Since when did the Memphis Grizzlies change their mascot to the Eeyores?
By the sounds of their fans, media members, and bloggers (this one included) more often than not you would imagine that the sky had finally indeed fallen. Memphis surely must have been engulfed in the fiery flames of this dumpster fire of a season. The Grizzlies Grannies and Grandpas who perform at the games must have retired, the Grizzlies' great public address announcer Rick Trotter must have lost his voice, everything has gone to hell in a hand basket.
Wait, what's that you say?
They're WHERE in the Western Conference playoffs?
Fifth? When most people predicted a six-seed or worse before the season began when the team was much healthier? They're the fifth seed, despite having lost the most games from players due to injury in the entire NBA? They're fifth in the Western Conference playoffs, essentially right where they were last season (without the chance at all-important home-court)?
What is everyone so upset about?
Of course, there is plenty to be upset about. This season has most certainly not gone according to plan. Between injury and unexpected new members of the Grizzlies performing better than expected (Lance Stephenson? Really?) the future of the franchise appears to be more uncertain than expected at this point. Where there has been "dark horse" hope of an NBA championship in the past now resides a dark yet peaceful realization that outside of maybe, MAYBE, a first round upset of the Los Angeles Clippers there will be no extended playoff run this season. Fall from the five seed due to a run of losing and if Mike Conley isn't healthy the Grizzlies may not win a playoff game.
Those are all fair things to fret about. But fear not, Grizzlies blog readers, for there are things to be thankful for regarding this season. Things that..should make you...
The Bottom of the Western Conference Sucks!
S-U-C-K-S. Yeah, Golden State and San Antonio are having historically great seasons, and Oklahoma City and the aforementioned Clippers are talented and could give those two juggernauts a run for their money. But the rest of the conference is down. Way down.
As of this posting, there were six teams in the Western Conference with winning records. Of those six teams, only five have won 40 games so far. The Memphis Grizzlies are one of those teams. Below the six-seed Portland Trail Blazers, who are five games behind the Grizzlies in the loss column, there are two Western Conference playoff teams currently with losing records- the Utah Jazz and the Dallas Mavericks. The Houston Rockets, a Western Conference Finals team from last season, are a half game out of the playoffs. The Eastern Conference has zero teams with losing records currently in the playoffs, for comparison's sake.
Yes, the East top to bottom is stronger than the top-heavy West.
Marc Gasol hasn't played for the Memphis Grizzlies in 20 games. Mike Conley hasn't played for Memphis in 10 games. They somehow still hold on to the five seed in the Western Conference playoff standings by multiple games. They are still performing better seeding wise than many projected, and it would take an unmitigated collapse of historic proportions for the Grizzlies to fall out of the playoffs now.
That is cause for celebration, considering what this team has been through this season.
Dave Joerger is One Hell of a Basketball Coach
Here are the guys who have played for the Memphis Grizzlies this season (courtesy of basketball-reference.com)
27 guys. Seven of those have played in more games than franchise player Marc Gasol this season. Of those seven, three are currently not active on the Grizzlies' roster (Mike Conley is hurt, Mario Chalmers was released after tearing his Achilles' Tendon, and Jeff Green was traded.) JaMychal Green leads the Grizzlies in games played this season.
JaMychal Green, formerly of the D-League, released by the San Antonio Spurs, has been the most consistent member of the Grizzlies roster with regard to games played. That is remarkable, but more on JaMychal later.
The Head Coach of the Memphis Grizzlies deserves a lot of credit for keeping this thing afloat. Dave Joerger getting this roster to go 11-9 without Marc Gasol and 4-6 without Mike Conley AND Marc Gasol is truly impressive. He has done it in a variety of ways; leaning on his veterans, for one.
A triple double from Zach Randolph? That will help, and had literally never happened before that game. How about allowing Lance Stephenson to, well, be "Born Ready"?
Amazing. 33 points, a career high, as Lance continues a career renaissance in Memphis, posting career highs across the board in a variety of advanced and per-36 categories.
How is he doing it? How is Zach Randolph posting triple-doubles? Of course they're playing well, but Dave Joerger is opening up scheme enough so that they have the opportunity to thrive. He is installing different offensive sets based of of motion and Princeton principles. He is loosening the reins of not just Zach and Lance but players like Matt Barnes and Vince Carter, encouraging shot attempts and playing differently than they had in the past.
Because they have to. Because Marc Gasol, this season at least, ain't walking through that door. Truth be told, even before Marc's injury he was having one of the worst seasons of his career. That is not to say the Grizzlies are better off without Marc, but his absence has allowed for others to fill in and for Dave Joerger to try things that perhaps he wouldn't have done otherwise.
The ability to attempt new things. To adapt or die. Dave Joerger's hand has been forced to an extent (especially when it comes to playing young players like Jarell Martin) but he has taken an injury-plagued season that hasn't been seen to this extent in years and has kept them relevant in the Western Conference to this point.
He won't win Coach of the Year. He deserves a few votes, though. Aren't you glad he isn't in Minnesota?
JaMychal Green Has Proven He Belongs
Memphis LOVES a good underdog coming of age story. And there is no better one currently on the roster than JaMychal Green. Cut from a great franchise in the San Antonio Spurs. Bouncing around the D-League. Signed to a very team-friendly contract by the Grizzlies. Make the roster full-time? Maybe, if he is lucky.
To hell with maybe. JaMychal Green has shown that not only is he an NBA player, he belongs in the rotation on a good team (which Memphis is, when healthy.)
There are ten Memphis Grizzlies players of the 27 above who have played in more than 50 games this season. JaMychal is at the top of the list, as previously mentioned.
Here is where JaMychal fits statistically ranking-wise in a variety of categories among those ten.
|Statistical Category||Ranking Among Ten Players Appearing in 50+ Games (Number)|
|Free Throw Rate||4th (.292)|
|Win Shares Per 48 Minutes||5th (.089)|
|True Shooting %||4th (53.3)|
|Defensive Efficiency||5th (106)|
|Net Rating||5th (-2)|
|Shooting %||2nd (47.1)|
|Total Rebound %||2nd (14.5)|
Various areas where he is in the top half of the roster. Before this season began, did anyone anticipate that JaMychal Green would be in that situation? Did anyone think he would get the chance to even sniff the numbers that he has put up? He has made the most of his opportunity and has been a steadying force for a Grizzlies team that has desperately needed him.
A smooth mid-range jumper. An aggressive attacker at the rim. A player whose energy and most importantly effort on both ends of the court is infectious for those around him. Green has grown before our eyes in Memphis as a player who not only opened the door when opportunity knocked, he kicked the door down.
If Brandan Wright and Marc Gasol were healthy all season, would JaMychal have gotten the same opportunities? Probably not. But they weren't, and in their absence JaMychal Green demonstrated that he makes the Grizzlies that much more dangerous as a front court, both now and next season.
It is human nature to be disappointed when things do not go the way you had hoped they would. The Memphis Grizzlies are about to enter the NBA Playoffs without Marc Gasol for the first time since the start of the "Grit and Grind era". Mike Conley will likely enter another postseason not at full strength. This year, probably one of the last with this group of core players, feels like it has gone down the drain.
Except that it hasn't. There will most likely be playoff games in Memphis! There will be 14 NBA cities with no postseason basketball at all. The Grizzlies team that plays those games will surely have been battle tested and led by a coach who has demonstrated the ability to be flexible and allow for his players to thrive in sub-optimal situations. There will be other players playing in those games for the first time, gaining valuable experience on top of successful individual regular seasons and only improving the roster moving forward.
There will be more moments to add to the best run of professional basketball this city has every know. That is worth something, even in the absence of NBA championship aspirations.
This season has been hard. And it has been worthwhile. It all comes down to how you look at it.
Stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com