I remember it well.
It came one late night after covering a Grizzlies' playoff game in 2014 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was after Game Six, a Memphis loss, a game that most among Grizz Nation had hoped would clinch a series win and end with a Beale Street party but was really the last game in Memphis that season. Zach Randolph was suspended for questionable reasons for Game Seven in Oklahoma City, and the rest is history.
This night was a disappointment, to be sure, but I made certain to hang around just a little bit longer than I had in previous games. I knew that I was leaving Memphis in the next few weeks, and I wanted to savor this time. I finished my work for the site, was one of the last to leave the media room and when I left the arena was empty. Beale Street was essentially a ghost town, give or take a blues song playing in the distance, keeping me company. Main and 2nd were clear and open. I took a walk. I looked around, took in the music and lights, the smells and sights of my adopted hometown, appreciating the moment.
One of my favorite poems came to mind- Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening." I was always taken aback by the peacefulness of the scene Frost paints with his words, the ability and brief moment to reflect in that beauty.
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
The last stanza sticks with me to this day and ran through my mind during my late-night walk through the Bluff City. Memphis, one of the greatest chapters in my life, was coming to an end and it was as if Memphis was spending a quiet moment to say a personal goodbye. An opportunity to breathe in the soul one more time, just me and the city that helped to change me for the better. I could have stayed there in that moment forever...
But I couldn't. I had a wife who was ready to head back east and start a family. A lot of life to officially get underway. Memphis was our great adventure, but I had many miles to go before I slept (literally and figuratively, Washington DC is far away from Memphis). The promise of a life beyond Memphis for my family led me out of the moment.
Watching these Grizzlies so far this season has brought me back to that bittersweet place, however. Make no mistake, many miles are left ahead of Memphis this year. Small sample size theater dominates any conversation that is had, and any positive movement can be negated by a negative that has shown its face. Who the Grizzlies are this year is still yet to be determined. But the beauty that is/was this era in Grizzlies basketball is certainly more of the ugly "nasty" variety at the moment. The Grizzlies, so far, seem outmanned and outmatched...as if the game is passing this beloved collective by.
The year (or months) ahead of us as fans feels like that man stopped in those woods. Time moves along, and teams and players eventually move on. While it is important to critique and analyze, to "fix" as many problems as possible, it also should be emphasized over and over that this team, flaws and all, deserves to be celebrated. They deserve to be admired for their contributions to the city. And as the time eventually arrives for promises to be kept and for miles to be traveled elsewhere, those moments can stick with us.
Grind forth, but take time to take in the moment. The greatest era in Grizzlies history will, as everything eventual does, end. And all that will be left is the memory.
On to our Friday Three-
Does it Make Sense to Start Matt Barnes?
This was a topic of conversation this past Wednesday night on GBBLive (which you can listen to here) and any time you ask something that directly impacts Tony Allen's starting spot in Memphis you are sure to be questioned somewhat. It isn't like Tony has been setting the offensive world on fire, however; his jumper looks as hurt and broken as ever. Meanwhile, Matt Barnes has shown in the past the capacity to make teams pay who leave him open on the perimeter. He also is a very capable defender; as Chip Williams said on GBBLive, he isn't as good as TA but he isn't that far off. The net positive offensively would be worth the drop defensively, right?
Well...it isn't that simple. Barnes has struggled offensively so far this season in his own right. The shot charts of the two players are not very impressive, but Tony Allen's 39.5% overall shooting (chart at the top) is better so far than Matt Barnes' 26.1% (chart on the bottom).
Matt has particularly struggled from three (17.9% overall!) and while this is indeed terrifying it is important to note that the worst Matt Barnes ever shot from three point land in a season that he played in 50 games or more is...18.2%.
Never fear, that was 10 years ago, an NBA lifetime...that also shows Matt Barnes' age. But Barnes has averaged 33.5% shooting from range since then, and I would imagine he will settle around there eventually.
Then you have to take in to consideration what this kind of switch does to the bench offense. A true 2nd unit of Beno Udrih/Allen/Jeff Green/JaMychal Green/Brandan Wright does not exactly strike spacing fear in to the hearts of opponents. While Barnes has had his early issues, he has been successful enough in the past to at least be respected from outside. Teams must defend him. TA doesn't need that basic treatment very often.
Jordan Adams could be the answer to help bring more scoring pop to the bench unit if Barnes were to make that leap. For now, the most likely scenario is that the starting wing combination of Courtney Lee and Allen will stay put. Barnes will continue to find himself in Memphis, defending his tail off while he rediscovers the shooting stroke that will likely put him around 34% shooting for the season from beyond the arc.
Is Trading for Mario Chalmers Really Necessary?
The rumor running rampant this week was the report from ESPN's Marc Stein that the Grizzlies had engaged the Miami Heat in conversations about potentially acquiring Mario Chalmers. Memphis fans are more than likely already not big "Super Mario" supporters...
Add this on to the fact that Beno Udrih has become a bit of a folk hero for lots of members of Grizz Nation and this potential move was not met with a ton of excitement. The two players for their careers do not have a ton of separation from one another...from basketball-reference.com.
Keep in mind that Mario's stats are a bit inflated due to the whole "playing with LeBron James" thing. So why even consider a switch? Because Chalmers gives you a bit more flexibility with regard to playing alongside Mike Conley. Chalmers' game, especially as a three point shooter (career 36% shooter from range) and athletic slasher would allow for Chalmers to play off the ball more effectively (in theory) than Beno. Mario at this point is also likely to be a better defender than Beno, even if the improvement isn't that impactful overall.
Is it worth it? Potentially. But does it really move the needle very much for Memphis? Not really. So what's the point? If it involves flipping Beno for Mario straight up, there isn't one really, unless you think Chalmers shoots and defends that much better than Udrih in Memphis. Numbers and your eyes do not back that up necessarily, however. Now, Vince Carter and a 2nd round pick for Chalmers? Or part of a larger deal?
Far less likely to occur, but sign me up for that at this point.
Is This Who the Grizzlies Are Now?
After another blowout loss, this time at the hands of the supposedly not-as-good-as-the-Grizzlies Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis and its fans were in the middle of quite the stormy evening. There were lots of Tweets detailing the demise of the once-dominant Grizzlies, calling for the end of the Grit and Grind era on a count of age and inability to compete in the "Modern NBA." Doom and gloom dominates the landscape, despite the fact the season is only six games old.
And make no mistake, there are issues. Memphis is currently 23rd in offensive efficiency (96.4 points scored per 100 possessions), which is bad, but even worse is their defensive efficiency, which is currently 26th in the NBA (107.9 points allowed per 100 possessions). Their current net efficiency of -11.5 is one of the worst in the Association, and certainly provides basic background data to what your eyes already tell you- the Grizzlies are struggling.
But a look at Memphis' offensive and defensive efficiencies the past four seasons tells us a slightly different story.
|SEASON||Offensive Efficiency & Rank||Defensive Efficiency & Rank|
|2011-2012||101 (Tied for 20th)||98.9 (7th)|
|2012-2013||101.7 (18th)||97.4 (2nd)|
|2013-2014||103.3 (Tied for 15th)||102.1 (Tied for 7th)|
|2014-2015||103.1 (13th)||99.9 (4th)|
Memphis' average offensive efficiency through those four seasons is 102.3, and their average ranking in the NBA is 16.5. Defensively, their average efficiency is 99.6 and their average NBA ranking is 5th. Their average net efficiency over that 4-year span? +2.7. Over a much larger sample size than our current six-game stretch, Memphis has played relatively good basketball. It is unlikely that the Grizzlies got permanently that bad, that fast.
Keep in mind as well that two of the three losses so far came at the hands of the two teams who met in the NBA Finals just a season ago as well. The Grizzlies have been outclassed in blowouts, but at least in two of the cases it is against literally the best the NBA has to offer.
Does that mean everything is fine and dandy? Of course not. There are clear, serious issues, namely with the bench in terms of production and Marc Gasol/Mike Conley with regard to consistency. If those two continue to play at the level they were at in Portland, this team will not make the playoffs.The team's defensive issues especially are worrisome, and it is possible that those problems are connected to age and a lack of foot speed to react to the ball movement and athleticism of the "Modern NBA".
But there is still plenty of time left in the season, and to reach these conclusions so soon is a mistake. The team must be given at least 25 games, through December 13th's game with the Miami Heat, before any real understanding through sample size can be gathered. I use the baseline of Christmas personally, which would be through December 23rd and their game in Washington against the Wizards. If these issues persist, if their efficiencies continue to be so negative and their rankings hang around the bottom of the NBA, then I will yell at the sky as it falls.
We knew these early games would be a challenge. Memphis must weather this early storm and right the ship, or risk seeing the best era in their history end prematurely.