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Opportunity Knocks for Mario Chalmers

With all the free agent wings on the roster, and the attention that Jeff Green and Marc Gasol's struggles have garnered, it is easy to overlook Memphis' most recent trade acquisition. In his recent opportunities as a starter, Mario Chalmers has overachieved and underwhelmed at the same time...and his future is quite up in the air. Part I of this week's Friday Three takes a look at "Super Mario's" successes and struggles.

"Super Mario" is trying to make the most of his time in Memphis.
"Super Mario" is trying to make the most of his time in Memphis.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

It is only natural to blame a player like Jeff Green for the recent problems that the Memphis Grizzlies have faced. His effort has been questioned, his defense has been bad at best, abysmal at worst, and he is reportedly causing the team some locker room headaches, leading to a bad perceived vibe in the press. It is also natural to point the finger of blame at the under-performing Marc Gasol, the max-contract player who looks tired more often than not and has not been able to carry the load for Memphis as he has in the past, most recently last season.

Dave Joerger, Mike Conley's body, Courtney Lee's indecisiveness, Matt Barnes' suspension...there are a lot of distractions and career-low performances to point the finger of blame at. However, there is one player who, especially recently, has shined is some ways and struggled in others for the Grizzlies, and it comes at a position of vital importance.

Chalmers has been given a unique opportunity in Memphis. It will be up to him to continually take advantage of it.

Mario Chalmers is in the final year of his contract. When the upcoming free agents of the Grizzlies' roster are mentioned, Mario is usually the last one brought up. Mike Conley, Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, even Matt Barnes get more mentions than Chalmers. Of course Mario was an early-season acquisition and that may be a part of it, and while Mario has had his struggles at times as a backup point guard, perhaps he is not necessarily seen as "important" as most of those guys to team success.

At least, until now.

With Mike Conley out due to a variety of ailments recently, Chalmers has been thrust in to the spotlight for the first time since the trade with the Miami Heat occurred, and opportunity has arrived at his door. The Detroit Pistons game suggests that he is ready and willing to showcase himself, and that will benefit not only Chalmers but the Grizzlies at large moving forward if he can play close to this level consistently.

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Mario was red-hot upon arriving in Memphis, especially from three, shooting 7-12 from beyond the arc in his first three games for the Grizzlies and even leading them to a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder during that stretch. His shooting chart in those first three games was impressive across the board-

Chalmers First Three Games

Of course a small sample size, but "Super Mario" was aggressive from three and at the rim, playing an efficient and effective offensive game with only two shots that weren't threes or at the basket. Chalmers also showed his defensive chops during this time, averaging almost two steals per game and defending all kinds of guards, showing why he was acquired in the first place- versatility.

The spark faded, however, and in the 21 games following that initial run of success he shot 7-38 from range, an anemic 18.4%, and that shot chart is far less impressive-

Chalmers Next 21 Games

Much larger sample size, much more concern about Mario's ability to convert from three.

Was Mario going to shoot 58.3% from range throughout the season, or 18.4%, for these Grizzlies? Of course not. His career average is 35.8%, and more often than not players regress, or progress, to their mean...which is exactly what Mario Chalmers has done this past eight games, including his recent 25-point explosion against the Detroit Pistons which was capped off by this game-winning shot-

Over those past eight games, Chalmers has shot 15-40 from beyond the arc, or 37.5%, much closer to his career average than his red-hot start or ice-cold streak. The shot chart during the past eight games (before his 9-15 performance against Detroit) looks much more steady-

Chalmers Last Eight Games

The one area of concern is in shot conversion and shot distribution at the rim, but the largest sample size of 21 games says that Chalmers will get to the rim and have more success there...as does the Detroit game, where Mario was 5-5 attacking the basket, including three makes in the first quarter alone. Offensively, Chalmers is most dangerous when he is aggressive early and getting in to the rhythm of the game. "Rio" is at his best as an inside-out point guard, and the game against the Pistons is a perfect example of that.

That's three shot charts, three stretches of Grizzlies basketball for Chalmers where he has had highs and lows offensively. What does that add up to as far as his entire stay in Memphis?

Field Goal % 42.2
Three Point % 32.2
Free Throw % 81.0
Assists Per Game 3.5
Steals Per Game 1.4
Turnovers Per Game 1.9

Considering the fact that Chalmers is averaging 22.5 minutes per game in his time in Memphis, those numbers, especially percentage wise, are promising. They are in line with what he did with Miami, and his three point percentage has room to grow and develop. His per-36 stats, according to basketball-reference.com, suggest that Chalmers is performing at a career-best clip scoring the ball (17.7 points per game). Offensively, he is showing real potential.

Defensively, however, he has struggled at times, and he misses Mike Conley immensely here because instead of defending lesser second-unit guards Chalmers must deal with the best of the best all of the time. Mario is having problems defending and keeping players in front of him, and opponents are shooting 14.4% better with Chalmers defending them six of less feet from the rim according to NBA.com/stats. Part of this is team-defense related: communication problems and poor rotations are key to this issue. Mario is defending well at the three-point line, though (opponents are shooting 4.1% worse from there with Chalmers guarding them) and his size and length allows for switching and better movement on the perimeter.

He also plays well alongside guys like Mike Conley, which is one of the major benefits that was predicted by many when Mario was acquired. The Conley/Chalmers combination has only player 114 minutes together (Marc Gasol and Conley have played 1,019 together to lead the team) but they have the best net rating of any two-man lineup on the Grizzlies who have played more than 100 minutes together at +13.3. The offensive rating for these two together is a dominant 114.7, a tremendous number (especially for a team struggling mightily scoring the rock) and a not-so-bad 101.4 defensive rating, especially considering the offensive explosiveness. The next closest tandem, Zach Randolph and JaMychal Green, are a +5.8, showing just how good Chalmers and Conley could be together.

Again, the sample size is not large enough, but Chalmers and Conley as a duo could cause a ton of issues for opponents once Mike returns.

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Mario Chalmers was once valued in Miami, but that time has come and gone. He now resides in Memphis, and while he has had some missteps and cool-downs he has shown his potential in a variety of ways. Mike Conley's absence has shined the light even more brightly on Mario, and games like the one against Detroit show that Chalmers can be depended on when his name is called. Whether that pays off for him in Memphis long-term or elsewhere whenever this season ends for the Grizzlies remains to be seen, but Mario will continue to be given opportunity...and he will continue to do his best to take advantage.

Stats provided by NBA.com/stats and basketball-reference.com

CHECK OUT THE REST OF THIS WEEK'S FRIDAY THREE AND CATCH UP ON PREVIOUS ARTICLES HERE

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