Even after the tough loss last night in Phoenix, we can all agree that 5-3 is a mildly surprising start to the season for the Memphis Grizzlies, especially considering how good they have looked at times (two early season wins over the Jazz in Utah come to mind). Memphis was one of the worst teams in the entire NBA just seven months ago, and now the Grizzlies are hoping they will be in the playoff hunt come this spring. The fact that doesn’t sound as crazy as maybe it once did is a testament to the fast beginning to the 2018-2019 campaign for the bears of Beale Street.
With that in mind, and a showdown with the mighty Golden State Warriors tonight at 9:30 PM CT on NBA TV on the horizon, I spoke recently with NBA TV’s Sekou Smith about the somewhat shocking Grizzlies and how they have played so far this season.
The Grizzlies have been what we thought they’d be so far in some ways = better defensively, weak offensively. What has been your biggest takeaway from the early play of the Grizzlies?
SEKOU SMITH- I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from them. I, like others, was taken aback by how far they had fallen. But it speaks to the continuity of having Marc Gasol and Mike Conley…the guys who have been there. Of course it is hard to make proclamations early, but they’ve been doing it with collective defense…not one particular guy, but it’s a group playing on a string. Having everybody on the same wavelength, and it starts with Marc Gasol. A few years ago he was considered arguably the best all-around big in the NBA…them now playing to their strengths is what is helping them defensively.
Mike Conley and Marc Gasol make Memphis much better when they are on the floor together. Why are they so overlooked as a duo?
SMITH- For Conley, it is about availability. He is such a dynamic play maker and shot maker…you take him for granted at times, but then you take him out and the Grizzlies are that much worse. To be in the All-Star conversation in the Western Conference, you have to be a great player. Gasol, he is so important on both ends as well.
Grizzlies fans are very excited about Jaren Jackson Jr. What do you like most about his potential, and what is his most glaring weakness in his game?
SMITH- Youth is both his greatest strength and weakness. He is the prototype at his position and has remarkable potential…but he is still growing in to his body. He probably has no idea just how great he can be. Starting in Summer League seeing how well he was shooting, then in workouts in predraft...team personnel was blown away by his youth and length. They only scratched the surface of what he can do. Upside is a scary word, but that has to be a part of the evaluation process with JJJ. He is going to be so much different 3, 4, 5 years from now…he has the work ethic, the desire, the pedigree…you have to feel really good about what Memphis got there at #4.
Which new addition to the Grizzlies roster do you like best so far for Memphis?
SMITH- Shelvin Mack is critical in terms of having a solid back-up point guard to spell Mike Conley. He gives you a different look, and is an everyman point guard – he can fill whatever need the Grizzlies have. Given Conley’s injury history, you need someone who can run the team without needing to be the focal point. It’s not about him being a star, it’s about doing exactly what the Grizzlies need him to be. I love Kyle Anderson and Garrett Temple as well, but Mack filled a pressing need.
The Warriors are the standard in the NBA, yet the Grizzlies have opted to build in a different fashion. Can Memphis’ “Grit and Grind” retool slow down the Golden State juggernaut?
SMITH- Memphis can try to slow them down, but Golden State is a different breed. They are a difficult matchup for everyone because they can do anything. It’s impossible to cope what they’re doing – serendipity was involved in building that roster, but they allowed the young group to grow together and put the right pieces around those players, plus the opportunity to add Kevin Durant…you’re wasting your time trying to copy.
I like the contrarian approach…make Golden State as uncomfortable as possible in a style that suits you. It worked for Memphis before, so it is smart business to me. If you do not have the personnel to compete in that way, build around your best talent. It makes a lot of sense to me.
Thanks to Sekou for joining us, and make sure you catch Grizzlies-Warriors on NBA TV tonight at 9:30 PM CT!