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The Friday Three: Can Memphis Make the Three Seed, Matt Barnes' Winning Plays, How To Spot a "Wendigo"

This week's Friday Three column looks at the Grizzlies' December schedule as well as Matt Barnes' ability to compete and Marc Gasol's ability to attack.

Over the course of a long NBA season, teams are undoubtedly going to experience highs and lows. The Memphis Grizzlies are currently in the midst of one of those peaks, going 8-3 in their past 11 games after their loss against the San Antonio Spurs last night. As their schedule has lightened some, the Grizzlies have done what they are supposed to do; win against teams "worse" than them, and that run of success has them currently right in the thick of things in the Western Conference despite the terrible start to the 2015-2016 campaign.

But is it sustainable? And who has really be at the helm of this recent resurgence? These are the focuses of this week's Friday Three.

So let's get to it.

Where Will the Grizzlies be Out West by 2016?

Despite the result of last night's game, the Grizzlies are still very much in the conversation for (believe it or not) the three seed in the Western Conference.

west standings 12-4

Golden State is running away with the conference and San Antonio clearly is the second best team out West, and probably in the NBA. From there? A complete cluster of currently mediocre record-wise basketball teams.

Memphis is right in the mix with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Dallas Mavericks for the three seed...but they are also in the mix for being out of the top eight in the conference altogether when New Year's Eve rolls around. Looking ahead to the rest of December, using records from before the start of games Thursday, here are the combined opponent's records and winning percentages for those four teams closest to the three seed...or the four teams currently with winning records.

Memphis 123-126 (49.3%)
Oklahoma City 115-143 (44.5%)
Dallas 129-110 (53.9%)
LA Clippers 120-147 (44.9%))

It would appear that the Clippers and Thunder have the easiest road to the three seed heading in to the new year, while Memphis will be playing a so-so schedule and Dallas will be dealing with the toughest December of all of the teams above.

Considering that the Grizzlies were playing teams like the Golden State Warriors (TWICE!), Cleveland Cavaliers and going on five-game west coast road trips to start the season in late October/early November, they will gladly take this upcoming run of opponents. Memphis will not see any of the NBA's current "big three" of Cleveland, Golden State and San Antonio again until March, which is certainly a welcome development considering that Memphis is 0-5 against them this year, with all five losses coming by double digits, as Chris Herrington of the Memphis Commercial Appeal pointed out on Twitter last night). The Grizzlies play the 76ers and Lakers in December, and three of their arguably toughest four games left this month (Miami, Oklahoma City, Chicago and Indiana) are at home.

While the loss against San Antonio surely stings, fear not Grizzlies fans. If Memphis plays the way they have over the past few weeks, they will most certainly be in the mix for the three seed. Logic would stand to reason that teams like the Thunder and Clippers will catch fire and run up the standings, but Dallas is due to cool off against tougher opposition and the Grizzlies should be at worst at the five seed, and possibly better, as 2015 departs and 2016 arrives.

How Does Matt Barnes Help Memphis Win?

Matt Barnes has helped to lead the Grizzlies' recent resurgence. His performance is directly connected to Memphis success; when Matt Barnes has a positive +/-, the Grizzlies are 8-0 (H/T FoxSports.com). During the stretch with Zach Randolph out due to injury recently, Barnes saw his role increase and more opportunity to play the four, a spot where he had success in Los Angeles with the Clippers last season.

Barnes is surely not the only reason the Grizzlies have bounced back, but he is playing well (last night's game aside) and is impacting the game in a variety of ways. It certainly is not by doing things "the pretty way." There is a lot of things that Matt Barnes does that are nowhere near attractive. Sometimes he acts out, sometimes he puts himself and his team in the mud with those actions. On the court, however, he is a player worthy of praise on a near nightly basis.

The way he does it is by doing what is necessary in the moment. Sometimes it involves offensive rebounding...

Barnes OR 1

Barnes OR 2

When Memphis wins, Barnes is attacking the glass, averaging 4.5 rebounds a game.

Most times, Matt does it by defending. He is asked to defend all sorts of players, from bigs like Tim Duncan or LaMarcus Aldridge to wings like Tyreke Evans. Other times, he is converting three point shots and leaking out in transition. Numbers at this point, much like this Grizzlies' team at large, do not do Barnes complete justice. He competes his tail off, and every time Barnes is involved in the game, you know he is going to do all this in one way in particular-

With simple, strong effort.

And this is a quality that at times seems to be lacking in Memphis. Whether it is struggling out of the gates against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers or getting blown out by the NBA's elite, there are times where the Grizzlies as a whole look disinterested. This is rarely the case for Matt Barnes, however; he is aggressive, he is engaged, and he plays with a chip on his shoulder, as if he is still trying to prove himself.

The Grizzlies could use this mentality as a whole more often. As Barnes' continues to adapt to the Grizzlies' style and roster, what he can control night in and night out is that energy and effort. And it can be very contagious, when the Grizzlies' are engaged.

Sometimes, it is as simple as "wanting it more." Matt Barnes makes winning plays because of this, and the Grizzlies are all the better for it.

What Are the Signs of a "Wendigo"/"Big Spain" Sighting?

Marc Gasol, for whatever reason (conditioning, scheme, competition, etc.) has not yet consistently been dominant on both offense and defense. Recently, however, Gasol showed that he most certainly has the capacity to be that All-NBA First Team player on any given night.

38 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 blocks. Dominant. Special.

WENDIGOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

We have been seen the monster known as "Wendigo", the All-Star Starter "Big Spain" more and more recently. There are reasons for this; Marc is starting to round in to form since he did not play organized basketball this Summer for the first time in...well, according to Marc. A lightening of the schedule, as discussed above, comes to mind as a reason, as does better play from the team at large; you're only as good as the pieces around you at times.

The return of the "Wendigo" shows in the numbers; here are some of Gasol's statss from before and during this 8-3 run of success.

October 27th-November 11th (9 games) November 12th-December 4th (11 games)
Field Goal % 41% 50.7
Field Goal Attempts Per Game 11.7 12.5
Free Throw % 81.8 92.3
Points Per Game 14.7 17.2
Rebounds Per Game 6.3 8.5
Assists Per Game 3.2 4.6

There are some pretty stark differences. Marc is scoring the ball more effectively, getting in to the lane more consistently and getting more involved in the flow of the game. Other numbers paint a picture of how he's been doing it; his usage rate has been 21.5 in his last 11 games, lower than the 23.4 he posted in his first 9. He is using less offensive possessions while playing more minutes; his 30.9 minute per game in the first 9 contests of the season (surely due to several blowout losses) pales in comparison to the 37.8 minutes per game he has player in the last 11games. That efficiency is reflected in his net rating, which was -8.6 in the first 9 games but has been 3.9 in his last 11.

In the eight wins during this current 8-3 stretch, Gasol has been a defensive monster (99.6 defensive rating), while in three losses his defensive rating has been a paltry 116.2. In eight wins, Marc has been out and running more with a quicker pace of 97.8, whereas in losses he has been stuck at a plodding pace of 92.27. He is involving teammates more in the offense when he is "on"(5.1 assists per game in the eight wins, 3.3 in the three losses). He is also more aggressive at the rim, reflected in his 5.3 free throw attempts in wins on 95.5% shooting compared to 3.3 free throw attempts on 80% shooting.

Using these numbers and the vaunted eye test, we can have a decisive way to spot "Big Spain", the monster known as the "Wendigo."

  • He's defensively engaged, contesting shots and blocking not just attempts at the rim but also disrupting offensive rhythm on screens and pick and roll tries.
  • He's attacking the rim, trading his fade-away attempts for rim runs and rolls off of the pick and roll. Once he gets in to the rhythm of the offense and converts some lay-ups and free throws, his pick-and-pop and mid-range jumpers have a bit more lift and confidence behind them.
  • He is creating not just for himself, but for others. His position in the high post makes him a true triple threat to attack, shoot or pass, and because of that he can feed Zach Randolph in a high-low look or a slasher at the rim like Tony Allen or Jeff Green.
  • He's slapping his own butt on numerous occasions...which has apparently been passed on to Zach Randolph as well. In all seriousness, Marc has a tendency to get into funks, especially when his teammates aren't executing or he is being asked to do too much. He talks to the refs more than he should, he is a step slow on defensive rotations and he settles for mid-range shots. When he is in "Wendigo" mode, he fights on both ends and plays with tremendous energy.

When Marc plays this way, he is not only the best player on the Grizzlies, he is more often than not the best player on the court. It requires a good bit of energy, and it certainly isn't realistic to expect the 38 point 13 rebound 'Wendigo" who consumes the souls of his enemies every night. But the energy, the aggression...those can carry over, just as they do for Matt Barnes, and usually that leads to a lot more Grizzlies' wins than losses.

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