Tonight the Grizzlies travel to Oracle Arena to take on the undefeated (well, 1-0) Golden State Warriors. Golden State made some big moves at the end of last year, shipping out scoring machine Monta Ellis and getting back Andrew Bogut. These moves were designed to build the Warriors into a more post-oriented team, a squad with a more defense-oriented identity playing inside-out on offense. Remind you of any other Western Conference teams? Maybe one of the ones located in Tennessee?
Keys to the Game
The deciding factor in tonight’s game – other than whether the team can shake off the funk of playing the Clippers eight times in a row – is going to be whether the Grizzlies find their stroke. The Grizz shot 38% in Wednesday night’s loss in LA. If they shoot worse than 40% again tonight, they’re just not going to win. They’re not going to beat anybody shooting that poorly.
Rudy Gay had a good night against the Clippers, but Zach Randolph struggled to make baskets and the bench, for the most part, played like hot garbage. ZBo and Marc Gasol need to establish their usual dominance in the paint tonight, and they need to do it early.
On the defensive end, Klay Thompson is emerging as an offensive weapon for the Warriors, and Stephen Curry is always dangerous, so keeping them from heating up is going to be important for the Grizzlies. If we can (1) make our shots and (2) keep the Warriors from getting on a hot streak, the Grizzlies should be able to come back home with a win.
Golden State of Mind Q&A
KL: The Warriors made some big moves to shake up the roster at the end of last season. How have those moves changed the way the team matches up with a post-oriented team like the Grizzlies?
NP: In two words, Andrew Bogut. The Warriors have been searching for a solution at center ever since they traded Robert Parrish to the Boston Celtics in the early 80’s. I hardly knew what to do with myself when I saw him make post moves in the Warriors opener against Phoenix - the Warriors just aren’t supposed to have big men with post moves.
But with Bogut’s minutes still being limited as he gets back into game shape after missing so much time due to injury, another addition that could help against a team like Memphis is rookie center Festus Ezeli from Vanderbilt, who I’m sure some of your readers are familiar with. Ezeli still has some developing to do, but again he’s more of a defensive presence in the post than Warriors fans are used to. The combination of Bogut, Ezeli, free agent acquisition Carl Landry and David Lee give this team arguably the best frontcourt rotation they’ve had in decades. And the opener was a good example of the benefit of that: with Bogut’s minutes limited, Lee unable to hit the side of a barn, and Ezeli playing his first real game, it was Landry who stepped up to make plays in the fourth quarter. That depth in the paint just changes a lot for the Warriors.
KL: Was anyone expecting Klay Thompson to be as good as he is?
NP: I’m probably a bit biased on this as someone who lived in Seattle while Thompson was at WSU and knew Cougars fans had a lot of faith in him. He improved quite a bit between his sophomore and junior years, which I found particularly promising, and he was an underrated ball handler and defender (can you play big minutes for Bone without defending?). But I’d be lying if I said I thought he was an All-Rookie caliber player or nearly the player he proved to be in the second half of last season.
But it’s probably not true that nobody forecasted this level of success for Thompson - Jerry West reportedly zeroed in on him early in the process of evaluating 2011 draft prospects and Donnie Walsh did compare him to Reggie Miller, so there’s that.
KL: What part of facing the Grizzlies scares you the most as a Warriors fan?
NP: I think in past years I’d say without question the frontcourt depth with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph that the Warriors simply didn’t have a strong answer for. I do still worry about that matchup with Bogut limited and Ezeli still getting his feet wet, but down the road probably less so. So off the top of my head, I’d probably say defending Rudy Gay would be my greatest concern, at least in part because we have a rookie starting at small forward (who has incidentally been compared to Gay quite a bit).
But looking back to last season’s games, the Warriors lost those four games by a combined 14 points and Mike Conley was great either as a scorer or distributor in all four. So I’ll be interested to see how the Warriors’ backcourt combination of Curry and Jarrett Jack, neither of which are standout defenders, handle him and finding a way to contain him might be the thing that scares me most.
KL: What’s the ceiling for this Warriors team, as currently configured? What pieces are still missing?
NP: Maybe it’s just me and my own anxieties, but what really seems to be missing is a bionic ankle for Curry that allows him to withstand the rigors of things like running forward on the basketball court. But in seriousness, if healthy and if Barnes and Ezeli develop into solid defenders, I’d say the ceiling for this team is a 5–6 seed in the playoffs. To be clear, that’s an extremely optimistic projection - they still need to figure out how to defend the perimeter and while Bogut is a great defender, he’s really the lone proven defensive presence in the frontcourt right now.
There’s just a lot of uncertainty - I think right now the Warriors are a team with a lot of promise and a nice vision, but we’ll have to get more than one game with the roster suited up to really know what the future holds.
(Big thanks to Nate and GSoM for the Q&A. Here’s their preview of tonight’s game.)