Memphis Grizzlies: 23-8, 3rd in the West
"Run This Town" by Jay-Z ft. Rihanna and Kanye West
For the first time in their history, the Grizzlies run this town. It’s not the Tiger’s town anymore. Memphis is finally fully embracing the Grizzlies after years of being after thoughts in their own city. The little brothers have taken over and are here to stay. This is Grizz Nation and it’s about time you pledged your allegiance!
The Grizzlies have entered the conversation as a contender for the NBA Championship. There have been huge moments, and some slip-ups as well, but a record of 23-8 with victories over the Warriors and Spurs (TWICE) is nothing to sneeze at. Proving they were in the conversation and staying in the conversation are two different things though. These next few months are critical. They have to prove they are for real and avoid any more four- or five-game losing streaks.
Coach Dave Joerger:
"Happy" by Pharell Williams
If Coach Joerger isn’t happy about the great start, he isn’t human. As all eight people that read my grades know, I reserve the "A+" for performances we will remember forever, and that is exactly what Coach Joerger has put together. His stats include Top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency, a top 5 record in the toughest conference in sports, and like a million instances of his coaching genius. Everyone is happy with Coach Joerger's performance to the point that he should be a candidate for Coach of the Year.
Mike Conley: 31 GP | 33.2 MPG | 18.3 PPG | 47% FG% | 43% 3PFG% | 6.0 APG
"Juicy" by The Notorious B.I.G
Much like Biggie, Mike Conley is enjoying his newfound stardom. The "underrated" tag that has followed Mike around for the last two seasons has been shed. The top 5-6 point guard conversation can’t be held without mentioning Conley. It’s been a little late, but Mike is blowing up like we all thought he would.
Nobody else on the Grizzlies, or maybe even in the league, has been more clutch than Mike Conley in the first half of the season. On top of his clutch late-game play, he is running one of the league's top 10 offenses. If it weren’t for him taking a bigger role and excelling at it, the Grizzlies would be in dire straits at the moment.
Courtney Lee: 28 GP | 32.9 MINS | 11.3 PPG | 49% FG% | 49% 3PFG% | 2.6 RPG
"Don't You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds
With Marc Gasol and Mike Conley having such great seasons, sometimes Courtney Lee is forgotten. You can't (and shouldn't) forget the insane season he's having. It’s like Mike Miller left behind some shooter magic for him. It’s become impossible for defenses to leave him open, unlike at the end of last season. He’s been without a doubt the fourth or arguably third best Grizzly this year. CL33PO hasn’t only been draining threes; he has been fantastic from inside the arch as well.
There have been a few stretches where he hasn’t been great, but he always picks back up. I fear his percentages will start to drop all soon because, let’s face it, shooting around 50% from three for a season is next to impossible. His frustrating shot selection may help keep his percentage up, but 50% would be insane.
Tony Allen: 25 GP | 25.7 MPG | 7.9 PPG | 48% FG% | 2.00 STPG | 4.0 RPG
"Roll Up" by Wiz Khalifa
Tony Allen is always there when the Grizzlies need him. The Grindfather isn’t going to flex or front about who or what he is. He stays within his role of playing good defense and relentlessly cutting to the basket on or off the ball. A corneal abrasion (get goggles TA) knocked him out for a few weeks, but before that he was looking great. He's the one man wrecking crew that we all know and love.
Lacking a jumpshot has killed the offense at moments, but Coach Joerger has done a great job of counteracting that by always playing him with a three-point shooter. Then there is his style of defense. It can hurt the Grizzlies at times with his over helping, fouling too much, or (the worst one) his constant gambling for steals.
Zach Randolph: 26 GP | 31.6 MPG | 16.1 PPG | 48% FG% | 11.4 RPG
"Still D.R.E" Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dogg
Z-Bo being the third and sometimes fourth option made some (me) think he was going to fall off, but he proved everyone (me) wrong. He has taken a back seat to Marc Gasol and Mike Conley so that the offense can succeed. Now Randolph scores mostly on offensive rebounds, posting up deep and sealing his man, or quick post ups instead of having heavy doses of Iso Z-Bo. The strategy still pops up at times, but it’s hit or miss. He may not be the same, but he still shows up when they need him the most.
Z-Bo is representing all the post first players all across the world in a great way. As the game goes away from the guys that dominate the block in favor of more nuanced stretch fours, Z-Bo endures for guys like Julius Randle. His body has taken a beating, but Z-Bo will endure and play when it matters the most.
Marc Gasol: 31 GP | 35.0 MPG | 20.1 PPG | 50% FG% | 8.3 RPG | 1.61 BPG
"Stronger" by Kanye West
Coming into the season better, faster, and stronger was the best thing for Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies. The knee injury didn’t end him so he came back to destroy the world, and that’s exactly what he’s doing. Everyone heard him say that he was going to be more aggressive, but it was difficult to believe because of his past passive nature. Now we are three months into the season and Gasol is a legitimate MVP candidate.
The evolution of this Grizzlies team wasn’t possible without Gasol. The team needed someone to take charge of Randolph’s place as the number one option. Whether it’s on the block or with his jumper, Gasol is killing folks. There has been a trade off though. His defense has slipped due to having to carry an offense, but the offense is so great it doesn’t even matter.
Vince Carter: 29 GP | 17.3 MPG | 6.8 PPG | 36% FG% | 32% 3PFG% | 2.1 RPG
"Hot N Cold" by Katy Perry
Vince is hot then Vince is cold. It's a maddening experience to say the least. He will hit every three one game then won't be able to hit the ocean from a pier. All that being said, Vince is still a great threat. Defenses have to respect him and Coach Joerger won't hesitate to call plays for him. Most of the time when he isn't hitting threes Carter will find ways to be effective with defense, rebounding, and his distributing. Shoddy ankles have kept Vince's minutes down, but they seem to be healing, so his minutes may be going up in the future.
Kosta Koufos: 30 GP | 15.0 MPG | 4.5 PPG | 54% FG% | 4.1 RPG | 1.07 BPG
"Should I Stay or Should I Go?" by The Clash
Kosta Koufos is the best backup center in the NBA, but he hasn’t been able to show that off much in his measly 15 minutes per game (he’s only played above 20 minutes five times). I think he should play more, but I understand how hard it is to take minutes away from Marc Gasol.
Trade rumors have followed Koufos around during the first part of this season. The Cavaliers and other teams have inquired about Koufos because he is a starting caliber center. He makes a Gasol-like impact on defense (he’s been better than Gasol on defense this year) and has a variety of uses on offense. I’m a betting kind of man so I’d be willing to bet that Koufos is going rather than staying.
Beno Udrih: 30 MPG | 18.0 MPG | 7.2 PPG | 50% FG% | 3.4 ASTS | 1.6 RPG
"SexyBack" by Justin Timberlake
Consistency has been missing from the backup point guard position. BUT BENO IS BRINGING THE SEXY BACK TO THE BENCH. The former backups didn’t know how to act (Calathes was good until he got suspended, but YOU CAN’T DO STEROIDS). The leaning jumpers and nice moves around the basket got me saying "Nice move by Beno" in my Elliot Perry voice all the time. The best part of his game is the moves off the pick and roll (he went to Gregg Popovich’s school of the P&R) where he can distribute or score with the best of them.
It would be nice if we could just fuse Beno and Nick Calathes together to make an ultra backup point guard, but until Robert Pera pays for that tech I don’t think it’s happening. Udrih’s defense leaves much to be desired, but with Kosta Koufos or Marc Gasol always behind him, it doesn’t matter much at times. Beno brings so much that the bench lacks that I hate talking about how bad his defense is.
Jon Leuer: 29 GP | 16.5 MPG | 6.0 PPG | 45% FG% | 29% 3PFG% | 3.8 RPG
"Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift
I used "Shake It Off" once already in a game-grading piece, but it applies more to Leuer than anyone else this season. He hasn’t exactly had the best season, but he has been able to shake it off and be somewhat productive. He’s replaced the passive nature that destroyed his game at the beginning of the season with a confidence that endures even if he is struggling. Finding a place took a while, but he's done it by using his athleticism and good midrange jumper. Cutting off the ball for dunks and layups instead of waiting for a spot up opportunity has been an important part of turning it around.
Acceptable nicknames (I’m taking suggestions):
JONNY TACKLEBOX (You never know which Leuer you’re going to get)
JONNY MEAN MUG
JONNY BIG BLOCK
JONNY WHITE BALLER
Soon he’ll have more nicknames than Jon Roser.
Tayshaun Prince: 21 GP | 23.9 MPG | 7.1 PPG | 41% FG% | 44% 3PFG% | 3.2 RPG
"Beautiful" by Eminem
At the beginning of the season everyone knew Tayshaun Prince was in a slump. He took his bruises, took bumps, and he had fallen down, but now it looks like he’s gotten right back up. I was beginning to think that Tayshaun was done with basketball and he may need to move on after this season, but he’s starting to evolve. Every player has to do it when they get older. Prince is being relied on for rebounding and corner threes with a little defense sprinkled in. Sometimes he strays because the offense breaks down and he goes back to bricking mid range jumpers, but overall he’s getting better.
Quincy Pondexter: 26 GP | 18.0 MPG | 4.5 PPG | 33% FG% | 25% 3PFG% | 1.8 RPG
"Irreplaceable" by Beyonce
The Grizzlies put a good amount of eggs in the Quincy Pondexter basket, but now they have yolk all over their feet. Not hitting threes and playing poor defense are just the problems on the surface. He’s unsure of his role with the Grizzlies and it’s obvious. Constantly pump faking then putting the ball on the floor instead of staying within the offense needs to stop, or the limited minutes that Q is seeing now are going away.
It may be time for a change of scenery for QPon. I hope he gets it so he can resurrect his career. Both sides have done things I don’t know if they can take back (Quincy screaming at Coach Joerger and Coach Joerger benching Qpon every now and then). I was in favor of signing him to the bigger contract, but it just hasn’t worked out so it may be time to part ways.
Nick Calathes: 9 GP | 8.1 MPG | 1.8 PPG | 44% FG% | 2 ASPG
Grade: S for Suspended
"Break The Rules" by Charli XCX
Let the record reflect that if you get busted for steroids, your backup can take your spot. If there ever was a cautionary tale for steroids in the NBA, it is Calathes. Calathes just had to break the rules, which lead to him losing his spot as the primary backup to Mike Conley. Now he’s playing when Coach Joerger needs a spark off the bench, which he has done well at, but he just cannot break through the rotation.
Jarnell Stokes: 11 GP | 3.9 MPG | 1.8 PPG | 57% FG% | 1.4 RPG
Jordan Adams: 6 GP | 9.3 MPG | 2.5 PPG | 46% FG% | 50% 3PFG% | 1 RPG
Grades: R for Rookies
"Hold On" by Alabama Shakes
Jarnell Stokes is ready for NBA minutes. Like really, really ready for minutes to further his development. I don’t know if he can contribute, but he needs playing time in the NBA to get used to playing actual NBA players. Unfortunately for him, he is being shipped from Iowa to Memphis. Going from playing against some guys that don’t belong in the NBA to sitting on the bench for a team that could use him at some points has to be extremely frustrating. Once Stokes develops more or shows whatever Coach Joerger is looking for, I wouldn’t be surprised if Coach Joerger starts switching him out with Jon Leuer to play the matchups.
I love Jordan Adams. Unlike Jarnell Stokes, he is not ready for minutes to develop. He is ready to contribute on this Memphis Grizzlies squad right now. I don’t think anyone on the bench is better at driving to the basket and creating their own shots or drawing fouls. I think that Quincy Pondexter will eventually fall out of favor (how he hasn't yet is beyond me), then it will be Jordan Adams' turn.
Both rookies will just have to hold on, their times will come.