David Fizdale’s inaugural season has been, for the most part, a success. On Friday, the Grizzlies secured their seventh consecutive playoff berth in spite of the fact that all three of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and new addition Chandler Parsons have missed at least some time this season.
Now clearly the Grizzlies didn’t exactly help my “Fizdale’s first season has been fine” take on Sunday afternoon by losing to the Lakers. But they played with an 8-man rotation and the starting lineup was, um...well, it consisted of basketball players. I think. Anyway, I’m not as concerned as most people with that loss, in spite of the fact that, yes, the Lakers are bad and are trying to tank.
Bad Lakers loss aside, Fizdale has taken steps to modernize the Grizzlies offense and shown at least some willingness to develop his younger players. Off the court, he’s attempted to build a stronger culture, demanded accountability, and tried his hardest to elicit more vocal leadership from his veteran stars.
It hasn’t been perfect, by any means. Fizdale has had to tailor his schemes to personnel, he’s thrown out a few lineup clunkers (see Lakers, L.A.), he’s taken bad technicals, and the leadership demands haven’t been warmly received by everyone. Most of those issues are just growing pains, the sort of kinks that will get worked out with time and experience. They’re frustrating, but it’s Fizdale’s first season; I’m not all that concerned about them yet.
But there’s one thing I’d like to ask Coach Fizdale to do this season: could you please pull the starters earlier?
To an extent, we saw this earlier in the season when Fizdale changed Mike and Marc’s minutes restrictions to minutes suggestions. But the issue has persisted late into the season, as Fiz regularly leaves his star players (Conley in particular) out on the court in games where the outcome is basically decided.
In last week’s game against Golden State, Memphis trailed by 10 with 5 minutes left. A minute and a half later, they’d failed to make any headway, and when the clock showed just under three minutes remaining, the Grizzlies’ deficit had grown to 12.
At that point, Memphis’ fate was decided. Without their star big man, they’d fought valiantly and come up just short against the league’s best team. There was no shame in waving the white flag.
Instead, Conley remained on the floor until there were just 39 seconds remaining. He’d played a total of 36 minutes.
Three days later, Conley was finally pulled with 2:47 remaining in a win over the Pacers. He’d played a whopping THIRTY-EIGHT MINUTES in a game which the Grizzlies had led by double-digits most of the way. In fact, the smallest advantage Memphis held in the fourth quarter was 17 points, the margin they held entering the fourth quarter.
Maybe this is nitpicking, and maybe it’s just me, but it feels like Fizdale’s played players — Mike and Marc, in particular — too many “meaningless” minutes. Even if it’s a minute or two here or there, those minutes add up over the course of a long season. Conley has worn down before; why not avoid as much wear and tear as you can heading into the postseason?
With Andrew Harrison still nursing an ankle injury, Memphis’ depth at point guard is basically Conley and Wade Baldwin IV, so giving Conley a game off isn’t an option. Instead, Fizdale should try and reduce his playing time by taking him out of the game sooner, allowing him more rest as the Grizzlies gear up for a playoff run.
With Sunday’s loss, the Grizzlies are all but assured of finishing seventh in the West. Now Fizdale has to do everything to maximize health, and the best way to do that is to cut down on minutes played for his stars.