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The Unsung Heroes of the Memphis Grizzlies

Gasol, Conley, and Randolph get the glory. But this series isn’t 2-2 without the efforts of those around them.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Conley is massively important to the Memphis Grizzlies.

So is Marc Gasol. And Zach Randolph. Without them, the Grizzlies are not a playoff team.

Watch the end of Game Four again, probably for the 8th or 9th time. Find the link to the awesome recap video the Grizzlies media arm Grind City made, or heck, check it out here.

Marc Gasol hits the game winner. Mike Conley goes toe-to-toe with Kawhi Leonard. Zach Randolph makes key plays down the stretch.

But Marc Gasol doesn’t make the game winner if Kawhi Leonard decides to not stay home on Troy Daniels. Mike Conley doesn’t get the chance to compete with Kawhi if Andrew Harrison doesn’t stop or start momentum. There are players who stepped up on Saturday night that helped make Saturday night the epic, instant classic that it was. And if it wasn’t for them, the series may be 3-1 heading back to San Antonio...or worse, already over.

Without these players, Memphis would be in real trouble. And their names aren’t Conley, Gasol, or Randolph.

JaMychal Green

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

This series has surely not gone exactly how JaMychal had thought it would. Green was a starter for the Grizzlies for 75 games during the regular season, and for two games this postseason. He has time and again shown his worth and gone above and beyond what could have been possible for him - from a D-Leaguer, to an NBA rotation player, to an NBA starter likely to make good money in free agency.

And yet, after two playoff games as the starter, JaMychal seemed to be outside his comfort zone. He shot 2-8 overall from the field over the course of those games, with those two makes coming from beyond the arc, and he only played a total 29 minutes in those contests. He got into foul trouble and wasn’t able to get into a rhythm.

Then, Game Three came along and JaMychal was moved to the bench. Instead of pouting and feeling bad that he’d lost his spot to Zach Randolph (at least for this series), he thrived. In two home playoff games off the bench, JaMychal has shot 9-15 (2-6 from three) and averaged 11 points per game. He rebounded better (6 total in games 1-2, 10 in games 3-4), and he played almost 50 minutes off the bench for Memphis as well.

He made clutch shots down the stretch in Game Four, not just from range but in transition, offering a skill set that Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph simply cannot.

He also has been called upon at times to defend Kawhi Leonard on the perimeter, with the hopes that his size and length will give Leonard issues.

Whether as a starter or off the bench, JaMychal remains a trusted piece of this rotation for Head Coach David Fizdale and will loom large over these next games with the Spurs.

Andrew Harrison

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone’s favorite scapegoat now that Chandler Parsons is on the shelf. It’s no secret that the Grizzlies have had back-up point guard issues in the past - aside from Mario Chalmers (and some flashes of good play from Beno Udrih and Nick Calathes), the past few seasons have been rough in that department. This year’s player the Grizzlies hoped would come along and be the guy behind Mike Conley has been Andrew Harrison, the NBA rookie who essentially spent a redshirt year in the D-League in 2015-2016.

Harrison is polarizing. Some see the value in developing the large guard, while others think he’s a wasted investment. David Fizdale has fallen into the camp of the former - Harrison has been the guy a majority of the season (Toney Douglas being the other guy). But Harrison has been the one who has played over 1,500 minutes now between the playoffs and regular season. It’s Harrison’s job, for better or worse.

He was the worst shooter on the team that has played at least 500 minutes this regular season at 32.5%. He had a PER of 8.7, worst among Grizzlies players that played at least 700 minutes, and among that crew he also was tied for the team-worst .051 win shares per 48 minutes, according to basketball-reference.com. That, plus the eye test, told you that while he showed flashes (especially defensively), he was struggling mightily.

In four playoff games? He’s doing better shooting (36.8%), in PER (12.5), and in win shares per 48 minutes (.089). He’s shooting better than James Ennis, Wayne Selden Jr., and Troy Daniels (who is shooting a paltry 25% from the floor). His PER and win shares per 48 numbers are both good for third on the team, behind Mike Conley (29.8 PER, .240 win shares per 48) and Marc Gasol (18.4 PER, .103 win shares per 48). He’s making game changing plays like this:

And this:

He’s also tied for 2nd on the Grizzlies in net rating:

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2017 NBA Playoffs Grizzlies Net Ratings Mike Conley Andrew Harrison JaMychal Green Marc Gasol James Ennis
2017 NBA Playoffs Grizzlies Net Ratings Mike Conley Andrew Harrison JaMychal Green Marc Gasol James Ennis
Offensive Rating 125 117 118 111 100
Defensive Rating 113 115 116 113 111
Net Rating 12 2 2 -2 -11

Going by those numbers alone, there are four Grizzlies playing mostly well at the moment. Two of them are the stars of the team, Marc and Mike. One of them is JaMychal Green, who we spoke about earlier. And the other is Mr. Scapegoat himself, Andrew Harrison.

This is why you invested those minutes during the season in Andrew Harrison. For those moments above. He had seen a lot of lows in his first full NBA season, and he learned from them. David Fizdale believes in him, and you can tell during games that Fizdale is constantly coaching him. This series isn’t too big for Harrison because of the bumps he’s taken throughout the campaign and the work of David Fizdale in developing him. He has stepped up to this point.

That isn’t to say that Zach Randolph, who is a not-so-good -22 in net rating and a -.042 in win shares per 48 minutes, is that much of a detriment to the team. Make no mistake, Zach wasn’t at his best in Game Four, but without him Memphis likely doesn’t win Game Three. This also doesn’t mean that there aren’t other role players who are having success - Vince Carter is shooting 41.7% from three, and James Ennis III has defended well for the bulk of the series, posting a defensive rating of 111, best in the series for Memphis along with Zach Randolph among players who have played at least 90 minutes.

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

It just says that there are two guys in particular who are performing well in multiple areas. JaMychal and Andrew are both defending and producing offensively in a variety of ways. They’re finding ways to impact the game and are making plays in opportune situations. Marc and Mike can’t do it alone - these two role players are answering the call in their own imperfect ways.

The numbers don’t tell you everything. But they do call attention to things you may miss and confirm what your eyes may be telling you. In the glare of the deserved bright lights shining on the Grizzlies stars, you may struggle to see what has always been true in Memphis. It takes a team effort to overcome talent deficits, and the Grizzlies must continue to get good play from Green, Harrison, and their teammates to upset the mighty Spurs.

It sounds crazy. But because of their efforts in Memphis, it’s more realistic than it has been in a long, long time.

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