The Memphis Grizzlies are currently heading in the wrong direction.
Four straight losses do not tell the full story. Six of their last seven, and ten of their last fourteen, have gone the way of the L for Memphis. This is no longer a “hey, bad stretch, they’ll be fine.” This is a full-blown, potentially season-defining problem. From the top of the loaded Western Conference to the outskirts of the current playoff picture, this run of poor play has essentially eliminated what was a hot start to the season.
There are two key pieces to ponder while looking at this reality...
- This is probably who the Grizzlies are. Barring a trade, they are a .500 team that’s fighting for their playoff lives throughout the season. But that was viewed as a good thing compared to where the team was last season - at this stage of the campaign they were 9-22. The team is still back to being relevant, but that doesn’t necessarily mean postseason realities. And that is OK.
- This has been partially self-inflicted. You cannot help slumps from Marc Gasol probably involving health (seriously, give the guy a night off) or injuries to Mike Conley. Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich could be the head coach of this roster and struggle without one, or both, of those guys performing at a high level. But J.B. Bickerstaff shoots himself in the foot in spots that make the difference in competitive games.
To the grades...let’s start with positive vibes-
Kyle Anderson (15 points on 8 shots, 5 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists, 1 block, +6)
Yes. Yes, yes, yes. A thousand times yes.
This is who Kyle Anderson can be. A point forward who can defend/play multiple positions and cause chaos in passing lanes while facilitating offense. A wing whose versatility creates mismatches whether it is while cutting to the lane for easy lay-ups against undersized wings or deflecting passes in to the post against bigs trying to post up. Kyle’s unique skill set fits what the Grizzlies what to be right down to the weirdness of his slow-motion steps at the rim on drives. His signing looks more and more smart by the day, especially when the coaching staff puts the ball in his hand and gives him opportunity to succeed.
Jaren Jackson Jr. (16 points on 12 shots, 50% from three, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists, +13)
What more can you ask from your rookie star?
Friendly reminder - he is only 19.
The sooner he is made out to be the third option for this team on a consistent basis, with the minutes (29 isn’t enough) and direct focus in terms of different ways of getting him the basketball (way too many post-ups, not enough pick and pops and even quick runs off of elbow screens), the sooner the Grizzlies will start to see improvement.
It’s really that simple.
Quick Good Grades
- Garrett Temple gets a B+ for a night in which he looked far more engaged, especially early. He had a chase down block of C.J. McCollum and was a defensive force, posting two blocks and two steals. He only had 10 points, but news flash, that is what he is supposed to. Expecting much more from Temple leads to missing what makes him most effective. He’s a role player for a reason.
- Ivan Rabb also receives a B+ for a darn good eight point/seven rebound showing in ten minutes of play. The only reason it isn’t an A is he didn’t record a defensive stat (no blocks or steals), but that’s nit-picking. This kid showed he is possibly ready for a larger role with the big club, bringing energy to the team when they desperately needed it - especially on the offensive glass. He needs more showings like this, but it was a heck of a start.
Now, for those that need improvement-
Marc Gasol and Mike Conley: Combined 11-32 from the field, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, 4 steals, 2 blocks
Now I am lumping them together because as they go, the Grizzlies go. But this game is graded on a curve for Conley - he was coming off a one-game absence (the right call) for a sore hamstring and clearly was still finding that comfort exploding to the rim. His ten three-point field goal attempts show that to an extent. But he did score 23 points on 19 shots, with five made threes, and facilitated with six assists. Considering his banged-up status, not an awful night.
The same can (kind of) be said for Gasol, who once again shot a putrid percentage (4-13 is no bueno, Big Spain) but did put up nine boards, four rebounds, and four steals along with a block. Most assume Marc is either hurt, tired, or both - it is probably both - but if he is going to play, 4-13 and 1-6 from beyond the arc is not going to cut it offensively. He does get credit for impacting the game in other areas.
Certainly not a failing effort from the cornerstones. But you need far, far more from Marc and Mike to win. This is not a new development.
Now usually I would grade JaMychal Green (two points on six shots, two blocks, one rebound, one assist, -25 in 21 minutes) and Shelvin Mack (two points on five shots - no made field goals - two assists, two steals, -23 in 22 minutes) harshly in this space and give them Fs, because they both played terrible, terrible basketball last night. Green was owned by Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard, and Mack looked out of sorts himself against the Portland reserves. They were bad.
They shouldn’t have been out there. They failed against Portland, but Grizzlies Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff failed them.
Bickerstaff, who deserves credit for attempting to establish an identity with this team and earning an opportunity to be a full, not interim NBA head coach, is struggling with rotations to the point where he seems to have lost sight of the point of the roster.
keeps going.— Fastbreak Breakfast (@fastbreakbreak) December 20, 2018
16th CONSECUTIVE GAME the #Grizzlies have used a different lineup combination to start the 2nd quarter
There is no rotation. There is spaghetti being thrown at a wall, trying to see what sticks.
In that kind of situation, it is hard for rhythm to be established. Athletes are creatures of habit. They crave routine, and discipline, and knowing what their role is and where they belong. If you’re a member of the Grizzlies, and there have been 16 straight 2nd quarters where the lineup is different, where is the opportunity for familiarity with a group of players? How can a player be expected to develop continuity with anyone when the faces around them are constantly changing.
Shelvin Mack and JaMychal Green have both had success for the Grizzlies this season. But they did not have it last night, and the most frustrating thing about that is there are players on the roster that can help and push those veterans when they’re struggling. Jaren Jackson Jr. (to a lesser extent - perhaps the rookie is on a “pitch count”), Ivan Rabb, and Jevon Carter were all available to Bickerstaff to take minutes from the struggling Green and Mack. But Jevon played 12 minutes, and Rabb played 10, while JaMychal and Shelvin were allowed to continue to piss away leads and miss assignments and shots.
Individual game plus/minus is a flawed stat...but when there is a large disparity, it’s obvious who the weak link is. Wayne Selden Jr. wasn’t particularly good last night either, but his -12 in nine minutes of play is evidence that J.B. can see when a player doesn’t have it and move on from them. He was, for whatever reason, unwilling to do the same thing with Green and Mack...and that reliance on veterans even when struggling, plus his consistent lack of a rotation system, cost them a game last night.
The Memphis Grizzlies are back in action tomorrow night against the Sacramento Kings. Tip-off is set for 9:00 PM CT.