The issues of the Memphis Grizzlies begin and end with their backcourt.
It’s a mess.
As a coach at the high school level for the last five years, I have become very hesitant to criticize other coaches. Coaching is one job that everyone thinks they can do, but few actually understand what it entails. Managing the strong personalities of the best players on the planet and playing the right guys the right minutes is a near impossible task. Coach Fizdale has done an admirable job with the group this year, but I think he is really missing the boat on the guard rotation.
Let’s get right down to it...
There are eight capable bodies vying for minutes at the three backcourt spots. The unsettling truth is that 64 games into the season the rotation is not close to being established. Coach Fizdale has done some amazing things to this point. He has completely changed Marc Gasol’s game. He avoided major conflict in sliding Zach Randolph to the bench. His offensive scheme fits the personal of the Memphis Grizzlies very nicely. His rotation at the point guard, shooting guard, and small forward however makes this humble writer want to drive his head through a wall.
1- Point Guard
Candidates: Mike Conley, Toney Douglas, Andrew Harrison, Wade Baldwin IV, Tony Allen
Mike Conley generally plays between 35-38 minutes per game. The Conductor can slide to the SG spot against smaller backcourts but he is going to play the majority of his minutes at the lead guard spot. The major problem at the PG position is that there is no established back-up for Conley. Through the different phases of the season Coach Fizdale has tried all of the above listed players at some backup PG. That though, is the major problem. It really feels like if he would just pick one - that would give some clarity to the position. Conley eats up so many minutes at the PG, that rotating his backups from quarter to quarter only serves to disrupt the rhythm of the second unit.
If it had to be narrowed down to one guy, then Toney Douglas should serve as the primary backup. Andrew Harrison is the third string guy and should see more minutes at the SG or not at all (more on that next). Wade Baldwin IV should be kept with the Iowa Energy for the rest of the year to develop some confidence. If he does, then this article won’t have to be re-written again next year. He is the backup PG of the future.
2- Shooting Guard
Candidates: Tony Allen, Vince Carter, Troy Daniels, Andrew Harrison, James Ennis III, Mike Conley
This is where the lineups become questionable. Tony Allen has had a hold on the starting SG spot for a while. He brings a certain energy and toughness to the first five. If he isn’t cutting, slashing, or rebounding on the offensive end he isn’t scoring. That’s okay, but it sure puts a lot of pressure on a starting five that only has two real scorers in it to begin with (Conley, Gasol). Vince Carter continues to impress in everything that he does. He knocks down open shots and can even create off the bounce if needed. Troy Daniels has seen his minutes decrease steadily. Andrew Harrison’s minutes have all but disappeared - which is the best move that Fizdale has made all year. Granted he is long and can defend, but watching him do anything on the offensive end is cringeworthy at best. James Ennis III can slide to the two if need be, but he will be covered in the next section more thoroughly.
Fiz needs to work the same magic he did with Z-Bo and slide Tony Allen to the bench. Sell it from the perspective that he isn’t going to play less, just with a different group. Allen is enough of a team guy that it should go over relatively smoothly. Insert Vince Carter or Troy Daniels into the starting lineup for an added offensive punch. Logic would seem to point to Carter here, but don’t count out Daniels. His ability to stretch the defense would go a long way to alleviate pressure on Conley and Gasol to carry the scoring load with the first unit. Then whenever Randolph comes in, Allen rolls in right behind him. With Randolph carving out space inside, Allen should be free to crash down and chew up his misses for put backs and easy cuts to the bucket. Sprinkle in some James Ennis III or Andrew Harrison if need be, but stick to Carter, Daniels, and Allen for the bulk of the minutes at the SG spot.
Candidates: Chandler Parsons, James Ennis III, Vince Carter, Tony Allen
The Small Forward spot is the most frustrating of the backcourt positions for the Memphis Grizzlies. Keep in mind that is not all Coach Fizdale’s fault. He has done an pretty solid job trying to mold together a team with a max player on a frustrating minutes restriction. As stated before though, patience will win out with Chandler Parsons. He looks better every game. The backup SF spot seems to be the major problem for the Memphis Grizzlies. For whatever reason, James Ennis III has fallen out of favor with Coach Fizdale. Vince Carter has seen more minutes at the SF recently. That isn’t the worst thing in the world but it forces him onto a bigger player defensively. At 40 years old, Vince Carter doesn’t need to be expending all his energy on the defensive end.
Chandler Parsons is the starting Small Forward for the Memphis Grizzlies. That is pretty much set in stone. If Parsons has a bad night offensively, there isn’t enough scoring punch in the starting lineup (Conley, Allen, Parsons, Green, Gasol) to survive. In search of the reason for the Grizzlies recent first quarter struggles? The finger could be pointed straight at Parsons. He has to score or facilitate in order for the starting group to be potent offensively.
While improvement has steadily been evident, the backup spot might be a greater problem. James Ennis needs to be playing a significant role on this team. Someone needs to grab Coach Fizdale by his bowtie and scream some sense into him. Ennis III shoots it at 41% from deep, is a plus defender, and rebounds the ball at a high rate. Bottom line- James Ennis III needs to be playing 20 minutes a night.
Perhaps the recent slide is indeed a case of the mid season doldrums. Maybe the Grizzlies go on a tear and climb up the standings to the 4 seed. Memphis may even win a playoff series or two... make the Warriors or Spurs sweat. In order to do that, there has to be some clarity in the backcourt.
Hopefully Coach Fizdale can find a way!