The Grizzlies are playing better basketball as of late. A 3-3 record over the last 10 days has the Grizzlies looking like a middle-of-the-pack Western Conference team, but that’s the one thing that no team ever wants to be.
Think about it: if you’re absolutely terrible, you have a good chance of getting a lottery pick. If you’re above average, you might make the playoffs and have a run at an NBA title. (Or you can be the Grizzlies of the last seven seasons, make the playoffs, lose in the first or second round, and wear that as a badge of honor.)
Alas, the 2017-18 Grizzlies are none of the above right now.
In the last 6 games, the Grizzlies are scoring 111.3 points per game, that’s up 12 points beyond the season average. Of course, they are giving up 110 points per game, and that’s just under 8 points per game more than the season average. Most of all, the Grizzlies look competent on the offensive end for the first time since October.
Tyreke Evans still hasn’t cooled off, averaging 25.5 points a game during this six game stretch. Marc Gasol is still holding his own with 15.1 points a game recently. So what’s changed? Those numbers are on par with seasons averages, yet the team is scoring more and somewhat winning games they are supposed to.
Two major changes can be noticed in the last 10 days.
First, Ben McLemore and to a lesser extent Mario Chalmers are riding the bench and it’s the best coaching decision yet for Coach Bickerstaff. Ben McLemore has seen just 12 minutes in six games, all of which came against the Kings. Chalmers, who has averaged 22.5 minutes a game on the season, is averaging just 12.5 in the last 10 days. Rio has logged a DNP in two of six games and only scored over eight points in just one.
Ben McLemore was a gamble in free agency but has never panned out to be the shooter the Grizzlies needed him to be. Even worse, his defense is what keeps him off the floor, especially with Wayne Selden Jr. back for Memphis. Mario Chalmers is just not an NBA player. The “veteran” point guard has the worst shooting percentage on the team and second most fouls committed (behind only Dillon Brooks who plays 27.5 minutes a game). He just looks slow and weak on the floor; it seems that Bickerstaff is getting the picture.
Secondly, the young guns of this Grizzlies roster are finally getting a chance at significant playing time. The trio of Kobi Simmons, Deyonta Davis, and Jarell Martin are finally giving Memphis fans a showcase of what the future could look like. Simmons has been a pleasant surprise, showing signs of being a rookie, but more importantly, signs of real potential as a two way point guard. Deyonta Davis looks competent and engaged on the floor for the first time in awhile. And Martin shows signs of athleticism, though no one is sure what else he can do (except settle for 15-footers too often).
Keeping both of those recent developments in mind, Bickerstaff seems to be getting the picture: it’s time to develop for the future. The young guys are being thrown in and contributing, producing more wins in this six game stretch since late October. The dead weight of this roster is being trimmed, though won’t be complete until Chalmers is watching from home. I would even argue that Gasol is disinterested and perhaps even dead weight at this point (just watch his attitude on the court and effort on defense).
If the Grizzlies are going to tank, then tank. If they’re going to compete, then continue playing the way they are right now.
But that is worst case scenario.
The Grizzlies are just good enough right now to stay out of the lottery race. The schedule has been easy in the last 10 days aside from the Warriors game, but the Grizzlies still scored 128 points in that contest. The schedule continues with lower tier teams in January: Pelicans, Nuggets, Lakers, Knicks, Clippers, Suns. Those teams could give the Grizzlies a few more wins, especially with the rumored return of Mike Conley.
I love the idea of giving the young guys playing time, they will need all the game experience they can get. They have actually played pretty well complementing Tyreke and Marc, but holding on to the hopes that the “Big 3” of Mike, Marc, and Reke is just too ambitious. I don’t see the point of going all-in on reaching an eight seed in the playoffs, a first round sweep, and the same problems again next year.
Heads up @memgrizz there is nothing you can do right to make me think trying to make the playoffs is a good idea. Even if you SOMEHOW make the playoffs I don't think it's a good idea. I don't care about the "streak" we have going. I want this team to be competitive when I'm 40.— Chris Faulkner (@FaulknerMemphis) January 3, 2018
As fun as it is to finally see decent basketball from Memphis, winning cures all problems, but this season is not a season to win. The most important win for this team is losing as many games as possible.