“If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles...”
The Warriors head into Memphis for a game today against the Grizzlies. Ahead of that, we were lucky enough to share our insider perspective with @ballfromgrace of Grizzly Bear Blues. I asked him about Marc Gasol flying under the radar as potentially the best center in the game, and got a run-down on which of their unheralded players to watch for tonight (spoiler: it’s JaMychal Green, the man who took over Zach Randolph’s starting position in the lineup).
Q1: Is Marc Gasol under-rated?
I know it sounds wishy-washy, but I'd probably say yes and no. Gasol gets good attention from more hardcore NBA fans, he's been an All-Star twice, he's been All-NBA First Team, and he's won Defensive Player of the Year, so it's not like he hasn't been recognized for what he does (like, say, Mike Conley, who's never made the All-Star Game).
Having said that, though, I think his playing in a small market for his whole career means that he doesn't get as much national recognition as he would if he played somewhere like New York or LA. Memphis' style of play, which has long been some of the most un-aesthetically pleasing basketball in the league, certainly hasn't helped that.
I also think another element that plays into that is that the stuff that he does well (defensively guarding the paint, facilitating open looks for teammates, etc.) doesn't translate to national recognition. Gasol has often been passive offensively, which Grizzlies fans have found frustrating at times. There are moments where you want him to take a game over, when you know he can take it over, but he opts to facilitate instead.
We've seen a change in that this season. Fizdale has convinced Marc to start taking threes, and with Conley out, Gasol's usage is trending upwards. He scored 36 points in Memphis' win over Portland, and it's really nice to see him just put the team on his back. If he continues to do that, I don't see any reason why he shouldn't make another All-Star Game this season.
Q2: As seems to be the case lately for your team, injuries appear to be playing a significant part of your young season. Rather than focus on the negative here, can you talk about who has emerged for the Grizz?
This team has had such a problem developing young talent, but there's been a massive change in that department this season. New coach David Fizdale came in with a reputation as a guy who develops young talent, and so far he's lived up to that. Of course, injuries have forced some of the issue, but he's managed his young players really well to this point.
With a lot of their veterans out, Memphis has managed to squeeze production out of a lot of different places. It seems like night in and night out someone else steps up for the team. JaMychal Green's played well taking over the starting role from Zach Randolph, who's turned into a scoring monster coming off the bench.
James Ennis, who the team signed for the room exception this summer, looked like a steal before he got hurt. Rookie Wade Baldwin has had rough patches but also shown flashes of what could be a special player. Toney Daniels hit big shots down the stretch against Portland. And Troy Williams, who the team picked up after he went undrafted, has been fantastic.
My personal "pet cat" this season has been Andrew Harrison. Harrison spent last season in the D-League before getting a guaranteed contract during the summer. A lot of fans didn't like what they saw early out of Harrison, either. People wanted him cut.
But over the course of the season, with Fizdale's support, Harrison has really started to change people's minds. He's still a player with obvious limitations, and his ceiling isn't superstar-level, but he's steadily improving his offense and he plays hard on the defensive end. Just check out his chase-down block on Chris Paul. I think his development has been the most surprising and the most encouraging.
Q3: Looking at point differentials on the season, I can’t help but notice that Memphis somehow has a negative point differential
As per ESPN:
“The Grizzlies have outscored opponents by 19 points in 32 clutch minutes during their 5-game winning streak, despite the absences of Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons and others. Memphis has overcome fourth-quarter deficits of 14 to the Magic, 13 to the Trail Blazers and 10 to the Pelicans during the streak. “
What’s going on here? Is it luck, or is there something special going on right now? Or maybe not just right now but systemically?
These sort of things generally tend to even out in the long run in most cases, but Memphis has always been a special case when it comes to point differential. For the past five or six seasons now, they've outperformed their expected win-loss based on point differential. At this point, I don't think you can call it a fluke.
I also think this is a combination of two things. For one, when this team loses, they tend to lose big. Earlier this season, when they sat Gasol and Conley against Minnesota, they were blown out. That's going to skew their results for the rest of the season, even though it's just one loss. Memphis also tends to win close. They're currently on a five-game winning streak, and their differential over that streak is just +13. It's absurd.
I'm not sure what it is, but this team just likes to win games close. It's not great for your heart, but at least you have confidence that when this team gets into a battle, they've got what it takes to pull through.
Q4: If you were coaching the Grizz, what (if any) adjustments would you make for this game against the Warriors ? Both strategically as well as any roster/rotation decisions?
While Conley and so many other players have been out, Gasol's minutes have steadily increased, and while early returns with Fizdale have been encouraging, the one thing that I've disliked is that he's played Marc too many minutes in games where the outcome felt determined. The Grizzlies need to be full strength to even have a shot at the Warriors, and with so many players already out, I'd be tempted to just sit Gasol.
I don't think that's what will happen, though, especially since this is a home game. My hope then is that Fizdale has a quick hook with Gasol. If the game's out of hand by halftime, rest Gasol for the second. Let Deyonta Davis and Jarell Martin and some of your other young players eat the minutes. It may look ugly on the scoreboard, but I'd take that over risking longterm health.
Q5: Guh. Mike Conley is currently out with a fracture in his back. Obviously we all wish him full health and as quickly as possible; but are you nervous about him and his historic five years and $153 million contract?
Definitely. I think Conley earned a max contract, even if I was hoping he'd take a bit of a discount, but his health and injury history have to be a concern. He's not a big guy, and small guards tend not to age well. Add to that all the time he's missed in the past, and fans are left cringing every time he goes down hard.
I don't think this injury was necessarily wear-and-tear related. It seemed like more of a freak occurrence. Still, going forward, Conley needs to have his minutes managed if the Grizzlies really want to get max value out of this max contract.
Big thanks to Brandon over at Grizzly Bear Blues for taking the time to give us an insiders perspective! Be sure and go say hi (nicely).
You can read GSoM’s excellent preview from the always astute Jason Lee here.