The 2016-17 season has been a wild ride. There were the big wins against the likes of Houston, Golden State, and San Antonio, as well as confounding losses, like the game in which they surrendered 122 points to the Brooklyn Nets. In the end, though, the Grizzlies did just enough to sneak into the playoffs, bumping their streak of playoff appearances up to seven straight. That’s no small feat, and they should be commended for that much.
As we gear up for the playoffs, it’s also important to take a quick look back at the 82 games that got us here. There have been plenty of ups and plenty of downs, but here’s a look at three of this year’s bigger surprises and disappointments.
Surprise: Gasol’s Return From Injury
I feel like this has been a quietly overlooked positive this season. Gasol’s 2015-16 season came to an end with a surgical repair to a “non-displaced Type II fracture of the navicular bone in his right foot.” Gasol was in the first season of his five-year max deal, and the history of big men with foot injuries is...well, let’s just call it [trash emoji], for lack of a better, non-hieroglyphic term.
Instead, Gasol spent the early part of the season carrying an injury riddled team and anchoring a defense that, at one point, was the best in the league, even with Mike Conley missing significant time (and not looking the same when he first returned).
Gasol’s performance has trailed off of late, and he missed a few games with a strain in his non-surgically repaired foot, but the fact that Gasol was able to play the vast majority of the season, even improving certain aspects of his game, in the first year back from a major foot injury, is encouraging.
Now, if they could just keep him from playing overseas this summer…
Disappointment: Jarell Martin’s Lost Season
Last year, in a season lost to injuries for most of the Grizzlies’ key players, Jarell Martin flashed the sort of potential that led the Grizzlies to select him with the 22nd overall pick out of LSU.
The hope going into this season was that Martin, now fully healthy, could develop those flashes into more consistent production off the bench. Of course, the optimal situation would’ve been Martin playing his way into the starting lineup in place of JaMychal Green, allowing the Grizzlies to let Green leave in restricted free agency and replace him with the much more affordable Martin, who’s locked into his rookie-scale deal for two more seasons.
Instead, Martin looked out of sorts and inconsistent in limited playing time early in the year. He wound up being sent down to Iowa, where, in 22 games with the Grizzlies’ D-League affiliate, he averaged 15.9 points per game in 28 minutes per contest, though he was a -6.1 and shot just 30% from three.
Welp. Hopefully next season is better for Martin.
Surprise: JaMychal Green
It’s not easy to fill the shoes of a legend, and in Memphis, Zach Randolph is that. Z-Bo is beloved by fans, and he’s been a cornerstone of the franchise since arriving in 2009. When Fizdale announced that Zach would be moving to the bench before the season, JaMychal had his work cut out for him.
Green has answered the call. His ability to space the floor allows Marc and Mike more room to work in the lane. He’s shot 38.3% from beyond the arc on just under two shots per game. On the defensive end, his versatility has fit well into Fizdale’s defensive schemes.
While he’s nowhere near the offensive force that Randolph is in the low post, JaMychal has been a key cog in the Grizzlies’ evolution this season, making his upcoming restricted free agency one of the most intriguing elements of this offseason.
I’m not going to waste a lot of words on this topic, partly because I’m tired of talking about it, and partly because we’ve already talked about Chancun and “being Memphis enough” and social media posts ad nauseam on this website and others and I’m not going to say anything you haven’t read like at least a hundred times over.
The Grizzlies signed Parsons to be a third facilitator next to Mike and Marc; he wasn’t. They paid him a max salary; he didn’t live up to the money. They didn’t expect him to struggle this mightily with injuries; he did.
That’s about all you need to know regarding this season. Moving forward, Grizzlies fans should hope that Parsons returns to next season healthy, and much closer to what he was in Houston and Dallas. Otherwise they’ll be stuck choosing between dead salary, or spending assets to entice another team to take him on.
Surprise: Andrew Harrison, Rotation Player
Coming out of the preseason, Harrison, like most back-up rookie point guards in Memphis, was the targets of many fans’ ire. Calls for him to be cut weren’t uncommon.
But Fizdale stuck with the process, and while Harrison’s ability to run the offense produced mostly lackluster results, the young Kentucky product showed a willingness to take coaching and the ability to play competent defense. He even put together a couple of decent highlights, like this monster chase down block of CP3 (my personal favorite):
Andrew Harrison with the chase down block on Chris Paul! pic.twitter.com/NYtcTtC0qk— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) November 17, 2016
Around the trade deadline, Harrison fell briefly out of favor and was replaced in the lineup with Toney Douglas. But when Douglas proved an untenable solution to the point guard woes, Harrison stepped right back into the lineup without missing a beat.
He’ll never have elite foot speed or otherworldly athleticism. It’s likely that his best case scenario is being a competent backup. But his length, his ability to defend, and his willingness to learn are all assets that shouldn’t be overlooked. That will only improve if his shooting comes around (and it got better as the season wore on).
Disappointment: Troy Williams and the Neverending Saga of Back-Up Point Guards
At the end of training camp, the Grizzlies were so impressed with Troy Williams that they parted ways with Jordan Adams and his guaranteed contract to make way for the young forward out of Indiana in a surprising move.
But what looked like a commitment to young potential was soon thrown to the wayside. Troy became expendable when Harrison struggled, and was waived in favor of Toney Douglas, who lasted mere weeks before falling out of the rotation and then being cut, in turn, for Wayne Selden.
Williams, now with the Rockets, projects as a potential rotation piece for the number three team in the West, and the Grizzlies’ front office only has themselves to blame for the debacle. It’s still early, but if Williams turns into a starter (even one on the lower end), Memphis will be kicking themselves once again, wondering what could have been.