season in the books, we thought it’d be nice for everyone to get reacquainted, or at least up to date, with the Memphis Grizzlies rotation. Just so we know what we’re dealing with here. Up first: the bench players. Note: Keeping in mind that Rudy Gay’s injury will shuffle the lineups a bit, we’re going to keep the roles as they were pre-injury just for simplicity’s sake.
What he’s brought so far: Allen’s role has increased as the season has gone along, his spot in the rotation becoming more established as his play has finally found some sort of a groove (as much as Tony Allen can find a groove, one suspects). Playing roughly 20 minutes a game during the month of January, Allen shot about 50 percent from the field – 40 percent from three – and added 31 steals to the Grizzlie’s NBA-leading total of 528. Through eight games in February, his minutes have gone up to almost 25 a night; he’s again shooting around 50 percent from the floor and has already recorded 17 steals. He’s brought signature erratic play – especially early in the season – but has played solid and under relative control offensively of late, letting his defense, his most valuable asset when things are right, take center stage.
Personal key for the playoff push: Allen’s minutes figure to continue rising in Gay’s absence and the importance of him staying in his lane will only grow. Can keep himself in this current state of defensive sparkplug and part-time offensive contributor without letting the temptations of excess in both areas get the best of him? It’s been the key question concerning Tony Allen for some time, and it remains going forward for the Grizzlies: Can he do what he does best, without doing too much of it?
Team role: The jokey joke-teller who isn’t sure if or when it’s crossing the line to throw zingers around everywhere and at anytime, so most of the time he just does it anyway. Sometimes the situation is right and it works and everybody laughs, other times he goes too far and everyone starts checking their watches. If he could just time the wisecracks a bit better, he’d probably be pretty funny.
What he’s brought so far: Mayo has brought news aplenty, just nothing really good, or even basketball related. His shooting percentages and scoring dipped in January to points that make you wonder if the ten-game suspension let Lionel Hollins breathe a sigh of relief – at least he didn’t have to limit Mayo’s minutes further. It seems unclear now that he’s back as to how he’ll be used going forward. Would re-joining the starting lineup help refocus a guy who will be vital to Memphis hanging in the playoff race, a guy who clearly didn’t take the early season benching as a unique and fun challenge? Would it be smarter to continue bringing him off the bench, providing another chance to accept the likely long-term role (if he’s indeed here long-term) he’d serve on this team? He has been in a season-long haze of struggles and confusion and yet, there’s still a possible bright side...
Personal key for the playoff push: Gay’s injury can potentially affect no one's game more positively than Mayo's. This is, in essence, his shot. Whether he starts initially or not isn’t the issue so much as Mayo’s engagement will be. He can make this next month his, get his confidence back and clear some of the dark skies and bad vibes assembling around his game. It does depend on the team’s usage of him – one would figure he has to be given, at the least, a clear spot in the rotation – but if he’s given the chance, the void as top dog along with the pressure, the possible praise or scorn, will be waiting for Mayo. Yes, the best opportunity to get his career back on track came in the form of bad news for the Grizzlies as a whole, but regardless, that opportunity begins now.
Team role: The enigma. He’s talented, yes, but to what extent no one can agree. He’s hit a low point in a young career, leaving everyone to wonder – perhaps prematurely, perhaps rightfully so – about his future in the game. Can he adapt, can he accept being a helpful force for the team, or does he crave the alpha dog status? Has he been jerked around by his coaches? Can that craving to be the top option be harnessed and used for good? Or will it always be his nagging injury, the thing he spends too much time worrying about, the thing holding him back from letting go and allowing his talent to take the wheel? Does he have the necessary skills in the first place? Am I going overboard? That’s probably the only easy answer. One thing’s for sure, though: He’s important, especially now.
What he’s brought so far: Has played the sixth-most amount of minutes on the team while only starting seven games, making him the most consistent reserve playing mainly a reserve role for the Grizzlies (a few players have bounced around from starter to reserve and vice versa this season). Arthur is relied on to rebound and good for a medium-sized offensive outburst every so often, but most of the time he’s going to just be out there, hitting a few jumpers, scrounging for boards and trying to be a versatile defender. There isn’t anything exactly wrong with any of that.
Personal key for the playoff push: Continue removing the warm-up and checking in when prompted. Could he be a little more aggressive offensively? Maybe, but he fills a role for Memphis. It might not be the most exciting thing in the world, but you can count on him to be out there, chipping in. If Arthur can keep bringing a steady presence off the bench, well, he’s not going to hurt the team. A few pleasant surprises along the way wouldn’t be opposed by anyone, though.
Team role: Arthur is the quiet neighbor who keeps his lawn mowed, sidewalks shoveled and flowers blooming. He says hello as he walks by with the dog, leaves for work everyday at 8:30, comes home at 5:15 and the lights are out by 11. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with any of that, but there’s nothing wrong with getting the cops called on a noise complaint once in a while, either.
What he’s brought so far: Given minutes in the rotation the first few months – even starting 11 games in December – Henry just never produced much worth writing home about. As other guy’s production off the bench increased, Henry battled injuries and lost his spot, appearing in only three games for a grand total of 15 minutes in January. So he hasn’t brought a whole lot, but since he’s a rookie he’s probably brought lots of coffee, which is important in its own right.
Personal key for the playoff push: Gay’s injury does not necessarily open the door for Henry’s second act this season; it simply means the odds are higher. If he does get a chance, any positive contribution will probably feel like house money.
Team role: Other than coffee purchaser? There’s a good chance his nickname in the locker room is "X-Man" or "X-Factor," instantly making him the spontaneous guy always ready for adventure, even if he isn’t.
What he’s brought so far: Limited minutes in the backup point guard spot producing a decent number of assists, lots of support from the bench.
Personal key for the playoff push: The addition of Jason Williams probably means Vasquez's key will be to continue cheering and avoid doing anything particularly silly in the minutes he does get.
Team role: Vasquez organizes the team video game tournaments during road trips. If he catches you screen-watching, you're damn right he's going to call you on it.
What he's brought so far: Considering he's been in Memphis for like two weeks, Williams has probably only brought a suitcase and a GPS.
Personal key for the playoff push: Whatever the situation, Williams has been there before. As he runs backup point, his key will be to use the experience he's gained in all his years around the league, play solid, steady minutes, and knock in a few threes. He could end up being a very important addition to the rotation; knowledge is power, after all.
Team role: At one time considered out-of control-and brash, Williams will now serve as the de-facto team psychiatrist as well as lending sound, safe advice on money, women and healthy dieting. It's not that he's really all that crazy about this stuff, he just feels like it's the right thing to do.
Next time we'll look at the starters. What does the bench unit need to do for continued Grizzlies success? Comment away.