It’s time for another GBB Mailbag! We asked for questions from our terrific Facebook fans and they didn’t disappoint- we got a ton of great responses and we’ve chosen four of them to tackle. Joining me for this edition of the mailbag are GBB Senior Features Writer and new co-host of our flagship podcast GBBLive Brandon Conner and GBB Game Coverage Writers Ross Jarrar and Jack Noonan.
From Steven Stone- Which Grizzlies do you predict will get hot leading up to and during the playoffs?
Joe Mullinax (@JoeMullinax)- I always lean on those with experience. Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph...these are all players who have been there and done that off and on for over half a decade now. You need them to have any shot at a win against the Spurs, much less pulling off a playoff upset. The most important “X-Factor” for Memphis, though, is Vince Carter. Can he fill 70% of the role the Grizzlies wanted Chandler Parsons to fill as a shooter/facilitator/creator off the pick and roll?
Again, experience tells you he should be able to. But Vince may be TOO experienced.
Brandon Conner (@BallFromGrace)- It's probably best to choose between Mike and Marc for this question. There are other players (Troy Daniels, for example) who might get hot for a game, maybe two, but likely can't maintain great production over the course of a playoff series. Right now, I think I'd take Conley, busted eye and all. He had off nights, but he was fantastic while Marc was out, and he's having a career season in terms of scoring and shooting. My money's on Mike.
Jack Noonan (@jnoonan1307)- I’m going to go outside of Mark Gasol or Mike Conley for this one because those two are the obvious choice. I predict that Vince Carter will get (stay) hot going into the playoffs. Vince, even at 40 years old, has shown glimpses of his past this season. In March, he shot 39.6% from the field and 38.5% from three. Even more astonishing, in FedEx Forum, he shot 43.8% and 46.7% from three in the month of March.
To win in the NBA and especially in the playoffs, unexpected players must step up and make an imprint on the game. 40-year-old Vince Carter can be this player if he continues this type of three-point shooting.
Ross Jarrar (@asaprockytop)- I think Marc Gasol is going to be hot in the playoffs. Playoff basketball is usually a lot slower, more physical, with no back-to-backs. He hasn’t been his usual self lately. He was battling another foot injury, but even before then he wasn’t scoring at his usual pace. He averaged 15 points-per-game with a negative +/- in March, so optimistically he’s due for better performance. He’s still Marc Gasol, he has played great for most of the season, and a physical player like him will play better in playoff environments, even if it means going up Dewayne Dedmon, who has defended him very well all season.
Adapted from Kendall Cruse- Who do you want taking the final shot, down by 2: Mike Conley or Troy Daniels?
Mullinax- The answer is Mike Conley, and it isn’t remotely close. Troy Daniels is an elite shooter, no doubt. He likely will need to be efficient as a high-volume scorer in order for the Grizzlies to knock off a great Spurs team. But Conley is Captain Clutch. He is the guy with ice water in his veins. He and Gasol are what this team are built around.
In those last moments, I want Mike taking that shot. Marc is 2nd. Troy isn’t on the list.
Conner- I'm going to totally cop out here and say "it depends." More often than not, I'd lean Conley. I mentioned this in response to the previous question, but he's having a career season, including hitting 40% (!!!!!!) from three. He's my man in clutch situations. That being said, Daniels is a streaky shooter. If he's having a career night (and if he's the one who ends up open with the clock winding down) I've got no issue kicking the ball to him and letting him fire away. It's more situational than anything.
Noonan- Mike Conley, and it is not even close. Even if Troy Daniels has the role of being a pure shooter, the game changes in the final shot. Mike is the obvious better player between the two, so the ball stays in his (or possibly Gasol) hands. Compare their stats this season in the last 30 seconds of games within 3 points. Conley has taken 10 shots in this time frame and Daniels has only taken 1. Being a team leader and highest paid player in the NBA, that shot is coming from him, unless he finds Gasol for an open three i.e. the Clippers game.
Jarrar- As much as I love Troy Daniels, I want Mike Conley taking that shot. If it were down 3, maybe I’d go with Troy. But Mike Conley has proven himself to be the best scorer on this team by having a career year. Mike has career highs in PPG, eFG%, TS%, PER, Win Shares, and his 2nd best 3P% ever despite a huge uptick in volume. Mike Conley is our most dependable scorer and I would trust him over Daniels (and anyone else on the team) to take the last shot. Besides, if the Grizzlies are paying him $150 million over 5 years, there’s no way he isn’t taking that shot.
From Ross Madison- How much of an impact do you see James Ennis making in the playoffs this year?
Mullinax- If used properly, a huge one. Mostly because of his versatility. Ennis has played more small-ball four as of late, and his ability to create mismatches in that role is extremely valuable. It is a look that the Grizzlies have not shown a ton of, and because of that the Spurs would not be that prepared for it. Any thing that could potentially throw Pop off his game, even for just one contest, would perhaps make the difference between hopes flourishing and hopes being deleted early in a seven game series.
Conner- I'm skeptical it'll be much. I love Ennis, but he's had issues staying in the rotation this season. I think he could provide scoring off the bench, but I don't see him doing much on the offensive end. As Chris Herrington mentioned recently, he might be better suited to playing small-ball four rather than small forward, so there's also that option if Fizdale wants to go small, as well.
Noonan- Personally, I do not see him getting much impactful playing time in the playoffs. Since January, his monthly average minutes per game has been dropping. When he has been out there, he has looked lost trying to find his rhythm with the rotation guys. In the playoffs, Coach Fizdale will (hopefully) tighten up his bench and only have his eight or nine guys in rotation. This will cut into Ennis’s minutes directly.
However, if he can show promise in small ball type lineups, then I could see him at least getting a chance getting good minutes. Biggest concern for him will be on the defensive side of the ball.
Jarrar- I’m a big James Ennis III fan. I think he can be very productive for the Grizzlies and if Vince Carter weren’t playing so well, he should be the starter at small forward for the Grizzlies. I think he’ll have an impact in playoffs, but it won’t make itself apparent in the box score. He may have a couple games where he gives 10+ off the bench, but his impact will mostly be felt defensively. He’s got size and strength and could really use that to bully players he defends. I’m optimistic about his play and I really think Ennis would be useful to throw at smaller wings.
From Frederick Hill- How likely, percentage wise, is it that this will be the last season we see the Core 4 together?
Mullinax- I’m going to put it at 55%. I can’t shake the feeling that Tony Allen (most likely) or Zach Randolph are gone. The style of play that got the Grizzlies to where they are today isn’t sustainable anymore with this roster. Chandler Parsons was supposed to help them get there, but the issues have become more pronounced with his injury-riddled season. Tony simply gambles too much defensively and is too much of an offensive liability. Zach, while a terrific sixth man, gets demolished in the pick and roll defensively.
Still a very likely scenario, considering picks and cap space, is running it back one more year right below the luxury tax. But this year feels like the most likely one yet that the step away from the most successful core in Grizzlies history happens. And it’s almost certainly time.
Conner- I want to think it's fairly high (70-80%) just based off of the cap situation. Barring players taking a major discount, it's nearly impossible to bring back Tony, Zach, and JaMychal, who feels like an integral piece of this team now (the development, or lack thereof, of Jarell Martin is only helping this). Right now, Tony feels like the most likely to move on, so I'd expect Z-Bo and JaM back next season. Of course, all this being said, you can't put it past the front office to make a move based on the #brand and just bring back the Core 4, so it's definitely not outside the realm of possibility.
Noonan- I would say 80%. Unfortunately, the era may be over. Obviously, Mike and Marc are here to stay, (unless there is a blockbuster trade) so that leaves Zbo and TA. In my opinion and recommendation, I would let TA go and refocus by sights and money toward matching what JaMychal Green is going to be offered from another team. Zach Randolph will stay for cheap because he is the life blood of Memphis basketball, but I am not so sure with Tony Allen. There will be a team out there with more cap room that offers him more than he is worth for his solid defense and grit mentality. It all will depend on the other offers out there for ZBo and TA.
Jarrar- I’m going to guess that there’s about a 75% chance this is the last season of the Core Four. Half of the four are going to be free agents next year, TA and Z-Bo, but so is JaMychal Green. The Grizzlies are definitely going to want to keep a young talent like Green, and even though Memphis will be able to go over the cap to re-sign Allen and/or Randolph, they might not want to for 2 aging players. Zach Randolph is a 6th Man of the Year candidate and Tony Allen is still defending well. But the odds of that continuing at their age are pretty slim. With the NBA going towards more and more 3-point shooting and floor spacing, I think the Grizzlies might be okay with letting them walk.