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Unpacking the Grizzlies Season: Part II

Still more Memphis unpacking to do.

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

Before the season started, I asked seven questions about the Memphis Grizzlies:

BRO, WHAT ABOUT INJURIES

Can Marc Gasol return to top-20 status?

Will Mike Conley lead the Grizzlies in scoring this year?

Will Chandler Parsons play the 4?

How does Zach Randolph as the sixth man play out, and JaMychal Green as starter?

Can the bench be good this season?

BRO, IS GRIT AND GRIND DEAD

These were broad questions, which was definitely a cop-out move for me to throw up some thoughts about everything entering the season. Now as we exit it, I’m going to do the same, reflecting on the season against my expectations heading into it.

Here is Part II of those expectations. Part I is here.

How does Zach Randolph as the sixth man play out, and JaMychal Green as starter?

What I said: “Power forward is about the only position where the Grizzlies have both depth and upside. It feels like a can’t-lose.”

This was probably the best thing, and one of the few good, in the non-Gasol or Conley division. The way these two guys played was incredible, though if you told me that the JaMychal Green question would be resolved in an even better way than the Zach Randolph question, I don’t think I would’ve believed it.

Randolph had a good season. He posted perfectly acceptable numbers, played hard and consistently off the bench, and came through for a big game when you needed him to. When the Grizzlies needed him as a starter in the playoffs, there were some great throwback Feed 50 games.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

It wouldn’t have worked out as well as it did if JaMychal hadn’t taken to the opportunity as well as he did. Looking back now, he was a little less prolific than I thought he was, but what he did was of great importance to the Grizzlies. He’s not just an athletic energy guy like the season before — JaMychal has grown his game, little ways in all ways, and for my money he blossomed in what was supposed to be Parsons’ No. 3 role. Necessary value, at the minimum salary.

JaMychal was the unsung catalyst. It’s hard to sing his praises because so much of what he does is understated, but in contrast to Randolph, his game is so much more complementary to a two-man show. He fills space on offense, getting inside position for a rebound or a score as easily as he rises to the three-point line. He helps and recovers on defense, making him the perfect partner to Gasol’s paint presence, and there’s even a bit of Darrell Arthur blowing up pick-and-rolls there. You barely missed Randolph in the starting lineup, until the playoffs.

Both guys hit free agency this summer, JaMychal as a restricted free agent most likely, and for different reasons I’d like to bring both back. Because of how thin the money is stretched, it’s going to be difficult — I think JaMychal is a $12 to 14 million per year guy now, easy.

No answers here, partly because I haven’t really crunched numbers for the offseason yet. But they were great this season.

Can the bench be good this season?

What I said: “Power forward aside, the bench looks like it’s going to suck this season.”

It was bad, though that really couldn’t be helped. Not after you bet big on the small forward with the skills you always wanted. You could count the number of guys who were good off the bench on one hand, and if you cut your hand in half, you could probably still count the number of those guys that should actually be playing for a playoff team.

But that’s kind of mean, and I’ve been mean enough to enough Grizzlies. Especially Andrew Harrison. I’m going to be a little more celebratory here.

Shouts to Wayne Selden Jr., for coming in late and becoming kind of important. I’m still not too sure of him and what his game is about, but even if he doesn’t have a successful NBA career, at the very least we’re indebted to him for the role he played in the playoffs. Imagine being Wayne Selden, and being asked to start against the San Antonio Spurs. He lived up to it.

Shouts to Vince Carter, for being 40 and still shooting 37.8 percent on three-pointers while being adored by League Pass announcers of all teams. I love Vince Carter and I hope he never retires.

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Shouts to Brandan Wright, for returning from injury and finding a fit on this team that was beginning to look impossible in, uh, 12 games from 2015-16. Yeah, that’s probably our bad. This will never be Rick Carlisle’s spread P&R system, but Wright put in work.

Shouts to Troy Daniels, for taking and making a whole bunch of threes. I’ll never get over myself and my inability to stan for a specialist, but Daniels probably won a few games on his own. Shouts to James Ennis, for looking like a legit 3-and-D wing, and I hope you can keep building on a solid season because Parsons can’t.

A very self-disgraced shouts to Andrew Harrison, who I still can’t say is someone that I’ll think ends up a good NBA player, but he logged nearly 1,500 minutes and proved me wrong for thinking that Wade Baldwin would be better. An optimistic shouts to Jarell Martin, Wade Baldwin, and Deyonta Davis, because I still believe.

What we’re left with is a bench that still isn’t good enough, and probably won’t be any time soon. The Grizzlies will be working along the margins to make it better, and I think you’ll have to see if anybody around the league will trade a good perimeter player for a diligent roll man like Wright. Hopefully with the Mid-Level Exception (now $8.4 million), they can grab someone like Shelvin Mack, P.J. Tucker, or Kyle Korver.

BRO, IS GRIT AND GRIND DEAD?

What they said: My favorite story published at GBB this season was on the dying of grit and grind, from the homie Matt Hrdlicka. (Just as good: Kevin Lipe’s DSA-approved annotations.) (Some of it flew over my head, because those guys are smart AF.)

You know, I’m not exactly sure how to define grit and grind anymore, after all this time spent hand-wringing over the meaning. Whatever the thing is (dead in the water maybe), I’m not thinking about it as much anymore. I’m completely happy to be here, and I want the whole team back.

Since any last-ditch title hopes are about as stable as Parsons' knee, I recalibrated my expectations over the course of the season. I'm not holding out for a championship anymore. The Grizzlies are still playing for one, because what the hell else would we be doing here if they weren't, but now my only baseline expectation for this team is a good time.

And did we not have a good time, battling the Spurs to six games in some of the best playoff games of the first round? Did we not have a good time counterpunching the Golden State Warriors in the regular season?

The best guys on the Grizzlies probably won’t call it quits at the top of the game like Tim Duncan, but I don’t think we’ll care when they’re washed like Manu Ginobili.

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Our struggle used to be a sixth seed destiny. Seven consecutive playoff appearances later, it’s starting to feel like more of a blessing. You could look at the Atlanta Hawks, the Toronto Raptors, the Los Angeles Clippers, the mediocre whoevers, and see that those teams have a less abstract anxiety about the future. They’re seriously thinking about blowing it up, and I think it says a lot that their Paul Millsap, Kyle Lowry, Chris Paul, or Blake Griffin hasn’t been our Marc Gasol or Mike Conley... mostly.

I have an emotional stake in the Raptors, since I live in Toronto. And I am so grateful that the Grizzlies lost in a hard-fought six instead of whatever the Raptors’ first-round “win” against the Milwaukee Bucks was, much less the second-round sweep by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

There are teams better than the Grizzlies that have a hard enough time punching up to LeBron James and Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. That isn’t to say success is impossible, but I’m not banking on it anymore. In this league, being okay with that as a fan is also its own luxury.

If you can bring back Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, retooling or rebuilding matters less. The micro-stuff still matters, at least as far as when I want to look up Harrison’s three-point percentage and try to snipe Delon Wright from Masai Ujiri in the Trade Machine. But all of this means more. The homie Joe Mullinax called it our “rage against the dying of the light.” I think of it as letting the culture dance on its grave. There’s time to get a Markelle Fultz later.

The season was fun. It wasn’t all fun, especially in a very Grizzlies March, but it was pretty fun. So long as that can be the metric by which we judge success, the Grizzlies have been perennial winners.

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