The Memphis Grizzlies have arrived at the post All-Star Game slate of games in a very different world than they were in when they blew out the Brooklyn Nets nine days ago. Gone are two of the key rotation players in that and other victories this season and in past seasons in Courtney Lee and Jeff Green, and in their place are inferior players and better long-term assets in the form of a first round pick and four (really three due to protections) second round picks. With the injury to Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies looked to become sellers at the deadline, prioritizing future items of value over having better players who were likely not part of the organization's future.
That's not to say that Memphis is punting the season, though. The Grizzlies are firmly in the playoff picture as the NBA gets back to work this weekend, five games solidly in the postseason and unless the Sacramento Kings somehow catch fire down the stretch, there will be five teams (Memphis, Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets) competing for four spots. Between those numbers, the fact that the Grizzlies are still rolling out two top players in Mike Conley and Zach Randolph, and essentially re-acquiring Brandan Wright post-injury, Memphis can realistically stay in the postseason.
How high, or low, they are will depend heavily on the newly acquired pieces, however. If Lance Stephenson, Chris Andersen and P.J. Hairston can come to Memphis and contribute, the Grizzlies can perhaps stay in the five seed mix and compete in the first round with the Los Angeles Clippers. If not? A drop is likely, and even a fall out of the postseason entirely is not out of the question.
The next two months of Memphis Grizzlies basketball are going to be fascinating. It's time to turn and face the strange.
Let's get weird.
Lance Stephenson's Role
This was discussed on GBBLive last night, and it was clearly stated (by me) that Lance Stephenson was the most important player not named Mike Conley or Zach Randolph the rest of this season for the Grizzlies. That is assuming that for the team itself, not necessarily the organization, the goal is to compete as best they can. The Front Office perhaps doesn't mind if the team falls out of the playoffs; their 2016 first round pick will be sent to the Denver Nuggets in a supposedly weaker draft, meaning they will select in the supposedly strong 2017 draft. If Dave Joerger and the team at large agreed with that line of thinking, then perhaps a JaMychal Green or Jordan Adams would be the most important player moving on.
Those two, and others such as Tony Allen, Brandan Wright, Matt Barnes, Mario Chalmers...they all could be selected for some reason as key. The sum of the parts will be larger than any individual piece, which has been the case in Memphis throughout the entirety of the Grit and Grind Era. That much hasn't changed. However, the acquisition of Stephenson carries so much weight because of what he could be. "Born Ready" was one of the best players in the NBA just two seasons ago. He went toe to toe with LeBron James, for goodness sakes...
His numbers from his last season in Indiana are pretty solid, according to basketball-reference.com...
|True Shooting %||56.4|
|Total Rebound %||11.4|
|Win Shares Per 48 Minutes||.130|
|Defensive Win Shares||4.8|
Of course this was during the peak of the Pacers' powers, but the fact remains that Lance was one of the major reasons their success was had. He can defend multiple positions, especially all three perimeter spots, and when motivated is an elite rebounder for a wing player. He also can create off the dribble for himself and others, something that has been missing from the Grizzlies roster for some time from a wings player. His shooting from range leaves something to be desired (career 30.5% three point shooter) but he has shown the ability to convert from beyond the arc for stretches of time, and his double-double and even triple-double potential made him must-see TV...
...Two years ago. Since then, he has fallen from grace...hard. Two teams, two failed attempts at integration and motivation for Stephenson, whose questionable mental state and off the court issues surely have taken their toll on him. But this is Memphis, the land of redemption projects and second chances. Tony Allen and Zach Randolph have shown that you can come to the Bluff City and reinvent yourself. Perhaps strong veteran leadership for the immature Lance Stephenson, who is younger than JaMychal Green, can direct him toward being more like the "Born Ready" we all saw compete with LeBron James.
If he gets close? Memphis will not just make the playoffs, they will be that five seed.
Anytime you make major trades, it leads to shake-ups in lineups. There is some good in this- breaking the monotony of the season and complacency that sometimes develops with lack of change can be a good thing for a team like Memphis. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, one of the major causes of the shake up isn't just trade- Marc Gasol's injury has pulled a shroud of uncertainty over who, and what, the Grizzlies will build around for the immediate future that is the rest of the 2015-2016 season. Mike Conley and Zach Randolph will surely fit prominently in that picture, but three key rotation players are now gone. How do you fill those roles?
As far as the gap left by Gasol, a combination of Brandan Wright, Chris Andersen and JaMychal Green will get the majority of the minutes. Wright is the key; his ability to attack the rim and play off of the pick and roll will be extremely valuable, especially alongside Mike Conley and potentially Lance Stephenson. Fans have already seen what JaMychal Green is capable of; he is a good bench rotation big, and will hopefully stay in that rotation at the least moving forward, garnering 16+ minutes a night. Andersen's fit is most interesting; he is surely a rental through the rest of the season, but when he is healthy he is a defensive force. He hasn't posted a defensive rating worse than 103 since 2007-2008, and his length and experience should provide for decent rim protection for spurts if he is healthy.
On the wing, where the two traded players roamed, Tony Allen, Matt Barnes and the aforementioned "Born Ready" will see the majority of time more than likely. However, there will be opportunity for Vince Carter, P.J. Hairston and perhaps even Jordan Adams that wasn't there as often when Courtney Lee and Jeff Green were Grizzlies. Hairston's shot chart this year does not lead to one clamoring for him to get a ton of minutes-
The most concerning aspect of this for Hairston is the fact that less than a quarter of his shot attempts come at the rim. He must be more aggressive trying to attack the basket if he is going to be successful in Memphis' offense, especially considering his struggles from three. Vince Carter will likely see opportunity, but an interesting measurement of where Dave Joerger sees this team is who gets the majority of these minutes on the perimeter. If it is Carter, it is same old same old- a veteran taking time from younger players in the name of competing in that playoff hunt, trusting the older hand. If Hairston gets a chance to be aggressive offensively, or if Adams gets a good long look once he is healed? Youth will finally be served, and you still could be in that playoff mix.
Also look for Mario Chalmers to see an increased role playing alongside Mike Conley. Lineups including Conley, Chalmers, and Stephenson would feature three ball handlers/facilitators and could create a lot of headaches for opposing defenses.
Moving forward, the views of this season by fans and the team at large will be entertaining to watch unfold. This is not a title team; one could argue this wasn't one with a healthy Marc Gasol, but with him out it most certainly is not one now. That was confirmed with the trades of Jeff Green and Courtney Lee- those moves did perhaps just enough to keep the Grizzlies playoff relevant this season while looking to the future, gaining trade chips in draft picks that the Grizzlies may or may not ever actually use to draft a player. Trades in to open cap space are more realistic now that Memphis has those picks.
That's the long-term future, though. In the here and now, Memphis fans will have to come to terms with, for the first time in a few years, not really thinking that the Grizzlies have a shot, even a long shot, to win the NBA Championship. That does not belittle the rest of the season- this Grizzlies team is going to be fun to watch, with eclectic personalities to spare and a fighting (perhaps literal and figurative) spirit that will surely lead to competitive basketball. It will test some new fans, however- it's a replenishment, not a rebuild, but Memphis is worse now than they were even nine days ago. This incarnation of the Memphis Grizzlies will not be together long, but they have the potential to have an explosive impact both on and off the court.
Playoff positioning means everything, and that will come in to focus more in the next month or so. If the Grizzlies can piece together their Gasol-less philosophy with their new pieces quickly and go, say, 8-2 in their next 10 games, that would put Memphis at 39-24 and more than likely still solidly in the five seed, considering the fact that Dallas, the current six seed, has 26 losses as of this writing. That run of success is possible, too- of Memphis' next 10 opponents, only three of them are playoff teams.
If they start slow, perhaps go 5-5 during those next 10 games? 36-27, more likely to be closer to falling down the standings heading in to their extremely difficult end of the season schedule. 11 of their last 19 games are against current playoff teams, with six of those games coming against the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, and Golden State Warriors. It is in Memphis' best interest to build up wins these next 10 games, or else the fall down the standings will be significant.
As mentioned earlier, however, depending on expectations this may not be the worst thing in the world with regards to the draft.
The human element is often overlooked by fans when it comes to trades. These men have been drastically affected the past 72 hours- families have to be moved, friends have to say goodbye, new teammates must get comfortable with one another...and fast. It is the nature of the job, and these guys are compensated well for their services, but it is only human to feel slighted, or disappointed, or concerned about the new challenges in life that are being faced.
One fifth of the Memphis Grizzlies roster is brand new. Another two, Adams and Wright, haven't played in months, so once both of them are healthy that is essentially a third of the team that is just starting out the season as Grizzlies. These are exciting and scary times, staring in to a new Grizzly frontier, not sure exactly what is going to come around the next turn. The team has made it clear they have every intent to fight to the finish and go down swinging, regardless of outcome. That is all that fans can ask for, given the current circumstances.
Despite new faces, and new expectations, and new roles, the old mentality holds true. As David Bowie famously sang...
Time may change me, but I can't change time.
Which is a very human, and Memphis, fact, indeed.