I’ve been away from writing about the Grizzlies for a little while now. I won’t bore you with why, but just know, being an editor of a section of a newspaper is time-consuming.
Anyways, I’ve consumed as much Memphis Grizzlies basketball as humanly possible (shouts to NBA League Pass replay), and I have some thoughts at the quarter point of the season.
1. David Fizdale can really coach basketball.
I knew that players liked him, and he’d probably have something similar to the Lionel Hollins affect where he’d get the most out of his players. But he’s done more than just that.
He’s gotten Marc Gasol to shoot threes. He’s gotten Zach Randolph to accept coming off the bench. He’s continued to evolve JaMychal Green (more on that later). He’s using Tony Allen in ways other than just having him stand in the corner or as an occasional baseline runner. Teams actually have to guard Tony, and he’s having arguably his best season since he came to Memphis.
He’s allowing guys to play through mistakes, and you don’t always see that in the NBA. Coaches want to win every night — their jobs depend on it. So it’s pretty rare to see a coach not named Brett Brown letting young players play through mistakes, but that’s exactly what’s Fizdale has done. And guess what, that’s exactly how you instill confidence in your young players, and it’s how you develop them.
Kevin Durant made a comment after the Grizzlies win over the Warriors on Saturday that he noticed how much faster the Grizz were getting into their sets offensively and how the offense was more spacious with the threat of shooters everywhere. Again, credit Fizz for that.
2. I am officially concerned about Chandler Parsons.
I’m also not panicking. I was a bit worried in the beginning when it seemed that Dallas let Parsons walk because of their medical evaluation of his knee, and there hasn’t been anything that’s made me feel better about it.
Was it a risk worth taking? Yes. Can it still work out? Yes.
I get it. The Grizzlies are slow-playing it — as they should. After all, they’re in this for four seasons, not just 2016-17. But it is concerning that he’s only been able to play in six games thus far and looked horrendous when he did play.
3. We don’t talk enough about JaMychal Green.
When the Grizzlies signed Green, I knew from his college days that he had a chance to be a fringe rotation guy who could hustle and provide some offense off the bench. That’s about all you can realistically hope for from an undrafted guy.
But Green has far exceeded my, and likely everyone’s, expectations.
He’s been tasked with guarding everyone from Kevin Durant to Anthony Davis to Karl-Anthony Towns to Blake Griffin, and he’s done an admirable job, using his unique combination of size, strength and lateral quickness to not allow those guys to get to their spots.
He’s been a key cog in the Grizzlies defense which ranks best in the NBA in defensive rating — Green boasts the 19th best defensive rating and the Grizzlies are one of two teams, along with the Hawks, to have three players in the top 20 in defensive rating with Marc Gasol and Tony Allen being the other two.
Offensively, Green hasn’t shot exceptionally well as he continues to try and stretch his shot out beyond the three-point line, so he’s made his living on mid-range jumpers and put-backs, as he’s averaging 2.6 offensive rebounds per game.
During the team’s current six-game win streak, Green is averaging 10.3 points and 12.5 rebounds.
And he’s making less than a million dollars this season.
4. Marc Gasol is on pace to have the best season of his career.
His usage percentage is a career high 26.9 percent, and he’s having one of the most efficient seasons of his career. Translation: The Grizzlies are using Marc Gasol more than they’ve ever used him before, and he's producing at the same or better rate of efficiency.
Oh, and he’s eighth in the NBA in three-point percentage among players who have attempted at least 80 threes. He’s attempted 87 threes to be exact which is 21 more than he had taken in his entire career before this season. It’s unbelievable, honestly, how a player can go from a complete non-factor from three to one of the best in the league in one season.
He’s still the same great defensive player. He’s not at the 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year level, but he still has the best defensive box plus/minus on the team at 2.9 —which ranks 11th in the NBA. In fact, Gasol is top-20 in the league in many on/off and plus/minus metrics.
He’s been the team’s unquestioned MVP through 25 games.
5. Jarell Martin is going to be an NBA rotation player.
And that’s about all I know at this point.
Martin has shown consistent enough range on his jumper to suggest that he’ll at least be a respectable three-point shooter, and his mid-range jumper has to be respected now. He’s good at diving towards the basket, where he’s an explosive leaper, even in tight spaces, and finishing.
His ideal long-term position is at the four though he can play some three when absolutely necessary.
He’s got the second best rebounding rate on the team behind Zach Randolph, but other than that, his analytics aren’t very good — which is fine. It’s still very early in the season and the sample size is small. But he looks good enough to one day be an NBA player.
Currently, only Troy Daniels, Zach Randolph and Chandler Parsons have worse defensive box plus/minus numbers than Martin, all of whom are noted for their defensive struggles, which suggests Martin has struggled defensively, a trait that he was not known for coming out of college. His NBA potential was linked to his offensive versatility, which has looked good this season. He’s knocked down catch-and-shoot jumpers, he’s pump-faking closeouts and taking defenders off the dribble and he’s making precisely-timed cuts that result in easy buckets.
I don’t know exactly what Jarell Martin will eventually turn into in the NBA yet, but I at least know he’ll be in the league, barring major injuries, for years to come.
Final Thought: Deyonta Davis - OH BOY WE GOT ONE.
Remember that time the Grizzlies picked Deyonta Davis, a player I had ranked as a lottery pick and thought had a really good shot at going in the top-10, in the second round?
Well, he’s already the second best shot blocker in NBA history behind only Shawn Bradley who was SEVEN FOOT FREAKIN’ SIX. No, seriously, Davis has a block percentage of 7.4 percent this season. Only Shawn Bradley’s 7.83 percent was better.
All you ‘sample size’ people can shove it. Deyonta Davis is the best rim protector in NBA history, and I won’t listen to any contrary arguments.
On a serious note, I like what I’ve seen so far from Davis this season. He’s already impacting the game defensively, which isn’t something you can say about most rookies.
Here’s a list of players who are 20 years old or younger, have played at least 150 minutes this season and have a defensive box plus/minus of at least 2.0: Myles Turner, Stanley Johnson and Deyonta Davis. The other two are lottery picks and are in their second season, and Davis has the best rating (2.7) out of the group.
Only the Warriors Kevon Looney has a better total rebound percentage of players who are 20 years old or younger and played at least 150 minutes.
Basically, it means that Davis is already positively impacting the game at the defensive end and on the glass, which if you’ve watched many of his minutes this season, it’s not hard to pick up on.
His offense is a project and on that side of the ball is where his NBA potential lies. If he develops into a competent NBA-level offensive big, the Grizzlies have themselves an above average starting center. And even if he doesn’t, he’s going to find plenty of minutes because of his rebounding and defense.