|2013/2014 NBA Season|
|November 6th, 2013|
|FedexForum in Memphis, TN|
|7:00 PM CDT|
|Fox SportsSouth/ 92.9 FM ESPN|
|Mike Conley||PG||Jrue Holiday|
|Tony Allen||SG||Eric Gordon|
|Tayshaun Prince||SF||Al-Farouq Aminu|
|Zach Randolph||PF||Anthony Davis|
|Marc Gasol||C||Jason Smith|
|2013/14 Advanced Stats|
|97.2 (T-21st)||Pace||97.0 (23rd)|
|99.3 (13th)||OEff||98.6 (15th)|
|103.1 (23rd)||DEff||98.7 (11th)|
A Wednesday night against the Zombie Hornets should not feel this important.
But it is. That is what barely beating the hapless (but scrappy) Celtics will do to you. Apparently, every game of this young season is an indication of where the Memphis Grizzlies are heading. From bums to ballers and everything in between, fans have been over and under exaggerating with the highs and lows of the first four games of the long campaign. At times, before 5% of the season has been played, panic has set in and glory has been achieved. In this instant-gratification Twitter world we live in, each game is a direct reflection of the chances this team has to make the playoffs, or to make a title run. There must be success now, or else.
But fans, possibly because the major faces of Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are the same, forget exactly how much change has gone on with this Grizzlies team. Here is what the Grizzlies roster looked like at the beginning of last season.
There are six holdovers from last season to this season; Randolph, Gasol, Conley, Allen, Bayless and Pondexter. Gone is an entire coaching staff aside from Joerger (who is in a brand new role) and Bob Thornton. New training staffs, new front office personnel, 7 new players, new coaches. This is a franchise in transition.
The peculiar thing is that this is a franchise that has had several seasons of winning leading up to this change. It is rare for so much to be upended within an organization that is having unprecedented success. Usually upheaval occurs when you're terrible. The Grizzlies, however, have been named ESPN's number 1 franchise in sports. We're in uncharted territory; a walking contradiction. Best season in franchise history, followed up by dismissing the head coach. Leading scorer on the team being traded for an inability to be efficient in the process. Seismic shifts in philosophy and personnel.
So, the challenge is to remain patient. There has to be improvements. But the team is still meshing, the coaches are still finding their fit. It feels like it shouldn't have to be this way because of the success the team has had and the most visible faces, Mount Grizzmore, is still standing. That does not change the fact that the Grizzlies' world just a short year later is an pretty new place. Patience, Grizzlies fans. Long term sustained success is worth short term concerns.
Five keys to watch for this evening...
1. How the Pelicans Look- The Pelicans are an unknown quantity at this point. They lost to Indiana and Orlando, defeated Charlotte and they are 1-3 after losing to Eric Bledsoe and the Phoenix Suns last night. Anthony Davis has been a revelation, averaging about 24 points and 12 rebounds per game in the limited sample size of 4 games. He also is doing ridiculous things like this...
Davis was a favorite of many to have a breakthrough season, and he appears to be well on his way. Jrue Holiday is also playing well early in the year after being traded on draft night from the Philadelphia 76ers, and Eric Gordon, when healthy, is a scoring threat. Outside of those three, there are questions; Tyreke Evans has been a flop early, the Ryan Anderson injury has forced Jason Smith into the starting lineup and Al-Farouq Aminu has struggled early on. This Pelicans team, when healthy and clicking, will be dangerous. Right now, they should be ripe for the Grizzly picking, if Davis can be contained.
2. Turn(over) the Page- The turnover issues are not a secret; the struggle is real. 18 turnovers per game is awful, and that is putting it nicely. And three core players are the worst offenders; Zach and Mike Conley lead the way at 3 turnovers per game, while Tony has about 2.5 turnovers per game. Our starters have to do a better job of taking care of the ball; offensively, lost possessions mean lost scoring opportunities for an offense that needs every chance it can get.
Defensively, it is another energy-exerting transition defense sequence resulting in running under or over screens and positioning for rebounds. Wasted energy needs to become an advanced statistic; the Grizzlies would lead the league in this at this point. Protect the rock, conserve energy, increase scoring chances.
3. IT'S THE DEFENSE, STUPID- An unexpected casualty of the renewed offensive focus appears to be the usually tenacious and stout defense of the Grizzlies. Teams are shooting an insane 65.4% from inside 5 feet, good for 3rd worst in the NBA among teams who have given up over 100 shots from that distance so far (Heat and Rockets are worse, go figure.)
It isn't just dribble-drive penetration, too many fouls due to poor footwork and rotations or poor pick and roll defense; teams are also shooting an insane 45.5% from "Above the Break Three" meaning the area above the key, outside of the corner. The team is defending the corner three well so far; teams are shooting 29% from there early in this season. So there is your silver lining. That being said, better defending the long range shot will also be something to watch for this evening and going forward.
4. The Bench Rises- The hero ball tactics of a red-hot Jerryd Bayless in the fourth quarter and good minutes from Jon Leuer, Mike Miller and Kosta Koufos were encouraging and helped the Grizzlies spark their comeback in the fourth quarter against the Celtics. But as well as they player at times, Ed Davis and Quincy Pondexter struggled mightily. Ed was seemingly aloof at times, and Quincy struggled on both sides of the court with defensive positioning and offensive consistency.
The struggles of Q and Ed are worth noting; these are the two players that people (myself included) have considered key cogs of the future of the Grizzlies. Four games in November are minimal in terms of long term effects, but as Fall turns to Winter you expect to see increased cohesion and efficiency. Quincy needs to continue to take open three point shots; using the dribble drive as a counter move to overly aggressive defense is one thing, but his value to this roster is spacing the floor, not cluttering the paint.
Ed Davis especially needs a good game; he is very rapidly losing the faith of Grizz nation. While the front office is likely more patient than the fans, it would behoove Ed to perform like someone playing for his future contract and not like someone who has recently drank an entire Slurpee in a minute and is suffering from a massive brain freeze. You cannot coach length and athleticism, but if you're consistently our of position and unable to react in the moment, you deserve any and all criticism you receive. Time to take steps forward, not steps back.
5. Starter Domination- As the bench looks for their spots in the rotation to be more consistent, the starters who have been in Memphis need to step up in the short term. The Marc Gasol who came out in the second half and took over offensively, the Marc Gasol who did this...
Needs to be around more often. And Mike Conley should look more consistently for his three point shot. He has struggled from range so far (3 for 14 from the field) but the shots will begin to fall. If Coach Joerger continues to insist on starting Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince together, early in games it will be up to Mike and to a lesser extent Marc to space the paint for Zach to post up and for Tony Allen to cut to the basket. The bench has to be able to keep leads, not create them; hero-ball only works for so long (see Gay, Rudy.) It will be up to the starters to start the game and the 2nd half hot.
The Grizzlies offense will stuggle early, allowing for the Pelicans to start with a lead of 8-10 points after the first quarter. However, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph will take advantage of whichever one of them is not being guarded by Anthony Davis, Quincy Pondexter will have a bounce back game off the bench and the Memphis Grizzlies will defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 98-93.