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The Friday Three: Z-Bo and the Hero, Grizzlies Will Play Better, Cui Bono Ex Mario?

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This week's Friday Three says there are all sorts of heroes, analyzes the better play of the Grizzlies the past couple of games and how one good Grizzly's departure may open things up for a certain Captain.

Better days lie ahead for these two key cogs in the Grizzly machine.
Better days lie ahead for these two key cogs in the Grizzly machine.
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

What a crazy week for the Bears of Beale Street. Before we get started, a nod to a darn good Grizzly.

Change is always hard, and it is difficult to say goodbye to players who have been so vital to past great moments in team history. Beno Udrih played a big role in some of those moments. He was there when the Grizzlies' needed him most during the Nick Calathes suspension at the start of the 2014 NBA Playoffs and didn't just fill in, he thrived. He took the back-up Point Guard job with vigor and took to Memphis with a happy heart and an open mind. His positivity was wonderful to behold both up close and from afar, and he is the latest example of the Bluff City resurrecting a career. Memphis was a fresh start for Udrih, and he made the most of it and these Grizzlies and their fans are better for it.

Good luck, Beno. Thank you for your time in Memphis, and good luck in Miami.

On to the Friday Three.

An Appreciation of Heroism in All Its Forms

So often in sports we stretch the meaning of the term "hero." You have undoubtedly read about this in the past; frustrated writers waxing nostalgically about the true heroes of past wars while taking issue with placing people on a pedestal simply because they can throw or hit a ball a long distance or put a round object through a round hoop. They of course are not wrong to do this to an extent. There is quite a difference, after all, between feats of athletic domination and storming a beach in France, or marching through the rain forests of Southeast Asia.

But despite the difference in significance historically or politically, that does not diminish the cultural and localized acts of heroism that can occur just about anywhere. Heroes can come in all shapes and sizes. Never was this more apparent than on Wednesday night in Memphis, when World War II veteran Jimmy Keep presented Zach Randolph with quite the gift. In case you missed it, here is a link to the remarkable video.

This is not Zach's first interaction with Jimmy; here is a video of them from March.

Jimmy was at Iwo Jima. Yes, THAT Iwo Jima. He is about as heroic as they come.

That has been written about all around, including by my guest on GBBLive last night Geoff Calkins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. It is a hell of a story that deserves to be written about, considering the tremendous service that Jimmy and his generation gave to this country. But one of the most interesting things that sticks out is how much Keep admires Zach. His style of play, the kind of man he has been for the people of Memphis.

Dare I say, Zach may be a hero to Mr. Keep?

That in no way devalues the service of those who have fought, and died, to help protect our freedoms. It does call to question the malleability of the word "hero", however. Our military men and women are unquestioned heroes, worthy of praise and remembrance not just in November with Veterans Day and May with Memorial Day but every day of the year. But the actions of a Zach Randolph, not just on the court when he enters "Z-Bo" mode a la the 2011 playoffs but in the Memphis community, paying utility bills and providing school supplies and holiday meals for those in need, are heroic. The nurse caring for the sick and elderly, the firefighter or policeman or woman charged with keeping our streets safe. And yes, even the athlete whose acts of superhuman strength, stamina or skill unite people from all walks of life, even if just for one fleeting moment, under a common cause and belief.

All can be heroes. It just takes opportunity, and two men in Memphis made the most of theirs in very different ways.

All can be heroes.

Some of our greatest heroes are the brave men and women of the United States military. But heroism can be achieved at some level by all who are willing to work and sacrifice for it, who are determined to be the best version of themselves that they can be. It was awesome to see two very different men, at very different life stages, appreciate one another Wednesday night in Memphis for what they both are to so many-

Heroes.

Have the Grizzlies Turned a Corner?

It may not feel like it to many Grizzlies fans as the losses continue to mount for Memphis. But as the Commercial Appeal's Chris Herrington said on Twitter after the Grizzlies' most recent loss to the Warriors-

They are playing better basketball since the fourth quarter of the Utah Jazz game, especially defensively. The numbers bear that out and back up the eye test here.

Offensive Efficiency Defensive Efficiency Net Rating
4th Quarter @ Utah Jazz 94.8 53.0 (!!!!!) 41.8
@ LA Clippers 95.1 99.7 -4.6
vs. Golden State Warriors 86.7 98.9 -12.2
Season Overall 93.4 104.5 -11.1

The 4th quarter of the Jazz game is the definition of "small sample size theater" (a defensive efficiency of 53 is not sustainable). However, whether it is through a more engaged Marc Gasol, better defensive rotations or a combination of the two and then some (transition defense, better control of pace) the defense seems to be righting itself. The average defensive efficiency of the past three games for Memphis is 97.8, which would be good for 8th overall in the NBA since November 7th. Needs to happen for a longer stretch, but a positive development.

The offense is still struggling, though. The offensive efficiency and ranking since November 7th, the start of the defensive turnaround? 87.4 and 30th...dead last in the association, and in line with their performance overall so far this year. Turnovers are an issue (16.3 a game, 23rd in the NBA) as Memphis gives away possessions that could be used to, you know, score the basketball a smidge more. The shooting of Memphis' back court has been particularly alarming over that stretch, but there is reason for hope. Let's compare the current shooting numbers of four of Memphis' perimeter players- Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, Matt Barnes and Jeff Green- over the past three games to what their career averages are (stats provided by basketball-reference.com & nba.com/stats)

Shooting % Past 3 Games 3-Point Shooting % Past 3 Games Career Shooting % Career 3-Point Shooting %
Mike Conley 28.8 21.1 44.1 37.2
Courtney Lee 21.7 14.3 44.8 38.1
Jeff Green 31.6 0 43.9 34.1
Matt Barnes 27.3 36.4 44.6 33.6

Only one player outperforming one career average shooting, Matt Barnes' percentage from beyond the arc. Every other percentage is at least 12.3% worse than usual. That is not to say that these guys will miraculously shoot back up to their averages through simultaneous hot streaks. It may still take a little bit of time for all four to begin to perform close to their averages.

They will get back up close to what these veterans have always been, though, according to the law of averages. As these four guys in particular pick up their production, Memphis' offensive efficiency will improve. As that number goes up, and the defense stays steady, the corner will be turned. If the Grizzlies can get through November within two games or so of .500? December and January offer opportunity to rattle off some wins.

Cui Bono Ex Mario? (Who Benefits from Mario?)

This, to me, is an easy question to answer, and it involves one of the gentlemen in the above "chart of sadness." Marc Gasol recently spoke to Memphis media on the struggles of Mike Conley and how his teammates need to pick him up. This is from Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal-

"We've got to help him. It's team basketball. It's not tennis. It's not golf. Mike is trying to do the right things. There are no seams for him to go. You take a picture of the paint and you can barely see the blue in the paint. It's full of people. There's at least eight guys in there. Trust me, I'm in there a lot and I try to find angles and gaps, and there's not many. For Mike, one minute he's trying to get people going. But, at the same time, we want him to be aggressive. He's taking a lot of tough shots. He doesn't get the easy shot - the boom, boom, boom ... wide-open shot."

He is counted on for a lot, especially to be the main creator of not just shots for others, but for himself. He leads the team in percentage of total shots made that are unassisted at 71.4%, with the next closest being Jeff Green at 58.8%. This makes sense, of course- Conley is the team's starting point guard, their best ball handler and player off of the pick and roll. It has to be challenging, however, to have to do so much with the ball constantly in your hands, especially when dealing with a cold start to the season to begin with.

Enter Mario Chalmers, a player who #intheory makes life easier for "Captain Clutch." Again, from Tillery of the Commercial Appeal-

Expect Chalmers to also see time with the starters alongside point guard Mike Conley. Chalmers' play-making ability could allow Conley to get more quality shots off the ball.

Ron is not alone in this assessment. I said in my news piece when the trade occurred Tuesday that Chalmers will allow for Mike Conley to get screens and picks set for him running the baseline and elsewhere on the court that he simply cannot do as the primary ball handler. Chalmers, while potentially a net neutral upgrade from Beno Udrih on offense, takes a ton more threes than Udrih ever did. With this trade Memphis exchanges the skilled mid-range mauler for a three-point volume shooter who has shown the capacity to convert those shots at a decent clip.

He also is such an upgrade defensively over Beno that it will allow for Dave Joerger to trust him enough to play him for long stretches with the starters. A Conley/Chalmers/Lee/Randolph/Gasol lineup, for example, gives Memphis multiple ball handlers and three players capable of scoring the ball from beyond the arc. In addition to that, the lineups are potentially fun and add a new dimension to Memphis' offense. Need to go small with Brandan Wright out? A Conley/Chalmers/Tony Allen/Matt Barnes/JaMychal Green crew is about as small ball as the Grizzlies can go, creating room to work in the paint on offense while allowing for switching on the perimeter to happen across all positions defensively. Zach Randolph at Center also works nicely with Conley, Chalmers, Barnes or Courtney Lee and JaMychal as the guys running alongside him- plenty of space inside for Zach to bully on the block.

Chalmers has the skill set to make life easier for Mike Conley as he recovers from early season struggles.

Chalmers, in theory, can make the roster that much more flexible, especially on the bench, due to his ability to play both back court spots. This potential wrinkle should make Mike Conley (and Grizzlies fans at large) especially excited about the next few games as he tries to rediscover his shooting stroke. He now has someone to help him create, not just for others but for him in particular.

He can't do it all himself. Here's to hoping "Super Mario" lightens the load, starting tonight against Portland.

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