The Memphis Grizzlies have officially reached the halfway point of the 2018 NBA season, and just how successful this first half of the campaign has been depends on who you ask. For those inspired by the team’s 12-5 start to the campaign, the fact they have gone 7-17 since then is a pretty big disappointment. For others who saw Memphis struggling this season, 19-22 at the halfway mark is a drastic improvement over the disaster that was the 2017-2018 Grizzlies. As of this writing Memphis is 3.5 games out of the eight seed in the loaded Western Conference, and the next few weeks will play a huge part in just what the Grizzlies do come the trade deadline a month from now.
I have assembled a great collection of GBB writers to give their takes on the first 41 games of the season. In Part I, GBB Senior Writers Parker Fleming and McCarty Maxwell, along with GBB Writers Lauren Harvey, Darren Jeans, and Colin Griffith, take a crack at surprises, disappointments, and who has made the most impact?
Who has been your biggest surprise for the season so far for the Grizzlies?
Parker Fleming (@PAKA_FLOCKA)- The biggest surprise has got to be Garrett Temple. At the beginning of the season, I wasn’t sold on him to be solid as he’s been this season. He’s been a good starting 2-guard alongside Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, as he plays tough defense, shoots well from 3, and doesn’t command the ball too often.
McCarty Maxwell (@McCartyMaxwell)- I am surprised by Marc Gasol. He has been a staple in Memphis for most (all) of the Grizzlies recent success, there is no denying that. Yet last year he lacked in a lot of ways as this team was struggling. His leadership was hit or miss night to night, his skills on the floor suffered because of his lack of interest, and he proved that he needed another playmaker on the floor to be effective. This year has been more of the same. He started the season simmering, the team was playing well and there was an obvious bounce in his step. Now that the tables have turned, he is back to last season form.
He is struggling through an injury right now, but I am also surprised he isn’t choosing to sit himself out.
Lauren Harvey (@DragicKingdom)- It has to be Jaren Jackson Jr. With all the doom and gloom surrounding the franchise, it is terrifying to think that we could be suffering through this stretch with Miles Bridges as our draft pick (and I like Miles Bridges!) For someone that was supposed to be a project, Jaren has shown a more polished game than many anticipated this early in his career. For fans looking to get through what has quickly become a rough season, my advice is to watch each game with zero expectations and enjoy the 19 year old rookie who will anchor the team on both ends of the court for years to come.
Darren Jeans (@TwoWordsForYa)- J.B. Bickerstaff. Coming into year two, I expected a lot more from him when it comes to development of young players, and management of rotations. Instead, we’ve seen inconsistency with Jevon Carter being in and out of the rotation, and questionable time management for star rookie Jaren Jackson Jr.
Colin Griffith (@colingriffGBB)- This one is pretty straight forward to me: Jaren Jackson Jr. He’s displayed the skills that scouts coveted coming into the league, as well as some we thought would take more time to develop. His post game and rebounding skills are farther along than anticipated, adding to the belief that Jackson is a real franchise cornerstone. His existing flaws are well documented, but JJJ looks better than I hoped he would have this soon.
Who has been the biggest disappointment for Memphis in your eyes?
Fleming- The biggest disappointment isn’t necessarily about his play, as it’s more about how this season shaped out for him. After a great rookie season, it was going to be fascinating to see if Dillon Brooks could take a leap in a winning situation. Unfortunately, he never got into a good rhythm, playing in only 18 games due to injury.
Maxwell- JB Bickerstaff, no question. I once wrote an article about how coaching doesn’t matter in the NBA and I still stand by that for the most part. Yet on this Memphis roster, full of players that can’t create their own shot or take over games, coaching is at an all-time premium. Bickerstaff has done nothing to deserve his job; the early season success seemed to be a product of role players playing above their personal average, and yet J.B. has found no solutions to make this team relevant. He hasn’t figured out consistent lineups, schematically this team is pitiful, and though he is known as a “player’s coach”, he isn’t getting the most out of this team.
Harvey- Marc Gasol. Is there precedent for a player playing the best basketball of his career one month and the worst basketball of his career the very next month? You can point to Shelvin Mack all you want but this is a stars league and the teams decline is intertwined with Marc’s. Even if his slide is injury related, Marc needs to recognize when he is doing more harm than good for the team by playing through injury.
Jeans- Chandler Parsons. He delivered a nicely worded piece in the beginning of the year asking for a second chance with Memphis, which I heavily criticized, and now he’s no longer with the team. To say he has been a disappointment is an understatement.
Griffith- Biggest disappointment to me is Chandler Parsons. I understand that not all the drama happening recently is his fault, the front office bears as much blame. But that doesn’t mean Chandler isn’t faultless. Between Chandler’s Jimmy Butler impersonation and choosing to continue his rehabilitation outside Memphis, the Parsons storyline has just added to the insanity that has become the Grizzlies’ season.
What has played the biggest factor in the season playing out this way for the Grizzlies?
Fleming- The biggest factor this season has got to be the conveyed pick to Boston. Obviously, at the beginning of the season, the goal -- and the most likely outcome for the season -- was returning to the playoffs and conveying the pick. Now, it’s looking more and more likely that the Grizzlies finish in the 6-8 range and keep the pick, causing the pick owed to Boston to continue lingering like a dark cloud over this franchise.
Maxwell- Mike Conley. This season would be a replica of last year (and still may be) if it weren’t for some big games from the Conductor. He has played well this season, overshadowed by how poorly the team is around him, yet he continues to produce consistent, top tier point guard performances. Without him, this team becomes the Western Conference version of the Cleveland Cavaliers and I can hardly wrap my mind around that. Conley won’t be an All-Star, but he has shown that even after injury, he is player to be respected in this league.
Harvey- Lack of communication from the front office, specifically with players. So much of what has transpired lately feels like it could have been avoided or at least mitigated if the front office wasn’t such a cloak and dagger mess. Going into this season the locker room was thought to be a major strength and now it seems there is a newly disgruntled player weekly. There needs to be a major house cleaning sooner than later.
Jeans- Chris. Wallace. Surrounding Mike and Marc with less than ideal talent, excluding Brooks (Dillon Brokks that is) and Jackson Jr., has played out not so well. Drafting Jackson Jr deserved praise, but surrounding the rest of the team with mediocre talent doesn’t.
Griffith- I would say one of the biggest factors has been the health of the players. Parsons has played three games. JaMychal Green missed almost a month after breaking his jaw. Dillon Brooks was just announced to be out for the rest of the year while Gasol slogs his way through ankle problems. While none of these are as big as Conley’s Achilles injury last season, there is no doubt that the health of the players has been a factor when taking the Grizzlies season into account thus far.
Thanks to this great crew of GBBers for participating in our midseason roundtable! Check out Part II here!