This week the Memphis Grizzlies announced that new signee Ben McLemore had successful foot surgery and would miss approximately 12 weeks. The 24-year-old from St. Louis fell on another player’s foot while playing pickup in Los Angeles and suffered a “non-displaced fracture of the fifth metatarsal in his right foot” according to a press release from the organization. He should be game ready by November, meaning that he will likely miss training camp and the beginning of the 2017-2018 season.
With the amount of wing depth that the Grizzlies currently possess, this isn’t the end of the world. McLemore should be able to rehab this relatively normal injury and come back to work without having missed much action. The Grizzlies will be able to play any one of Wayne Selden, Tyreke Evans, Troy Daniels, James Ennis III, Chandler Parsons, Dillon Brooks, or potentially even Mario Chalmers, Andrew Harrison, or Wade Baldwin IV in his short absence. Things will be fine.
But McLemore’s injury does highlight one of, if not the most important criteria for a successful Grizzlies 2017-18 campaign: health.
Health has not been on Memphis’ side when it’s counted in recent years.
Last year, Tony Allen missed the first round of the playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs and could have been a difference maker had he had the chance to guard Kawhi Leonard. Mike Conley missed time at the beginning of the season with a broken back, and Parsons was never himself after rehabbing a surgically repaired knee.
The year prior the team played an NBA record 27 players in one season because it was so wrought with injury. The year before that was the now-famous Conley broken face crusade against the Warriors, which, although valiant, must have certainly adversely affected his game and therefore the team’s chances, right?
Every year, it seems, when health needs to break in favor of the Grizz, it doesn’t.
Which is why McLemore’s sudden injury feels like so much more than it is. We saw what an injured new free agent signing looked like last year. Parsons had a terrible season, mostly because it was apparent that he had not recovered from his knee surgery. He was out of shape, could barely jump, and, as a result, had no arc on an ugly jumpshot. He had no training camp to get his timing down and his conditioning up.
With the haunting memory of Parsons’ first season in Memphis fresh in the minds of fans, it might be easy—and potentially warranted—to overreact to McLemore’s less serious foot injury. The tendency to profess gloom and doom comes not only from a recent, bad history of injuries, but also from a wildly drastic spectrum of potential for this year’s team. The team’s chances could swing wildly from playoff threat to sad shell of a once-feared bastion of toughness depending on the physical fitness of Memphis’ players.
Of course, that statement is true of all teams. However, with teams like the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Spurs you don’t hear this caveat because they’ve either been healthy at the right times or have overcome injury (Cleveland’s 2016 title the year after Kevin Love’s shoulder injury comes to mind).
So let’s do two thought experiments. The first will briefly delve into what an entirely, 100% healthy Grizzlies team might look like. The second will examine what might happen if a couple of important cogs—for this example let’s use JaMychal Green (even though he is not technically a Grizzly currently) and Tyreke Evans--were to go down indefinitely in late February. Additionally, Parsons fails to recover again from knee injuries in the second hypothetical.
By 100% healthy I mean that Parsons is better than he was before his first knee surgery, the type of player he should have become had he stayed healthy.
If Parsons, Evans, and eventually McLemore fill the void left by Zach Randolph, Vince Carter, and Allen, things change dramatically for Memphis right off the bat. The team possesses a triumvirate that is excellently suited for one another. For example, let’s think about the pick and roll options between Marc Gasol, Conley, and Parsons.
The Conley-Gasol pairing we know is hard to stop. With Conley’s subversively great handles, quickness, passing ability, finishing, and shooting, he’s already a difficult guy to contain coming off a screen. Gasol’s new-ish range as well as his outstanding vision and basketball IQ make him a threat for a pick and pop, pick and stop (to survey the floor, creating a better look), or a roll to the lane. Now add Parsons as a shooter/playmaker looming on the perimeter. The lane either opens up for Conley/Gasol, or the defense shifts, leaving Parsons open.
A Parsons-Gasol tandem could also wreak havoc for many of the same reasons as could a Conley-Parsons duo, which would have a heavier emphasis on playmaking and may lead into secondary action for a Gasol post-up if neither can pick apart the defense initially.
This trio would obviously be the most exciting facet of the team, but think about the depth Memphis would have this season. The team, finally, has a decent backup point guard situation with Chalmers and Evans—and potentially Parsons—as primary ball handlers behind Conley. The wing position, as detailed earlier, has an abundance of options, and the bigs aren’t a bad looking group either.
Gasol and Green would both be in or around their primes while Brandan Wright should see more playing time in an up-tempo, David Fizdale-style offense which would highlight Wright’s skills. Potentially Parsons or Ennis plays small-ball four as the fourth or fifth frontcourt option.
This team has a bit of everything, though it would need help rebounding and playing defense once the second team gets in. But all-in-all, this is an almost certain playoff team and one which might threaten to do damage.
Parsons is as unplayable in 2017-18 as he was in 2016-17. The same issues that affected him last year plague him again this year. Injuries sideline Evans and Green for the rest of the season as well.
Conley and Gasol are two very good basketball players and two very good teammates. But they need more than just themselves to succeed, especially in the steroid-jacked-up Western Conference.
Without Evans, the team struggles mightily to score without Conley on the floor or in general in the second unit. Evans’ injury most likely forces Harrison or Baldwin back into a prominent role, and while it’s possible they may have improved since last we saw them, it certainly is no guarantee. There are just no effective playmakers on the roster outside of Conley, Evans (hypothetically injured), Gasol, Parsons (hypothetically useless due to injury), and maybe Chalmers. Conley, as a result, would have to play more minutes than he should, grinding him down, making him more vulnerable to injury.
Without Green, the front court falls almost completely apart. Your top-two bigs are Gasol and Wright, who probably shouldn’t play together too much considering that their defenders will clog up the lane (the same problem the Gasol-Randolph pairing faced forever), creating a myriad of problems for everyone on the court.
Instead, Jarell Martin, who looked not good as a third year player in Summer League and has looked mostly not good in any NBA action, starts. Your other backup is Deyonta Davis who also looked not good in Summer League, and, though he seems to be brimming with potential, is still only 20-years-old. Wright, it should also be noted, has not been particularly healthy anyway in his Grizzlies tenure, so that’s another thing to worry about.
This team skids by (maybe) without Parsons and craters after Green and Evans go down around the All-Star break, leaving it in a position to own one of the later picks in the lottery, a completely unenviable position in which to be. Actually, that’s arguably the very worst position in which to be as you’ve not reached the playoffs (objectively a failure), but were not bad enough to ensure yourself a guaranteed great lottery pick.
And the thing is, you can’t even get mad at me for intentionally choosing the worst path to go down in this hypothetical, because if that were the case, I would have picked Conley and Gasol as our theoretically injured players, leading to an abjectly horrible on-court product and maybe a slightly better lottery selection.
It’s no wonder, then, that Grizz fans and media members alike groaned when they heard the news about McLemore. No one ever wants one of their players to suffer an injury. But when you’ve become accustomed to expecting the worst in terms of injuries, it’s understandably hard to stay cheery about the season ahead, especially with the darkly dangling unknown of Parsons ever-looming.
So just take the McLemore news in stride. He’s going to be ok, and will miss only limited time. There are bigger fish to fry anyway (looking at you, JaMychal) that will consume our attention in the meanwhile.
And if you need any good news: the season is only a little more than two months away.