Familiarity breeds contempt, so get to know the Memphis Grizzlies
It has been a while since the San Antonio Spurs held the no. 1 overall seed in the Western Conference, so this former familiar theme may not be all that familiar at all, but stop me if you’ve heard this one before:
On Sunday the San Antonio Spurs are set to face off against one of the most dangerous eighth seeds in recent memory, and given the Spurs vulnerabilities, it should be an intriguing matchup.
And this is not your typical eighth seed. This is a Memphis Grizzlies team that called its own shot and blatantly tanked to get to that eighth seed, specifically to play against these San Antonio Spurs (or, you know, to avoid the Lakers–which is totally understandable).
The Memphis Grizzlies are the mythological dangerous eighth seed, a young group of unknowns. And there is great fear in the unknown. So, to ease the mind of the San Antonio faithful I asked Chip Crain of TrueHoop’s 3 Shade of Blue to shine some light and drop some knowledge on the Grizzlies. Now that we’ve had a few years to evaluate the Pau Gasol trade, the Memphis Grizzlies are once again an 8th seed which is about where they were when they had the elder Gasol. Looking back, where are the Grizzlies now comparative to where they were with a healthy Pau Gasol before he got hurt and was later traded, and is this playoff appearance enough to deem the trade a success for Memphis?
No this one season byÂ itself isnâ€™t enough to consider the trade a success. It’s the promise of future development however that makes it encouraging.
Marc Gasol (26), Darrell Arthur (23), Zach Randolph (29), Greivis Vasquez (23), Sam Young (25) and Hamed Haddadi (26) are all here because the Grizzlies wanted draft picks and free cash for Pau Gasol instead of some middle of the road veterans who would never have gotten the Grizzlies over the hump. The first Grizzlies playoff teams were average talent-wise outside of Pau and were getting long in the tooth. The team had not made the playoffs in two seasons when Gasol was traded as well. This wasnâ€™t the team that won 49 games and finished 4th in the Western Conference anymore. It was a broken team. The team needed to be blown up down to the very last player and started over.
Memphis, which now has one of the youngest teams in the league, is getting better. Rudy Gay, who San Antonio didnâ€™t have to face this season, had a breakout season setting career highs in FG%, rebounding, assists, blocks and steals and is now signed for four more seasons (until he turns 30). Mike Conley had a breakout season and is signed for five more years. Sam Young is in his 2nd season. O J Mayo is 23 and finishing his 3rd year. Darrell Arthur just turned 23 in March. Xavier Henry is only 19. Ish Smith and Vasquez are both rookie PGs behind Conley. There are only 2 players on the team over 30 years old and neither are major contributors. Shane Battier is 32 and his role would be non-existent if not for Rudyâ€™s injury and Jason Williams isnâ€™t even with the team right now while he treats his bad back.
The difference between the 2005-06 team (the Grizzlies last playoff team) and this one is this team hasnâ€™t peaked yet. The future is very bright and the team has financial flexibility to sign Gasol and Randolph for the future. This team is beginning a run up the playoff standings and that makes it encouraging.
The salary space saved from the Gasol trade was given to Zach Randolph, which a few years ago would have been deemed a heavily lopsided trade. What is the difference on and off the court between the Jail Blazers Randolph and the current Grizzlies incarnation?
Age and maturity. Zach was a kid in Portland and around veterans who were not good role models either. He fell in with a bad crowd and didnâ€™t do what he needed to do to improve as a player. Zach Randolph today is 29, has a family and is surrounded by a team that looks to him for leadership. People know that Zach won three player of the week awards this season and was player of the month in January but they donâ€™t realize he also won the Community Assist Award in December for his contributions to the Memphis community. Basically Zach has grown up.
When Randolph was in Portland he was too young to handle the responsibility of leading a team. The same was true with the Knicks. In LA he started maturing but it was lost in the bad press and the bad team he played on. He also suffered through numerous injuries because he didnâ€™t get in good enough shape and off-court situations that masked what he was accomplishing on the court. When Zach was healthy in both New York and LA the teams won games. When he was out they lost a lot but people blamed him for the losing.Then came the 2009 draft which the Clippers won. By drafting Blake Griffin Z-Bo was expendable. Being traded for Quentin Richardson forced Zach to look into the mirror and what he saw he didnâ€™t like. He was now a father of a young girl and he didnâ€™t want her to read about him in the papers anymore. He got into the best shape he had ever been in. He settled down his life off the court and the results have been fantastic for the Grizzlies.
Tony Allen was one of the biggest surprise bargains of the off season, can you tell us what he’s meant to the Grizzlies this season and what’s made him such a successful defender? How do you anticipate his matchup with Manu Ginobili (assuming eventual health) and does he fare well against jet point guards like Tony Parker?
Tony Allen was always a great defender. His struggles had more to do with injuries and the players ahead of him on the roster than his talent. In last seasonâ€™s playoff run for the Celtics Allen was the defensive stopper off the bench and he was extremely effective against LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Vince Carter. It is likely the Celtics wouldnâ€™t have been in the Finals if not for Allenâ€™s defensive presence.
When Allen broke into the lineup with the Grizzlies he became a presence on defense and the younger players learned from him. His effort, preparation and spirit has been infectious among the younger players and he probably has had a larger impact on the teamâ€™s success than any other player including Zach. With Allen and Randolph the young players on the Grizzlies suddenly had leaders on the team who came to play and played hard every night.
Manu however is a difficult matchup for Tony. Allen excels by overplaying on defense. Most players are more passive on defense than Tony. That is why the Grizzlies have led the league in steals this season. Manu is very smart. He knows how to create space and get fouls called. If Allen gets in early foul trouble the Grizzlies will be in big trouble. If Allen stays within himself and forces Manu to beat him from outside the Grizzlies should do well.
Lionel Hollins, of all Chris Wallace’s moves, might have been his best with the work he’s done with the Grizzlies this year.Â He should be mentioned in the Coach of the Year race and is one of the better unknown coaches among casual fans. Since few outside of Memphis know who he is, describe him as a coach and what you expect from him in his first playoff series–against Popovich no less.
Well as much as I respect Chris Wallce, Lionel Hollins was a pure Michael Heisley hire. We need to give the owner credit for that decision. I agree that while Hollinsâ€™ shouldnâ€™t win Coach of the Year he should be included in the conversation with what heâ€™s accomplished with one of the youngest teams in the league.
Hollins has accomplished something almost unheard of in the modern NBA game. He has the team playing old school basketball. The Grizzlies donâ€™t rely on outside shooting preferring to pound inside. They led the league in paint points by a ridiculously large margin scoring over 50 points a game every night. Teams know this about the Grizzlies too but they struggle stopping it because the Grizzlies big men pass the ball very well, even Zach Randolph! Hollins has taught the team to trust what they do well and minimize what they donâ€™t.
Hollins is excitable as a coach and has been known to get a technical foul when he feels his team has been slighted by the refs but he also shows remarkable restraint and calm when dealing with the younger players. Hollins knows how to push the right buttons. When Conley was struggling he took him under his wing and was a father figure to him. Conversely when Gasol was struggling he challenged Marc to do more. Hollins understands his team emotionally and that helps everyone give their best effort on the court.
Itâ€™s easy to say that but itâ€™s hard to make a team believe it. Hollins earned the players trust last season with how he dealt with the Allen Iverson fiasco. Hollins never treated Iverson any different than any other player on the team. Once Iversonâ€™s attitude was removed from the team the players rallied behind Hollins. They believe in him. That helped this season when Hollins realized the team needed to make changes in the lineup. Mayo especially could have been a major problem when he was asked to come off the bench but everyone on the team knew Hollins was only doing this to improve the team.
I expect Hollins will continue that controlled excitement in the playoffs. His experience as a rookie PG on a World Championship team in Portland shows he has the ability to calm his emotions and elevate his play to the occasion. The team is learning that from him. If the Grizzlies lose the series fast it wonâ€™t be because Hollins didnâ€™t prepare them or that he made poor decisions during the game. If the Grizzlies lose quickly it will be because San Antonio is just that much more experienced and talented. Coaching canâ€™t overcome that.
The Grizzlies blatantly tanked to drop down to the eighth seed and face the Spurs, which in all fairness with the Lakers in play was probably the right move. Still, what are your thoughts on Hollins strategy and at what odds would you put the Grizzlies’ chances of an upset?
I believe the Grizzlies felt that it really didnâ€™t make a big difference if they played San Antonio, Los Angeles or Dallas. All of those teams have more experience in pressure situations than anyone on the Grizzlies. The only way the Grizzlies would be able to compete and possibly win would be to have their best players well rested and ready to play. A drawn out battle in Portland with a follow up game the next night in Los Angeles would not have given the team enough time to rest and prepare for their next opponent.
Did the Grizzlies throw the games to get San Antonio? No. Absolutely not. They tried to win those games. Both were close with a few minutes to go in the game before the inexperience of the team took its toll. However, if the Grizzlies want to win in the playoffs they needed Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Mike Conley and the rest in the best shape possible at this time of the year. It was a move to prepare the team for what is to come. Only time will tell if it was a smart decision or not.
Is the biggest regret of the Thabeet trade now that the networks will not have a reason to show DeJuan Blair flipping him over his back in college (joking)?
I wish that was the biggest regret.
The difference between Memphis today and Oklahoma City today comes down to who the teams picked with the 2nd pick in the draft. Oklahoma City took Kevin Durant over Al Horford and Mike Conley. Memphis took Hasheem Thabeet over Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry. When OKC was one of the worst teams in the league they got a franchise changing player. For the four years Memphis was among the worst teams in the league they never got an opportunity for such a player.
The one bright spot was the decision to give up on Thabeet as quickly as they did. As bad as the pick was, the decision to cut him loose fast has at least softened the blow of the deal. Without Thabeetâ€™s $5 million plus contract the team can resign Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph much easier and that means the team can continue to develop their core which will make a difference going forward for this franchise.
If the Grizzlies upset the Spurs, it will be becauseâ€¦
San Antonio missed from the perimeter. Memphis is a poor perimeter team on both the offensive and defensive end. San Antonio will struggle with the Grizzlies inside game but for the Spurs to lose they have to miss the outside shots which will likely most often be uncontested. That is the major difference between the two teams right now. Memphis has to prevent San Antonio from getting three points on made baskets so the Grizzlies superior paint scoring can give them the advantage.
I would be more optimistic about Memphisâ€™ chances if I had seen the team improving on perimeter defense but so far it hasnâ€™t happened.