Before Wednesday’s big game against Memphis, I exchanged questions with Brandon Conner of Grizzly Bear Blues about what to expect from the new-look Grizzlies, who come into the game with a 25-18 record. You can read the other half of our exchange, where I talk about the Wizards over on Grizzly Bear Blues.
1. The Grizzlies spent a lot of money over the summer to keep Mike Conley and bring in Chandler Parsons. How are fans handling the adjustment to being a team with one of the biggest payrolls in the NBA and the expectations that come with spending big money?
Well, at one point people were comparing the number of Instagram posts Chandler Parsons had made since joining to Grizzlies to the number of points he’d scored, so I’d say fans are still getting acclimated to the experience. I do think fans are happy to know that ownership is willing to go out and spend money to make the team better. Sure, there’s always the cap floor and the Grizzlies will still want to avoid the tax, but just knowing that the owners aren’t going to pass up the opportunity to sign a guy just to save a little cash. It’s at least boosted confidence in ownership, in my opinion.
2. There's been a lot of talk about how the Grizzlies have been able to make the pivot from Grit N Grind to a team that can play pace and space. What's been the biggest key to making the change so quickly and so successfully?
The biggest move was moving JaMychal Green (not to be confused with former starting forward also named J. Green) in place of Zach Randolph. That move signified a shift away from their identity of having two bigs clogging the paint and allowed them to operate with more space in the middle. With Green moving out to the corner to take threes (his numbers out there aren’t great, but he’s still taking those shots), and the added threat of Marc Gasol shooting from behind the arc, Memphis really operates with five guys (okay, maybe four guys and Tony Allen) who are threats from deep.
Starting JaMychal in the also offers a lot more defensive versatility in terms of switching pick and rolls, which Fizdale has heavily emphasized. As for pace, the Grizzlies still play really slow basketball. They’re the third slowest team in the league, so while they’ve added shooting, they still haven’t quite managed to shake the mud from their veins just yet.
3. Marc Gasol revealed to the world he could hit threes at a very high rate the first time the Wizards and Grizzlies met this season. Does Memphis have anything up their sleeves this time around that we should know about?
Marc is still taking threes, but in terms of new surprises, it’s really just a couple of new guys: Troy Daniels and Chandler Parsons. Both guys were on the roster last time these teams met, but neither played. Parsons was still recovering from his knee surgery. Daniels, on the other hand, was unplayable thanks to being a defensive liability. Parsons will likely play the first half, since he’s still on a minutes restriction, and it’s anyone’s guess what he’s able to do. Daniels will likely play most of his minutes in the second half, and he’s there for one thing: three-point shooting. Daniels has had off nights (like against Chicago this Sunday), but when he’s on, he’s tough to deal with. The Wizards will need to be ready to deal with his threat from range.
4. The West is pretty jumbled up between the 4-7 spots at the moment. Where do you think Memphis will wind up when it's all said and done?
Unless the Clippers continue to suffer massive injury problems with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul (which is still a possibility), I don’t see the Grizzlies catching the Clippers for the four seed, and I think the Jazz, are the most likely candidate to land the fifth seed. That basically means it’s down to Memphis and Oklahoma City for the sixth and seventh seeds.
Both teams have their questions. OKC is more or less completely reliant on Westbrook producing at an otherworldly level and remaining healthy. Memphis has health concerns of their own, but they’ve at least shown to this point that they can handle injuries to Mike Conley and others. Losing Gasol would be, in my opinion, at least, a much bigger blow, but, fortunately, Gasol looks like he’s fully back from the foot injury that sidelined him last season. I think the Grizzlies are the more talented team, and more balanced, so my best guess is that Memphis finishes the season sixth in the West, which isn’t a bad spot to be in. As the six seed, they’d likely face off against Houston in the first round, and if they can get past the Rockets, they wouldn’t have to worry about Golden State until the Conference Finals. Yes, this is thinking way too far ahead, but it’s never too soon to start planning for playoffs.
5. What do you think the Grizzlies will try to address at the trade deadline?
The most likely move they make is to bolster the backup point guard spot. Right now, Andrew Harrison, who’s been the backup for most of the year, is out of the rotation while Fizdale tries to get Troy Daniels more minutes. This means that backup point duties have fallen to Tony Allen, which seems less than ideal. I think Vince Carter and Brandan Wright are the most movable pieces at the moment (Wright has a good contract even though he’s had health issues, and Vince can still play minutes on the wing and has an expiring deal), and I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to find a team willing to make a two-for-one deal to free up a roster spot. Someone else has also floated the idea of bringing Rondo in if the Bulls were to cut him, but I think I’d rather perform my own root canal than watch Rondo in a Grizzly uniform.
BONUS - Is there a pair of NBA players that would make a better tag-team wrestling duo than Zach Randolph and Bryant Reeves?
I can't think of one. Some people might say Z-Bo and Tony, just because they’ve played together so long, but I think you’re probably right.