For much of this season, Memphis has struggled with finding a consistent rhythm. One night, fans watch a team that looks like it will go far in the playoffs and be the team that no one wants to face come late April.
The natural reaction is to try to find someone to blame. After all, Chandler Parsons has been disappointing all season, and the Grizzlies gave him a huge paycheck. It’s easy to point the finger at him.
Others attribute the inconsistency to Memphis’ weak backup point guard options. When All-Star snub Mike Conley comes out of the game, Memphis clearly struggles without their captain. Can Toney Douglas really fill this role?
Then there’s behind the scenes. Is there a disconnect in coaching? Is Coach David Fizdale having trouble dealing with the issues at hand? Are the players listening?
As a result, I decided to look deeper into the issues the Grizzlies are having. Rather than seeking out one particular person to blame, I looked at team statistics and found some telling results.
I found that Memphis is ranked as follows in the NBA when it comes to points per quarter:
30th in the 1st quarter
23rd in the 2nd
18th in the 3rd
13th in the 4th
Obviously, the Grizzlies shoot better as the game progresses. This also shows that Memphis is struggling to come out the gate aggressively, particularly on the offensive end, in first halves.
Further, as a team the Memphis Grizzlies are ranked an abysmal 19th in the plus-minus rating in the first half, but they’re up to 5th in second halves.
In addition, they’re ranked 30th in field goal percentage through the first two quarters and are ranked 20th in the second
The Grizzlies are struggling not just offensively in the first halves of games. The Grizzlies are ranked 4th in opponent points in the paint in the first half (allowing 20.7) on the season. In the second half, they’re ranked 1st, allowing only 17.6.
The writing on the wall is clear here: the Grizzlies are hobbling out the gate of games, and often spend the rest of the game trying to catch up. Sometimes this strategy works, but oftentimes it doesn’t, unfortunately.
Since the All-Star break, the Grizzlies have really gone off the rails and look disinterested in general. The stats bear this out. In first halves, the Grizzlies are ranked 16th (52.0) in points. In second halves, though, Memphis is ranked 6th (55.3 points). Also following the All-Star break, the Grizzlies are ranked 25th in opponent points in the paint in the first half, while they’re ranked 15th in the second half.
We could continue looking at the statistics, but the point is pretty clear that the Grizzlies have struggled all season in first halves. What’s most alarming is that this problem has escalated since the All-Star break. Memphis appears in a trance, and fans are frankly sick of watching it.
The Grizzlies have been known for their “All Heart, Grit, Grind” mentality, but grit and grind has been dead lately. Fizdale’s system didn’t kill it, like some thought it would, early in the season. No, this is very self-inflicted by the players. And something has to change, for the sake of the Grizzlies’ playoff seeding, and for the sake of fans’ sanity (including mine).
Could a Lineup Change Be the Answer?
Coach Fizdale tried this Monday night versus the Brooklyn Nets, but his lineup change wasn’t exactly what I (Ed. Note: or really anyone on the entire planet -KY) had in mind. He replaced JaMychal Green (who has actually been playing well) and Tony Allen with Brandan Wright and rookie Andrew Harrison. The lineup failed miserably and should not be repeated in the future.
Chandler Parsons has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. He’s been popping up on the timeline for his dating drama and his inability to make anything in a game. He even just logged out of social media for a while to quiet all the chatter and gossip.
He’s had a couple bright spots here and there, but it hasn’t been enough to make critics optimistic. In February, he shot 30.2% from three, and he’s shooting 31.8% in March. On the season, he’s averaging 6.2 PPG, shooting a miserable 34% from the field.
However, just blaming Chandler Parsons isn’t the answer. No, Memphis’ recent failures have been a collective team effort.
And the one player that should be excused from all of this should be Mike Conley, who has been playing incredibly the past couple of months. In his last 10 games, he’s averaging 24.7 PPG and shooting 52.3% from the field. The problem is, Conley can’t carry this team alone.
Marc Gasol also continues to impress, but his shooting percentage has dropped a bit the last 10 games, as he’s been shooting 41.4% from the field (he’s 46.4% on the season).
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies are still struggling with the backup point guard position. Toney Douglas has tried to shoulder the load, but that’s not working out too well. Andrew Harrison can’t fill the need either. That leaves Mike Conley playing more minutes than he should be, as Memphis needs him fully healthy and ready for the playoff run.
I actually like the idea of Brandan Wright starting alongside center Marc Gasol, especially as the Grizzlies’ bench had managed just fine without him for most of the season while he was out with injury. Wright provides length, defense, and athleticism to the starting lineup. However, pairing him alongside Andrew Harrison was a mistake.
Harrison definitely isn’t ready for the starting role, as his play is too inconsistent. Also, removing Tony Allen from the starting lineup isn’t the answer. Some might argue that no one respects Tony Allen on the perimeter, and Brandan Wright just adds to that dilemma. However, Parsons is beginning to become that way too, and it’ll only get worse if he continues to shoot poorly. Opponents still respect him some, but not enough. Coach Fizdale should allow one of the other backup wings a shot at the starting spot, such as James Ennis or Troy Daniels. A shot of confidence like that might just be what one of those two needs.
Even if Brandan Wright doesn’t start, Parsons should be removed from the starter’s spot temporarily. Maybe Parsons would thrive with the second unit off the bench and would do better not having that pressure on him every night to perform as a starter.
In the end, this is all up to Coach Fizdale. It’ll be interesting to see, after the Brooklyn Nets loss and his attempt at changing the starting lineup, if Fizdale tries to tweak the lineup again to solve Memphis’ first half woes.
It All Starts With Defense
In the end, Memphis lives and dies with its defense. Since the All-Star break, the Grizzlies have allowed all but one of their opponents to score 100+ points. And the one opponent that they held under 100? Yeah, Memphis won that game.
Clearly, the Grizz are better defensively in the second half by the stats presented in the opening of this article. This is partially because the pressure is on in the second half for Memphis to catch up and perform enough to slide by with a win. In those games, they’re able to get enough defensive stops to pull it out. Adding Brandan Wright in the starting lineup might help with that. Parsons isn’t a terrible defensive player, and neither is JaMychal Green. But having a player like Wright in the paint on defense for extended minutes might be extremely beneficial.
In the end, though, a lot of these first half issues can be narrowed down to effort. As many have already stated, the Grizzlies just have appeared disinterested in winning basketball games in general. Many thought that the two losses this past weekend against division rivals would’ve been the wake up call that Memphis needed, but clearly it wasn’t. So hopefully the Brooklyn loss was.
The Grizzlies have to come out the gate aggressive and ready to play. Perhaps, it’s that simple. Maybe a lineup change isn’t required. But the players who are putting their full effort out there should be getting the minutes.
So Memphis has to stop talking, saying things will get better. Now is the time. The playoffs are just around the corner. Do the Grizzlies want the 4th seed? Is 6th good enough for them? Will they settle? Time will tell. The results will show. If Memphis wants to be the best, they’ve got to lay it all out of the floor.
Each half. Every quarter. Every second.