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The Grizzlies Weakest Link is Back-up Point Guard

I’m not mad at anyone other than myself, and Toney Douglas.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies are doing pretty alright for themselves this season. Some nights, though, it’s clear that they just don’t have it, and the set of losses on the Mavericks/Rockets back-to-back are good examples of that. They were frustrating.

And that’s going to happen. Because of their roster construction, the Grizzlies need Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and JaMychal Green to be really good every night. Usually they are, which is why the Grizzlies are really good, but if even one goes iffy, the whole thing goes iffy.

The Grizzlies just don’t have depth, and it’d be nice if the guy they mortgaged their depth for could actually contribute, but the injury risk was always the bet. I don’t like blaming Chandler Parsons for being bad. (It sure is huge, though, that the Grizzlies are getting production from Green on the minimum salary where they aren’t getting any on Parsons’ max.)

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Really, the most disappointing thing has been the fact that the back-up point guard has done nothing — no matter who it’s been. Without one, the Grizzlies waver whenever Conley sits. Zach Randolph has been an awesome sixth man, but it undermines the entire second unit when you have no back-up point guard. It’s a big drain on the ability to spark something when one of the starters has an off night.

This, too, is something I struggle to blame the Grizzlies for. They made an honest effort, with Wade Baldwin and Andrew Harrison coming into the season and then Toney Douglas when they needed a veteran.

Baldwin and Harrison were rookies, but the former was nearly a lottery pick, and the latter did a year in the D-League. Especially given how much everybody seemed to like Baldwin early on (myself included), it was fair to hope that one of the two would fit the role. After spending so much on Conley to be the starter already, it felt sensible to use what little cap space was left to fill out the wing (James Ennis, Troy Daniels).

Neither Baldwin nor Harrison were good. Troy Williams might be good one day, but the need was urgent enough that they cut him for Douglas. Hell, they tried Tony Allen as a back-up point guard before cutting Williams, so it’s really hard to be mad about it.

But for a guy who’s supposed to shoot threes, Douglas is sitting well below the Andrew Harrison Three-Point Percentage Line. For a guy the Grizzlies signed to be a “veteran point guard,” he hasn’t even done what Keyon Dooling did. Veteran experience is the least of all expectations, something you say when there’s so little good being done on the court that you reach for everyone else’s good as a sign of how good this veteran must be. With Douglas, there has been no good.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

As far as I can tell, there are two places where the Grizzlies went wrong -- and at the time, I didn’t feel so strongly that they went wrong, so I’m only saying this with the benefit of hindsight. Basically, I was wrong too.

One: they signed Douglas, instead of a better point guard. I had a vague feeling that Douglas sucked, but the Grizzlies have found deep cuts in free agency before, so they definitely earned the benefit of the doubt there. I have a stronger feeling now that Douglas sucks, so, well, shit.

Two: instead of trading for a back-up point guard, they signed Douglas for the rest of the season after his 10-day deals were up. The problem there is that the Grizzlies don’t have much to trade, and who knows that they didn’t try? There might be a loosie email from some months ago that I sent wondering about a Brandan Wright-for-Delon Wright trade, but I never leaned into it and it was still pretty damn wishful.

Maybe they could’ve waited it out with Douglas to test the buyout market, maybe see if somebody like Jose Calderon would sign in Memphis, but then you’re really digging deep. If you want to blame the Grizzlies for it, be my guest, but it’s a tiny thing.

Basically, the whole situation sucks, and it especially sucks because the odds of winning out were always going to be low after you blew a hundred million on a small forward. (STILL THE RIGHT DECISION DON’T @ ME EVER ON CHANDLER PARSONS)

Looking forward: there’s only so much you can do about it now, since the trade deadline has passed and all 15 roster spots are filled. Brandon C wrote about waiving Douglas (which, sure) to sign Jimmer Fredette (he played on Yao’s team this year, so I won’t be rude about Jimmer Fredette, but that is the only reason). More likely, the Grizzlies will just stick with the guys they have, because of guaranteed contracts.

Maybe Douglas starts playing better, which isn’t impossible because sometimes secretly decent players have a rough first 30 games with a new team. Even if he just catches fire from deep at the right time in the playoffs, that would honestly get it done for me. It’s not totally fair to just say he sucks. I’m just not betting on things getting better.

Or maybe David Fizdale eventually goes back to one of the rookies, which probably happens if Douglas continues like this. The young guys, at least, have upside, which is to say they’ll probably also be bad but it’s much easier to delude yourself into thinking they’ll be good at some point.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

I do think Baldwin will be good, although probably not this season. As for Harrison, I think he’s a worse Nick Calathes (who, actually, is good). Right now, I would take either one over Douglas, although in the end, I don’t really care who plays because I have a hard time believing in a good outcome. If Fizdale wants to trust in the vet, then whatever. You can’t say Baldwin and Harrison didn’t have chances.

What the argument boils down to, then, is that it’s a long shot that this situation gets reversed. It was probably a long shot from the moment the Grizzlies locked up Conley and Parsons.

A lot of this is coming from frustration too, because the Grizzlies just had their asses handed to them by the Rockets. It’s still only been two losses in a row, and the Grizzlies still have Conley, Gasol, and Green. They still have Parsons, who played his first back-to-back set of the season in those losses.

I’m not saying this ends well. There are clearly some issues. But these are mostly issues that were a part of the plan, and it’s always been a good plan. Even in terms of the win-loss record this season, it’s been a good plan. If Conley and Gasol have a better game in the next one out, it’ll feel like it again.

The Grizzlies play the Nets on Monday, and the Clippers on Thursday. For different reasons each, I hope Memphis smacks them.

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