Mike Conley Needs a Little Help From His Friends
Why isn't Matt Barnes starting for the Grizzlies?
It may not seem like it, but this past week featured two pretty huge wins. Two victories, by three combined points, could potentially be looked back on as the difference between home-court and no home-court. They could be the difference between a first round matchup with the LA Clippers or Oklahoma City Thunder, or a first round matchup with the San Antonio Spurs or Golden State Warriors. Perhaps even the difference between the playoffs, or no playoffs at all...
Yes. That big.
Because if the Memphis Grizzlies had lost all four games this past week, they'd currently be riding a four-game losing streak. If Jeff Green and Courtney Lee hadn't connected on a game winning slam dunk...
...then the Grizzlies would have been 11-10, one game away from .500, heading into their tough matchup with the Spurs. If Matt Barnes didn't hit this miraculous, yet poorly decided on, shot...
...then the Grizzlies, instead of 13-10 at this moment, would be 12-11, again one game closer to that terrible .500 mark. And if Memphis had lost both of those games? 11-12, on a four-game losing streak, with more and more questions than you already have.
It's important to keep all of this in mind, as wins are celebrated and Memphis' place out West is brought up (currently the four seed after the Clippers' loss in Chicago Thursday night). It is very easy to say "as poorly as Memphis has played, they're still in the mix! Right where they are supposed to be!"
It is fair to appreciate that. But it is also key for folks to understand that it could very easily have gone the opposite way. Memphis' stats these past four games are not exactly shining examples of a 2-2 team.
|Points Per Game||89.8|
|Team Plus Minus||-13.5|
|Team Three Point Shooting %||23.3|
These numbers are skewed some due to the massive loss to the Thunder. That loss happened, however. That point differential has to be acknowledged, especially now that those types of losses are beginning to pile up.
Grizzlies have losses by 19, 20, 30, 37 & 50 points. They're 12-10 w/ the point differential of a team that's 7-15.— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) December 9, 2015
Are the Grizzlies a 7-15 basketball team? Of course not. But getting obliterated not once, not twice, but FIVE TIMES, should still count for something...
Not necessarily as much with these Grizzlies as it would with a different roster of guys. As Chris Herrington of the Memphis Commercial Appeal points out...
Look: maybe the Grizzlies aren't "good" anymore, but they still mock your "point differential" and "expected wins."— Chris Herrington (@HerringtonNBA) December 10, 2015
Memphis has never been a darling of the analytical crowd with regard to "expected wins" and other similar projections. The decline of the Memphis Grizzlies has been predicted multiple times now, and up to this point they have been wrong.
Is it possible, even probable, that this could be the end of this era? Definitely. It feels different. Your eyes tell you that steps may well be slower, that offensive incapabilities may have finally caught up to defensive production. Numbers and charts say that these Grizzlies are overachieving, and that they should be thankful they are not a team that is in the basement of the NBA. These blowout losses give credence to that line of thinking.
But these miracle wins give credence to the "Grit and Grind" not being dead just yet.
Yes, they were wins over the Suns and Pistons. But these Grizzlies, even at the peak of their powers, suffered bad losses to bad teams. They found ways to win. They finished games, played every second, and whether it be through luck, skill, scheme, or divine intervention, they won the damn games.
When did we come to a point where a win wasn't good enough?
It won't be pretty. Hell, it rarely has been the past five seasons. It isn't going to look the same as it has in the past. This is a team in transition, finding themselves at a crossroads, trying to remain competitive in a changing NBA landscape. The ability for this roster and coaching staff to adapt, to tweak and adjust (and do it quickly), will determine how much these two wins in December that could've/should've been losses are in the long run.
But in the short term, mentally, they make all the difference. And for a team on the brink like the Memphis Grizzlies, that cannot be overstated.