The Grizzlies lost to the Milwaukee Bucks Monday night, extending the losing streak to 18 games. Though the wins will be few and far between to close out this season (Memphis legitimately may not win another game), there were a few positives to take from this game. Milwaukee is a good team, competing for home court advantage is the Eastern Conference playoff race, so this looked to be a good match-up for the young guys of Memphis.
The team now consists of Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green as the only players with real NBA experience. The rest of the roster is basically G-Leaguers wearing NBA jerseys - give or take a Chandler Parsons, they are all young guys looking to make a name for themselves in this league. The experience is just not there to compete at a high level every night, or any night for that matter. Teams that bring in legit NBA scorers like Milwaukee are notorious for giving this young Grizzly roster fits. That proved true once again Monday night, but there were signs of improvement on both ends.
Below are my grades for last nights matchup.
Point guard play, C+
It is worth noting that the starting point guard last night was Kobi Simmons, a G-Leaguer on a two way contract. His backup was Xavier Rathan-Mayes, a 10-day signee for this team. Rathan-Mayes has looked out of place, despite his demeanor showing that he fits in this league. He can’t really do anything well, but has good size and a hint of athleticism. Simmons continues to show signs of being a nice backup option for Mike Conley next season. But Monday night they played well on both ends of the floor.
Simmons added nine points and five assists with only one turnover. Rathan-Mayes was not great, 0-5 from the field (2-4 from the free throw line) with just two points and two turnovers. In his defense, its hard to learn any job in just 10 days, much less to adjust to the speed of an NBA game. I combined their play to give them a better grade overall. The best part of their game was the combined defense played against Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe is a legitimate NBA scorer, he was held to 14 points on 6-13 shooting; the young Grizzlies also cause Bledsoe to foul five times.
Marc Gasol, B
Gasol looked completely engaged. He started the game strong, looking to score by actually making moves toward the rim. He commanded the ball in the post and was really the only person on the Memphis roster that could create his own shot. He led the team in scoring with 17 points on 8-17 shooting. He is sitting on back-to-backs now, so coming off four days rest he played 31 minutes (a team high) and looked like the leader he needed to be.
Keep in mind, he is getting a ton of touches on this roster, so with more responsibility on both ends, the spotlight will be on his play even more. Opposing teams double team him often, forcing others to score and play roles they normally wouldn’t. In this game specifically, he was defending the more athletic and rim-running John Henson. That wasn’t a great matchup for Gasol, but he handled it well.
Ben McLemore, B-
You won’t believe your eyes, but Ben McLemore looks good right now. In the month of March he is averaging 14.6 points per game on 50% (!) shooting. He is also shooting 43.5% from three point land. He is finally getting real minutes, mostly because he has proven to be a tank MVP on this roster, but lately he has been making the most of those minutes. His shooting has improved obviously, but the real improvement is his shot selection. His patience on the offensive end has given him open shots, shots that aren’t forced and looking for contact.
McLemore is still a huge liability on defense, and from the looks of his play, that is due to his effort. He has the athleticism and size to be competitive defensively, but he hasn’t sold himself out to the Memphis style of defense. Once he realizes that his minutes will be earned on that end, he could actually be a complete player worthy of more than just garbage minutes. He has been fun to watch recently. Against Milwaukee he tallied 16 points on 6-9 shooting, and most importantly: 3-4 from three.
Team effort, B
One thing you cannot take away from this team is effort. The players are just not very good, and they are most definitely not assembled very well on this roster. But no one is questioning their effort. Some of that is due to the current state of most of the young guys, they are competing for a spot in the NBA. Aside from Marc Gasol, Chandler Parsons, and JaMychal Green, the rest of the roster hasn’t shown anyone that they are worthy paying millions to play NBA basketball. Each game is so important for them to build their resume, which has made the young guys fun to watch.
Monday night was no different. The offensive end is tough to watch, no one can create their own shot, and even wide open jumpers are made to look difficult. But they continue to sprint down the floor, work through sets, and try to gain some confidence in each of their abilities. Defensively this team is average at best, atrocious at worst. Milwaukee was a good match-up, but the Bucks shot out of their mind from three, forcing the Grizzlies to play spread out more than usual. Giannis didn’t get into a rhythm, which is a feat in itself. And though the Buck won, this was one of the best efforts I have seen from Memphis in a long time.
This game was still a loss and it feels cheap to grade a team on a curve in the NBA. The effort was contagious for Memphis and the Bucks didn’t totally dominate on both ends like we are used to seeing opponents do. This game never really looked in reach, but was at least watchable. The young guys are slowly but surely getting better, and if nothing else, are getting valuable minutes that may translate into a few more wins next season.