I’d like to preface this article by stating that I am 90% sure this is an overreaction to the Grizzlies loss vs. the 11-51 Nets on Monday night
After going into the All-Star break on a hot streak, the Grizzlies have stumbled into the stretch run of the NBA season. Other than a win against the Denver Nuggets and a strong second half against the Phoenix Suns, the Grizzlies have looked out of place.
Throughout the 82-game season, the Grizzlies have always gone through slumps. Usually the offense struggles and the defense picks up the slack to keep the Grizzlies competitive enough to finish the season strong. However this year it’s the defense that is holding the Grizzlies back, and with an offense that cannot function without Mike Conley on the floor, this could be disastrous for the Grizz.
The Grizzlies have gone 2-4 since the break, giving up 110 points per game while allowing opposing teams to shoot nearly 50% from the field. This is the result of the Grizzlies giving teams too many open looks from 3 and easy layups inside. To make matters worse, the current matchup the Grizzlies would have in the playoffs excel at doing just that.
The struggles out of the gate lead Coach Fizdale to shake up the lineup going into Monday night’s game, starting Andrew Harrison and Brandan Wright in place of Tony Allen and JaMychal Green.
Is this a move to try and get out of the recent funk? Probably. But what if it’s more than that? Could we be seeing the end of the Grit-N-Grind era as we know it?
Benching Tony and JaMychal makes sense. Frankly put, the Grizzlies’ current starting lineup puts too much pressure on Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, considering they’re the only two consistent sources of offense.
TA has had his moments, but for most of the season he has not been the elite defender he has been in years past. I don’t agree with starting Andrew Harrison in place of TA, but if you replace TA with James Ennis, who is a solid 3 and D player, it makes sense. JaMychal has been a great defender for the Grizzlies down low, but his offensive production is inconsistent at best. Although his benching was more surprising than TA’s, I can understand putting Brandan Wright in the lineup since he’s played so well since returning from injury.
Fizdale will most likely tweak the starting lineup some more throughout the next few weeks, but the thing that caught my attention the most was the fact that he benched two pending free agents and only played Z-Bo 16 minutes. This could easily be a lineup Fizdale thought he could try out against the worst team in the NBA and get away with, but blew up in his face. It could also be a lineup to try out, looking towards the future.
As nice as it is to believe the Grizzlies can make a run and advance far into the playoffs (which is a possibility), the odds of a team other than Golden State, San Antonio, or Houston representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals aren’t very high. It’s Grizzlies management and Fizdale’s job to look toward the future and not just at this season alone, which leads me to believe the Grizzlies could be preparing for a life without some of the players who helped create Grit-N-Grind.
Vince Carter is likely gone this offseason, and JaMychal Green is going to cost a lot of money or he will be gone as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if Coach Fizdale experiments with players currently on the roster to see if any are capable of replacing the upcoming free agents.
The Grizzlies could potentially bring over Rade Zagorac to essentially replace Vince as a cheap, end of the bench wing player with upside. Does James Ennis provide enough offensively to replace TA in the starting lineup? Considering Fizdale has relegated Ennis to the end of the bench, I don’t think so. That means the Grizzlies will need to find a starting caliber shooting guard via free agency or trade.
I don’t think you can count on Brandan Wright or Deyonta Davis to fill the role JaM has this year for the Grizzlies either. Wright has played well with Gasol this year, but inserting him in the starting lineup takes away a lot of the spacing that has been created with JaM in the lineup. I also don’t know if either player can replace the production Z-Bo provides off the bench. Wright and Davis will both be solid pick and roll finishers, but neither can do the work Z-Bo does on the offensive end. Do the Grizzlies have the money to retain both Z-Bo and JaM? If not, the Grizzlies have a tough decision to make. Do you take another few years of Z-Bo off the bench over a blossoming young player? I’m not so sure you do, even after all that Z-Bo has done for this franchise.
Is this mostly an overreaction to the recent struggles? Definitely. The Grizzlies could rebound from the recent tough stretch and finish the season strong, and could even make a push in the playoffs, especially considering they’ve mostly played well against the best teams in the NBA.
However, even a strong finish to the season won’t take away from the tough decisions coming this offseason. Do you give up on Andrew Harrison and try out Wade Baldwin? Can James Ennis and Troy Daniels provide enough firepower for the second unit, Z-Bo or no Z-Bo? These are just a few of the many tough questions entering this offseason.
The Grizzlies are entering the territory the Atlanta Hawks have been in for a while now. They are consistently good, good enough even to make the playoffs, but other than an outlier year, never much more than a tough out in the first or second round. Does management believe they can make enough moves to consistently compete with the best in the NBA? Or do they believe that another year of coaching experience for Fizdale, and a (hopefully) healthy Chandler Parsons move them into the elite group in the NBA? The rest of this season and ensuing offseason could be the defining stretch for the immediate future of this Grizzlies team.