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Grizzlies Third of the Season Checkup

I check in on Zach Randolph's shooting, Jordan Adams' Rookie of the Year campaign, and issue an extended apology to a Prince among men.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

In my preview of the Grizzlies season, I made a few random predictions. They ranged from mildly absurd, to ridiculously wildly absurd. I actually had to cut back on the amount of absurdity. And then something weird happened.

The season started, and my absurdly optimistic predictions started turning into reality. So far, this season has been truly special. Let's look at how they're turning out.

1). Zach Randolph will again lead the team in minutes... at 2,625.

MISS. ZBo is third on the team in minutes, and has thrived in this reduced role. I've been wrong about him leading the team in minutes, however I'm pretty close to his total minutes for the season. He's on pace for 2,566 minutes this year, or less than sixty minutes off of my prediction.

We'll chalk this up as a MISS, since being close to the number is more luck than anything else.

1b). Bonus Zach Randolph prediction: he will shoot better than his Memphis Grizzlies career low of 56.9% at the rim last year, partly on the strength of a slightly higher OREB rate.

Resounding HIT. ZBo's FG% at the rim had declined the last four years, from 65.4% all the way down to 56.9% last year. There was much hand-wringing about this decline, one usually attributable to the degradation of age.

This year, however, he's killing folks down there, shooting 66.4% within 3 feet of the rim. My bet was, playing alongside a rejuvenated Gasol, ZBo's role would shift from ISO scorer to OREB killer.

And it has. After collecting just 11.6% misses last year, ZBo is rebounding 13.7% of available OREB's this year. Both of these numbers could drop, especially if Gasol misses time, or if ZBo starts wearing down. But as it stands right now, ZBo is in the perfect role for him. And he is killing it.

Zach Randolph Overview | FindTheBest

2). Jordan Adams' bandwagon's wheels will creak beneath the weight.

MISS. As leader of the #JordanAdamsComin movement, I am contractually obligated to disregard, you know, reality.

But seriously, this has more to do with lack of opportunity than lack of talent. Those who thought Adams would struggle to find minutes proved to be right. In the few minutes he has played, some would say Adams looks tentative, unsure of how where he fits. I'm inclined to say that Adams is just being deferential, attempting to fit within the team dynamic. He doesn't dominate possessions. He knows he's a rookie and is willing to flow within the offense. I continue to think that Jordan Adams is the next Wesley Matthews.

Injuries will happen. Back to backs will happen. The season ain't over. We need to find this man some minutes.

3). Jon Leuer will get significant minutes early on, but will find his role reduced by Jarnell Stokes.

HIT. So far so good. After a rough start in which Leuer's jump shot disappeared, he has rebounded into a very quality fourth (sometimes third) big.

When Stokes has played, he's looked like another prototypical Grizzlies Uruk-Hai Orc. The ball just sticks to his hands. Defenders bounce off of him as if he's carved from granite and, I mean, I haven't seen evidence that Stokes is not carved from granite. So that's an open question in my book.

By the way, he's the Grizzlies' 14th man right now. Wow.

4). The Memphis Grizzlies, at some point in the year, will have the best record in the Western Conference.

HIT.

5). In his second year, Coach Joerger {and I cross all of my fingers, toes, etc while I write this} feels less obligated to play Tayshaun Prince.

HIT, but with a Mea Culpa. I - like many of my Grizzlies brethren - owe Tayshuan a note of apology. So let me start the healing now.

I'm sorry. You were terrible last year, but I've been terrible, too. I never had agape for you. My sports love will always be conditional, will require you to make corner threes, to eschew the pump fake, to play basketball well.

I'm sorry for all the things I said. That you were washed up. That you served no basketball purpose. That you should be sent to the glue factory.  Your dunk over Brandan Wright was the drill which pierced Father Time's hourglass. You have accepted a reduced role - no small feat for a career starter - and you have thrived.

You are a Prince among men.

6). Four Grizzlies will shoot 35% or better from 3 point range.

HIT. Check it.

MEM3

Throw out Randolph and Adams for too few attempts, and you still have four players shooting over 40% from three point range. Leuer and Prince haven't attempted enough to be statistically relevant, however neither will get many attempts over the course of a season because they play relatively few minutes.

(*Update: More proof that sample size matters. After one game, Leuer dipped down to 31.6%, and Conley fell all the way to 38.8%).

7). Bill Simmons will say the words Gus's Fried Chicken during a minimum of two podcasts.

Bill's NBA podcasts haven't kicked in yet. We'll let this one marinate.

8). David Thorpe will come on the Chris Vernon Show no less than five times and proceed to get me hyped the eff up.

HIT. I don't know how many times Coach Thorpe has been on Verno's show, but I've heard him three times already. And yes, he got me hyped both times.

9). The Grizzlies will trade a significant member of last year's team this year. From "most likely" to "least likely" to be traded: Courtney LeeKosta KoufosQuincy Pondexter, Tony AllenBeno UdrihNick Calathes, Tayshaun Prince, Jon Leuer, Jarnell Stokes, Vince Carter, Jordan Adams, Zach Randolph.

SEMI-MISS. Rule: if you hit a game winner in under .3 seconds, you can do no wrong with me. I'm easy. Just hit a reverse alley-oop layup to complete a massive comeback against a potential playoff team and I will never want to trade you ever ever ever.

Kosta Koufos (and others) is still an open question. Unquestionably, a Koufos trade would be a long-run play, a move to shore up the team's ability to compete years from now. The Grizzlies' future is a tenuous proposition. With many key players aging, and future draft picks owed, flipping Koufos now may be the best play. The Grizzlies will struggle to keep Koufos in the offseason. Swapping Koufos for an asset that plugs the gap Koufos leaves behind must be weighed against the success Koufos can bring this year.

One last point on Koufos. One thing I've heard several times is that Koufos' value is too high because the Grizzlies need "Gasol insurance" in case Marc goes down with an injury. While that is absolutely the case right now, I don't think it holds water as the trade deadline nears.

Here's why. If Marc Gasol is injured now, Memphis may lose seeding. Koufos could step in and Memphis would be well positioned to lose fewer games than if someone like Stokes or "Free Agent X" off the street came in. However, every game the Grizzlies get closer to the playoffs, this becomes less of a risk.

The brutal truth is that I'm not interested in Gasol insurance for the playoffs. The Grizzlies aren't winning the title with Koufos at center. They may not get out of the first round. I don't want Koufos around to take Gasol's place, or rather, I'd prefer to have a long-term asset instead of keeping Koufos around strictly because he could step in for Gasol and do a reasonable job.

Koufos' value in the playoffs is defined as the player in the role he will play: the third big who can beat up inferior bigs and protect the rim, not as a starter to step in in the playoffs for the Grizzlies' best player. If the Grizzlies lose Gasol for the playoffs, they're dead in the water, whether they have Kosta or not.

10). The Grizzlies could get the 3 seed, would go way over their season win total, and would win 60 games in the East.

HIT. I thought I was being outlandish. I looked for reasons I was wrong. Then I looked back at the roster. Then I looked at all the other rosters in the West. Nobody's as deep as the Grizzlies. Gasol would be healthy. Pondexter would be coming back.

If anything, I'm surprised at how it's happened. Vince and Quincy have struggled to be consistently effective. The rookies have barely featured (okay, I'm not too surprised at that). Instead, Beno, Koufos, and Leuer have held together the bench, and Courtney Lee has been way, way better than we all thought.

On any given night, the Grizzlies need eight guys to play, and they have about fourteen players to shuffle through until they find them. I've often heard that depth doesn't matter as much in the postseason, and as far as distributing minutes, and shielding from injuries, that is true.

But if you think of depth in the above way - more chances at finding a productive player on a given night - depth matters more. There will be nights when Leuer's jumpshot doesn't fall, or Beno is turning it over, or Tony is in foul trouble. On those nights, having more than one chance at finding a productive replacement is worth it's weight in gold.

The collective depth of the team has stepped up night after night, and the Grizzlies are stacking up the wins as a result.