Site Manager’s Note- Grace Baker has covered over 25 games for us at GBB this season as a press pass-carrying member of the media. I am proud of her work and growth in this role, and am excited for her as she sets out to cover her first postseason next week. These are her takeaways from her first season as GBB’s Game Coverage Editor.
It all started on October 26th of last year when the Grizzlies beat the Minnesota Timberwolves, 102-98. The Grizzlies had a new acquisition in Chandler Parsons, who was supposed to help the Grizzlies solve their age-old problem of shooting. Mike Conley was back healthy, and many thought he had a chance at making the All-Star team. Marc Gasol had had his season cut short the year before, but that night on October 26th he appeared healthy and had 18 points. Plus, the Grizzlies had a new coach in Fizdale, who had talked about changing Memphis’ style of play to keep up with the ever-changing NBA.
It seemed there were more answers than there had been in a while for this Grizzlies team, and things were looking up. You could feel it at the press conference, and you could feel it in the locker room. This team thought it could do something special this season, if the dice rolled right seeding-wise and they remained healthy.
But something that would riddle the Grizzlies all season long would ultimately hurt their playoff seeding: the struggle for consistency. Early on in the season, people took notice. Coach Fizdale was open about the issue back in November:
"We're fighting for consistency right now. We have to keep working until we get a high level of consistent play" -Coach Fizdale— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) November 6, 2016
...And the issue continued into the new year:
On new year's resolution for this Grizzlies team, "Consistency." -Coach Fizdale— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) December 30, 2016
For much of the season, the Grizzlies seemed to play to the level of their opponent. Sometimes, that was a good thing. I recall covering the game where Memphis first blew out Golden State back in December. At this point, Memphis was without Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons, yet they still pulled off the upset.
"It's action, and it's real...this game gives us a sense of belonging," -Coach Fizdale— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) December 11, 2016
So the Grizzlies beat the #1 team in the Western Conference, and they made it look easy. Either the Grizzlies were starting to find their consistency, or it was just a fluke. To me, it was a glimpse of what they could be. Throughout the course of this season, I’ve seen Memphis compete closely with and often beat high-caliber teams. But on the other hand, I’ve seen them take some pretty bad losses, too.
Going into the All-Star break, Memphis sat at 34-24. Chandler Parsons still had not really settled into his role after coming back from injury in the middle of the season, but fans weren’t panicking yet. After all, the Grizzlies had a pretty good record, and their biggest offseason acquisition wasn’t even really contributing yet.
Then, the tsunami came.
The tone of the locker room shifted. The tension was obvious, but the Grizzlies were seasoned vets. They kept preaching that they would weather the storm. But hearing the same record play again and again got old after a couple of weeks. One of the low points of the season was losing to the Los Angeles Clippers at home. Previously, the Grizzlies had lost three games in a row, and now Memphis was on its longest losing streak of the season. The vibe from Coach Fizdale and the Grizzlies players was quite different at this point than it had been at the beginning of the season. Grizzlies fans everywhere were complaining about Parsons, who was hardly contributing to the team at all. On the season, he averaged 6.2 PPG and shot 26.9% from three.
The morale is "down" according to Fizdale. "I think the elephant in the room is going to be the lineup change of course."— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) March 10, 2017
The Grizzlies went 6-10 over the next stretch of games after the break, and Chandler Parsons went down with a season-ending injury. So after all the controversy surrounding Parsons starting, Fizdale’s hand was forced when he went down for the season. There’s no mincing words. Chandler Parsons battled injuries all season long, and his stats reflected that. His first season as a Grizzly was a total disappointment.
Unfortunately, most of this season will be cast in a negative light. And now, the Grizzlies sit at the seventh seed and will face a familiar foe in the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.
However, there have been some positive story lines this season. For one, Marc Gasol has stepped up his game this year after returning from injury from the 2015-16 season. He’s expanded his three point range, and he’s made 103 of them this season, which is by far his career high. In addition, Mike Conley has played out of his mind since the All-Star break, and he’s had the best season of his career. On the year, he’s averaging 20.5 PPG and 6.3 assists per game.
"He's our MVP. To me he's the best center in the NBA," -Coach Fizdale on Marc Gasol. Says he's proud of Marc's "growth as a leader"— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) December 15, 2016
"He's been playing phenomenal... He's definitely an All-NBA caliber guy," -Tony Allen on Mike Conley.— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) April 8, 2017
Oh, and besides Mike and Marc having fantastic seasons, Zach Randolph was the quiet hero of this season coming off the bench. Some feared that Randolph would not adjust to his new role of the bench very well, but it’s had an extremely productive and consistent season. In fact, he should be in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year, as he’s averaging 14.1 points and 8.2 rebounds in 24.5 minutes per game. Throughout the season, Coach Fizdale and Randolph’s teammates commented on Randolph’s selflessness and production:
"...It just makes me happy to see him play well," -Marc Gasol on Zach Randolph's performance tonight.— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) December 30, 2016
"You're talking about one of the biggest givers this league has ever seen," -Coach Fizdale on Randolph's community assist award— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) March 1, 2017
"Seamless," -Coach Fizdale on Zach Randolph's role transition. "He's got to be in the conversation for sixth man of the year."— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) April 1, 2017
In addition, Vince Carter has been the surprise contributor this season. At 40 years old, Carter is having his best season yet as a Grizzly. On the year, he’s averaging 8.0 PPG and made 112 threes on the year. Perhaps one of his most memorable moments this season was against the Milwaukee Bucks, in which he had 24 points and was a perfect 8-8 from the field. He was 6-6 from three point range. This game occurred right after Parsons was announced to have a partially torn meniscus. Since Parsons went down, Carter has thrived in the starting role he’s been given.
"He just finds a way to help us. I knew he could help us this year, I just didn't realize how much he was going to help me," - Fizdale on VC— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) April 8, 2017
But now that a season full of ups and downs has come to a close, the Grizzlies face their biggest challenge yet, but it is a familiar one. Game 1 will tip off in San Antonio Saturday night, and the Grizzlies are ready to face their age-old rival in the Spurs. Will this be a repeat of recent years, or will it be a flashback to 2011?
"Definitely missing last year's series was tough...Another year, we're all healthy. It means a lot..." -Conley— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) April 13, 2017
"We've overcome a lot...We are definitely confident that we can win," -Mike Conley on the upcoming series— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) April 13, 2017
"We're locked in and preparing for the Spurs..." -Mike Conley— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) April 10, 2017