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The Friday Three: Survive and Advance

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At this stage of the season, considering where Memphis is health wise, 3-2 is a blessing.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

A late Friday Three is better than no Friday Three. Let’s get to it.

Survive and Advance

This season could very easily be on the brink, you know.

The Memphis Grizzlies, who according to basketballreference.com are the 28th best team in the NBA when you combine point differential and strength of schedule, are sitting relatively pretty at 3-2 through five games. They have found ways to win despite not having Chandler Parsons or Brandan Wright at all, despite not having Tony Allen for the first three games, and despite Marc Gasol and Mike Conley being on some sort of minutes restriction in two of the five games. Oh, and Gasol and Conley look healthy and ready to lead this new-look Grizzlies team. They have found a way to win.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

That is the good news. The bad news? The Grizzlies have played the second easiest schedule in the Association by basketballreference.com’s strength of schedule, having played four teams (they played Minnesota twice) with a combined record of 2-14 so far this season and they needed overtime to win two of their three games. Glaring weaknesses exist just five games in- the team desperately needs a backup center who can defend the rim (so not Zach Randolph) and a backup point guard may not be a bad idea either, considering the cooling off of Wade Baldwin and the overall struggles of Andrew Harrison.

The team could also use some bench assistance that isn’t Vince Carter- Vince has played the third most minutes through five games on the Grizzlies, which is nowhere near the ideal use of the 40-year old veteran. A lot of this is injury driven, of course- the return of Wright and debut of Parsons will help with some of these issues (more on this later)- but the cavalry is not arriving anytime soon, and the schedule is about to get a lot tougher. Their next three opponents- the Clippers, Trail Blazers, and Nuggets- have a current combined record of 6-6, and the Trail Blazers are one of the better, if not the best, 2-3 teams in the NBA.

All three of these games are at home in FedExForum, but they will surely be challenging for the shorthanded Grizzlies. Will Gasol and Conley continue to help the Grizzlies to survive and advance until help comes? Or will this 3-2 team look like a 3-5 team by the end of the week? This weekend is a big one when it comes to answering that question.

Young Bigs Lead to Big Moves?

The play of Jarell Martin and Deyonta Davis so far this season has been eye opening. Martin has shown the ability to play on the wing for stretches of time, highlighting his athleticism, and Davis (although admittedly very raw) has some tremendous potential as a rim protector and finisher in the paint. It is early, but their minutes so far this season have been productive in one way or another. Especially Davis- in 33 minutes (small sample size and what not) he has a 147 (!!!!!) offensive rating and 98 defensive rating. That is a +49 net rating, folks. Clearly not sustainable, but also clearly worth investing more minutes in to.

NBA: Preseason-Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

But the eventual return of Chandler Parsons surely means the end of Martin the small forward, at least for this season. Brandan Wright could potentially cut in to both of their minutes, considering how well JaMychal Green has played so far this season (+5 net rating over a team-leading 156 minutes) and the fact that sixth man Zach Randolph is still going to get at least 22-25 minutes a night.

Earlier, roster holes for the Grizzlies were mentioned. Parsons coming back allows for James Ennis to go on the wing as a bench player potentially, which will help fill that void (more on Ennis here shortly), but the Grizzlies have a logjam of talented bigs and could still use some help on the perimeter. Does JaMychal Green (good rotation player on a good team but restricted free agent next season), Brandan Wright (injury concerns but great contract), or...dare I say it...a down-the-road possibly disgruntled Zach Randolph (pure speculation as of now, but Z-Bo likely isn’t happy to be be on the bench at the end of games) fetch you a good combo guard or another wing that can play multiple spots on the perimeter via trade?

There are flaws to each plan. JaMychal is very helpful now, Wright if he ever gets healthy could be a difference maker provinding something Memphis currently lacks as a long pick and roll finisher, and Randolph may run for mayor in Memphis some day. Z-Bo moving is unlikely at this stage, but the Grizzlies have a tendency to make in-season moves. A Wright or Green trade may be worth exploring, considering how good Jarell Martin and Deyonta Davis have looked at times early this season. A larger sample size is needed, though, especially once the whole team is healthy...

If that ever happens.

James Ennis is Happening

Quick question for you- which player on the Grizzlies has played in every game so far this season, is attempting over four three-pointers per game and is shooting 44.4% on those attempts, and has the best net rating among players that have played at least 50 minutes overall so far this season at +17?

Mike Conley? Nah. Marc Gasol? Nope. Chandler Parsons? Hasn’t played yet. It isn’t any of the members of the $20 million plus club.

It’s this guy.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

James Ennis. All roughly $2.9 million this season of him. He has been a revelation so far for Memphis. He is scoring in efficient ways, taking over 81% of his shots either right at the rim or beyond the arc, according to basketballreference.com. He is defending well, posting a 104 defensive rating while being asked to guard multiple positions on the wing and even as a stretch four- basketballreference.com has him playing 12% of his minutes so far this season at the power forward spot.

He is being asked to do a lot of things for Memphis that he should not be having to do, and yet he is rising to the occasion. Ennis plays with a confidence and energy that is contagious, and it shows why David Fizdale wanted him on this roster after seeing what he was able to do a couple of season ago at Miami, as well as his last stretch with the Pelicans at the end of last year. He is versatile, he is productive, and when Parsons returns he will be quite an addition to this Grizzlies bench.

He, like JaMychal Green, is showing that he belongs in the rotation for a good NBA team. And Ennis is under contract for next season as well, at the more-than-reasonable price of $3 million. Given the Grizzlies salary cap and draft pick situation, they needed some free agency bargain shopping home runs. The jury is still out on some of their other pickups (Troy Daniels, Andrew Harrison), but Ennis looks like not just a good investment...

He looks like one of the steals of NBA free agency early in the 2016-2017 season.

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