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Grizzlies Baker's Half-Dozen Thoughts

How are the Grizzlies doing through eight games? I check in with the West's best record, some new playbook wrinkles, and the beauty of Gasol's passing.

Andy Lyons

1). The Grizzlies are good: 7-1 y'all!  They've played the 5th easiest schedule per, but wins at Charlotte, at Phoenix, and against New Orleans are nothing to sneeze. Playing Oklahoma City without Durant or Westbrook was an unexpected gift, but the loss on the second night of a back to back in Milwaukee may not look like such a bad loss by year's end either.

Still, the Grizzlies have played an easy schedule to date, and they've taken care of business. So why is everyone complaining so much?

2). The Bench Struggles: By now you've heard that the bench has been terrible no good very bad GAAHHHH underachieved. But I want to stress something.

The Memphis Grizzlies are 7-1, and have done it without their backup point guard and without Vince Carter having usable feet. Seriously. If anyone in Grizznation is not using their feet, please call 901-888-HOOP and donate your unused or unwanted feet to the Grizzlies and science and Vince Carter.

Sure the entire bench has struggled, but how much should we blame a guy like Jon Leuer? It is supremely weird to fixate on the 4th big who has played the least of any rotation player on the team. His struggles are obvious (he can't put the ball in the basket), but also bound to re-regress back to the mean (if that's a thing). His jumpshot has disappeared, but it will eventually return, as jump shots will. Other than FG%, Leuer's numbers are more or less consistent with career norms. He's generating fewer steals+blocks, but also fouling less, so I consider that a wash.

Kosta Koufos, on the other hand, has personified the bench struggles. Until Tuesday night's win against the Lakers (in which he made every shot he took from the field AND the foul line), Koufos had been shooting just 25% from the field. It is really hard to make just one of every four shots when you take two of every three from within three feet of the rim.

He has a ways to go. He is tenth in minutes per game on the Grizzlies, and just eighth in total minutes played. After blocking 2 shots per 36 mins for his career, he is blocking just .6 so far this year. That is a monumental fall.

The Grizzlies need Koufos and Carter to be effective. They're counting on these guys, but through eight games, neither has really delivered. I have complete faith Koufos will turn it around - the Lakers game was a nice start - and I hope Carter's injury issues are behind him sooner rather than later. But if you're looking for a reason as to why the Grizzlies bench has been bad through eight games, Koufos is the player who has underperformed most significantly relative to expectations.

3). Minutes, minutes, minutes: I have a few quibbles with minutes, but overall think Joerger is doing a good job. Bringing the starters back in in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's win had the counterintuitive-yet-all-too-familiar result of a Lakers comeback (although Kobe made some ridiculous shots to make the game closer than it should have been. It's almost like he's been doing that for nearly two decades).

But seriously, the minute allocations are pretty tough to disagree with. Marc needs to play less, but not that much more less (two to four minutes per game), and through eight games with his replacements struggling, its surprising he hasn't played more.

Quincy Pondexter should play more, but it's hard to argue he should play that much more given his form. His refusal to talk to the media after the Grizzlies Tuesday win was not the picture of a player happy with a small role on the team with the NBA's best record. Playing Pondexter more isn't massaging a bruised ego: it's finding out if he can play or not. The Grizzlies have a decision to make with Quincy, a player who is caught between his opinion of himself and the less glittery reality of his body of work.

I would definitely play Pondexter more. His contract is so favorable going forward, he must be given every chance to succeed, even if that does mean appearing to "give in" to a player who seems to be sulking a bit.

Weirdly, Beno Udrih may be the best "wing" off the bench right now. He provides some ball handling, some shooting, and even some heady help defense. Something to watch going forward.

It will be a few more months before you hear me beating the drums for the rookies to play. Hey, speaking of the rookies!

3b). #JordanAdamsComin Update: credits Jordan Adams with playing one minute so far this year. One down, 999 to go!

4). Stay Woke Round Marc: Because if he's looking at you, he aint passing to you:

Because if you're 80 feet away, he's still passing to you:

Bounce with me, bounce with me.  B-b-b-b-b-b-bounce with me:

5). X's and O's: The New Orleans Pelicans run one of my favorite plays. It is a simple staggered screen where the first screener dives to the rim, and the second screener flares away from the ball handler behind the 3 point line. When Anthony Davis is the dive man, and Ryan Anderson is the flare guy, the result is the basketball version of a Catch-22:

Well, Dave Joerger has taken notice. Coming out of a timeout at the end of the 2nd Quarter of Tuesday's narrow win over the Lakers, Joerger ran the same play, with Gasol playing the part of Anthony Davis, and Courtney Lee flaring out like Ryan Anderson.

Courtney Lee's cut around Gasol is not as crisp as the Ryan Anderson's is around The Brow, nor does he offer quite as good of a second pick as Anderson, but this is an interesting adaptation of a play centered around the weapons Joerger has at his disposal. Conley's pass is tipped as it threads through the defense, but timing comes with repetition.

Using Lee - who has shot the cover off the ball through eight games - as the second screener is useful against teams with shooting guards whose defensive concentration can waiver. What's that, you say? James Harden, Monta Ellis, Eric Gordon all play in the Southwest Division? Sign me up for more of this!

6). Around the league: As of Wednesday, the Grizzlies have sole possession of the best record in the West, and are tied with the Raptors for the best in the NBA. The Rockets look to be better than we thought, but have a paper thin bench that may not weather the rigors of the NBA regular season. The Kings come to town on Thursday with a winning record, but the Grizzlies present serious challenges to teams that can't shoot, and the Kings, yeah, they don't do that well.

But the real story is what is happening in Oklahoma City. Time is already running out on the Thunder, who are already just 3-6. The ninth best team in the West is currently 4-3. The Grizzlies dealt with debilitating injuries last year, but were very lucky that middling teams like the Timberwolves, Nuggets and Pelicans were not able to pull away from them while they struggled to tread water. That luck was at least as important as the Grizzlies fine play once their roster was healthy again.

The Thunder need the same luck, possibly more, and they need to pair it with a fully recovered Westbrook, a fully recovered Durant, and they will need to do it quickly once they return. If they get all of those things, they'll be fine, but every win the Suns and the Kings and the Pelicans get is one more the Thunder have to get too.

And at what point do the Warriors, Rockets, Mavericks, Grizzlies, and all the other non-Spurs contenders in the West look at their rosters, then look at the Thunder possibly not making the playoffs, then look back at their roster, and decide to go for it right now?