No one feels sorry for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Nobody outside of the Grizzlies, their fans, and media followers cares that Marc Gasol is out for the rest of the season. They may say "I'm sorry Marc got hurt", or "Warriors fan here, respect your team, tough break".
Get it? Tough break?
The truth is, outside of pleasantries and well-wishes there is little to no true concern. Serious injury bites everyone at different times (unless apparently you are the Golden State Warriors recently), and Memphis' opponents out West surely see the blood in the water. The Grizzlies are now ripe for the picking without their All-Star center, their franchise player. They're starting Zach Randolph at the 5. They traded away two key role players and are now starting P.J. Hairston at Shooting Guard while Tony Allen again deals with a sore knee. Lance Stephenson is a key part of their immediate future.
P.J. Hairston the starter. Lance Stephenson the influential sixth man. How exactly does this end well for Memphis?
One can argue it already has, depending on your viewpoint. Once Gasol went down, the perspective of expectation changed. That has been well documented. The Grizzlies went from a team who could get to the second round of the playoffs after beating the Clippers and potentially compete for five or six games against the Oklahoma City Thunder or maybe Golden State or the San Antonio Spurs to a likely first round exit regardless of who they played. They took to the view of the future, getting value for guys who were likely to not be on the team next season anyway. They were right to do so.
The trades did not lower the bar of expectation, they just confirmed that the front office perhaps did after Marc's injury.
That isn't to say that Memphis should roll over. With 26 games left on the schedule heading in to tonight's contest with the Lakers, the Grizzlies are 33-23, good for a wining percentage of 58.9%. Maintaining that through the end of the season would mean 48 wins, which would mean a record of 15-12 the rest of the season and surely a playoff birth and maybe even the five seed, with a slip to the sixth seed being the worst possibility. The Thunder, the likely three seed, are scary, but they are not historically scary like San Antonio or Golden State. They would be long shots, but that is better than no shots.
That is still on the table for them, but they need several players to step up production and replace various levels of Marc Gasol's game in the aggregate. There is only one Marc Gasol, but if these three guys can increase aspects of their game and perform well, then maybe, just maybe, Memphis can stay at that five or six seed level. And they were all on the roster before the trades of Jeff Green and Courtney Lee.
Lance Stephenson, and likely to a lesser extent P.J. Hairston and Chris Andersen (AKA Birdman), will play their part. They were acquired to make salary work, however, not to get Memphis over the top. The draft picks were the stars of the deal. The following players were already here, and were a part of the pre-Gasol injury plans. Now, post-Gasol, they are needed more than ever.
Here is a guy who has every incentive to perform, as he is a free agent in a few months and is likely going to look for either a pay day or an opportunity to start...perhaps both. While Memphis is surely interested in keeping Chalmers, opportunity will be prevalent and the grass may well be greener on the other side. With Marc Gasol out, "Super Mario" may not jump out as a player whose role should increase, but rest assured his skill set is valuable with "Big Spain" on the shelf.
For one thing, Chalmers is having a huge season with the Memphis Grizzlies, posting great advanced statistics in his time in Memphis. (Stats provided by basketball-reference.com)
|Statistical Category||Number (47 Games with Memphis)||Best Since|
|Offensive Rating||110||2012-2013 (Tied Career High)|
|Win Shares Per 48 Minutes||.139||Career High|
|True Shooting %||.574||2012-2013|
|Free Throw Attempt Rate||.579||Career High|
The 2012-2013 season was one in which Mario won a title with LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Chalmers is playing as well right now as he did at his best in Miami, and there is no King James at his side, no Chris Bosh or Dwayne Wade. That is impressive, and not nearly as appreciate as it should be.
What can Chalmers bring to the table? For one thing, more minutes. A major place that Mario is below career averages is in minutes per game at 22.2, the least of his career. He isn't a starter in Memphis, of course, so that explains it a good bit. Now that the Grizzlies are going smaller in their lineups without Gasol, and now that Lance Stephenson, a ball dominant wing, can take some of the ball handling and distributing responsibilities, Chalmers can play more than he has so far this year. In two of the four games since Gasol went out, he has played more than his season averages. Hopefully that trend continues.
His free throw attempt rate, among the best in the NBA, can also help replace some of Gasol's scoring production. Chalmers is getting to the charity stripe more than he ever has, and with increased minutes that will mean more shots at the line. He is scoring efficiently, he can defend multiple positions and switch off of screens and picks, and he can be an initiator of the offense so that Mike Conley can play off the ball. When Conley, Stephenson and Chalmers are on the court together, that means three ball handlers on the floor who can play off of the pick and roll with bigs as well as slash to the rim and get dribble penetration for passes out to open shooters.
More Mario means more easy scoring opportunities for himself and other, which the Grizzlies need a lot more of with Marc Gasol out for the remainder of the season.
It is amazing that former Clipper and famed kicker of trash cans Matt Barnes has become such a key part of Memphis' roster, but especially post-Gasol injury it is most certainly the case. Barnes is already the Grizzlies' top rebounding wing on the year at 5.2 boards per game, and the past two games Barnes has grabbed seven and eight rebounds, respectfully. Matt makes up for his lack of size on the glass with effort and positioning-
With JaMychal Green as the other "big" in the front court alongside Zach Randolph, Barnes understands that he must have an eye on gathering any loose ball on a shot attempt.
So much of rebounding is a matter of timing- Barnes must make sure he is on the rise in the paint at the right moment, especially as a smaller player playing at the rim, usually the land of giants.
Experience and effort pays off in this situation. Barnes gets an easy bucket, and while it is in a different way than Chalmers would do it as a creator, it counts as two points just the same. Barnes' willingness to shoot three-point shots and defend both threes and fours is valuable as well of course, but that is not replacing the production of Gasol. In addition to those strengths in his game, Matt must become more of a "garbage man", cleaning the glass from the wing position and dominating physically at times when he is playing against stretch fours. His aggression does not have to be a hindrance; it can be a great asset when deployed properly.
Marc Gasol is not known as an elite rebounder..because he isn't one. However, any time you lose a 7'1 center those boards that were gobbled up by the big man have to be made up some where. Barnes can be that guy, along with this next guy.
One of the most promising things that has occurred in the wake of the Gasol injury is the increased role for JaMychal Green on this Grizzlies' roster. In the past four games, Green has started all four contests and has played at least 20 minutes in all of those games, and that is exciting. Green has shown himself to be a very capable rotation big man in the NBA moving forward, and whether it remains as a starter or as a bench player once Brandan Wright gets settled in post-injury he should see that 20 minutes or so in every game from now on.
So what aspect of Green's game can best be adjusted or emphasized to make up for Gasol? Elbow touches. Marc Gasol leads the NBA in elbow touches per game at 12.7, with Blake Griffin being the only other player averaging double digits with 10. It is likely that Marc will stay at the top of that list, but with him out of the lineup that means that huge aspect of Memphis' offense fades away. You can get these looks in different ways- passes from the break of the three-point line, Zach Randolph elbow touches (5.8 the past four games), etc.- but those looks are not always the most efficient, or not allowing the team (and Zach in particular) to play to their strengths.
JaMychal, however, could make this more of a focus of his game (1.8 elbow touches per game currently) and fill this role offensively quite nicely. His shooting stroke is clean, and he already has shown the ability to pick and pop in addition to running at the rim. With JaMychal at the elbow, that will allow for guys like Brandan Wright and Zach Randolph to use their size and positioning (and in the case of Wright athleticism) to get to the basket or play in high-low sets. Slashers like Tony Allen will have more room to operate, and players on the perimeter can get around positional screens that Green can set on the elbow to get clean looks. JaMychal Green is tremendous at getting to the rim, as his shot chart indicates both in terms of percentage of conversions and percentage of attempts...
...and he can continue that of course. This would be a great chance at growth as a player, and would help the Grizzlies in the process.
It makes sense to give Zach these first opportunities on the elbow because of his experience. However, giving Green more responsibility as a facilitator of offense will allow for Z-Bo and other more proficient offensive players to play to their strengths while not discrediting JaMychal's. Green would also get to take more ownership of his opportunity with the Grizzlies in a role once filled by Marc Gasol that was vital to Memphis' offensive schemes.
It is impossible to replace Marc Gasol, and some parts of his game will just not be met by those left behind this season. Defensively, he's a monster, and while Brandan Wright, Chris Andersen and/or JaMychal Green have athleticism on their side they will not be able to replace the rim protection that Gasol offers. Marc's offensive skill set is unique to his size and position, and no wing, big, or point can replicate that fully.
However, through Chalmers' facilitation and attacking the rim, Barnes' rebounding, and JaMychal's developmental opportunity, some aspects of his game can be kept as a part of Memphis' philosophy. The Grizzlies can keep chugging along as best they can, and do their best to remain threats in the West thanks to these three in addition to their new teammates.