Saturday, October 20, 2007

Rudy Gay: Is He a SG, SF or PF

Marc Iavaroni has a new talk show on WHBQ 56 AM radio. In his inaugural show he made some comments about Rudy Gay and whether he is better served as a wing player or an interior player. Memphis Slim pointed out a particular section of the show about Rudy Gay.

You need to listen to the entire interview because it is not common that NBA coaches actually take the time to do this for their fans. It goes to the whole 'reconnecting with the fans' attitude that we have seen from the Grizzlies this season and is greatly appreciated.

Back to Rudy, Iavaroni made the following comments yesterday.

Rudy is a 4th quarter player right now...He has a lot of skills, a lot of heart and he wants to be a great player.
That has to be music to everyone's ears. Marc discussed the difficulty a 20 yr old kid has in taking charge in the 4th quarter and how he has to develop and grow into that role. Iavaroni also mentioned how he is going to encourage him to be that player. With Gasol and Miller question marks in that role it is good to know that someone is being developed to be the 4th quarter go-to guy.

Iavaroni also discussed how Rudy could be a "Phoenix 4" type of player, comparing him to Shawn Marion.
Basically the Phoenix 4 is, for the fans out there, basically having Shawn Marion at the number 4 spot and having the ability to outrun fours and outspace fours so they have to go out on the floor and guard him where he can knock down jumpers or a three or just drive by them. And just mitigate the difference in size with quickness and jumping ability. Most important is rebounding. The reason it works in Phoenix is because Shawn Marion is an undersized, 6-7 four who can rebound like a big four.
The Key to this working is not losing rebounding and rebounding is a subject for a different blog altogether. However we have seen Rudy's ability to rebound actually improve when he plays the four instead of the two or the three. Why is this?

I think the answer to why Rudy's rebounding appears to improve against the opponents' 4 has to do with the spacing issue Iavaroni brought up. It is far more difficult for a slower big man to get into position for rebounds when playing outside of the paint than it is being closer to the basket. The difficulty Rudy is having at the three has to do with his ball handling, something that was pointed out in before he entered the draft. By putting him at the power forward position his ball handling skills are less exposed against slower and bigger defenders.

Defensively Rudy's speed and leaping ability can offset his lack of bulk providing more than enough defensive pressure to most 4's in the league. In fact against the more perimeter oriented 4s like Dirk Nowiiski, Andrea Bargnani and Antwaan Jamison Rudy may be the better option than Stro, Darko or Pau.

Does this mean Rudy can't be effective as the 3? Absolutely not. Rudy can be a very formidable 3. Rudy's most effective in an open court game and that is true whether he plays the 2, 3 or 4 position. What it does mean that when the Grizzlies want to go 'small' (and remember that Rudy is the same height as Stro) that he can really put additional pressure on teams to match up with him.

Does this mean Rudy can't be effective as the 2? Partially. I believe Rudy can guard most of the 2's in the league and those he can't are generally the types of 2 guards who can't be contained by anyone (Kobe, DWade, etc). However his lack of ball handling skills make it difficult for him to be effective against these players and most 2 guards can find interior support if Rudy tries to post them up. So he wouldn't be effective driving against most 2 guards nor posting them up leaving him to take contested long range shots which is not his forte.

I see Rudy as the combo forward many people thought Hakim could become coming out of college. Hakim failed in this role but Rudy may succeed. Whether or not he reaches the level of Shawn Marion is a debate best saved for a few years down the road. He definitely is no Shawn Marion yet.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Contradictions in an Article

I don't normally take on articles directly but there is an article on HoopsWorld that needs to be taken to task.

Making a list of the NBA's Biggest Contradictions is something that is a fair conversation and it could even be argued that last season Pau's performance didn't correlate to wins as well. However, without taking a look at anything but one season's performance and using such metrics as +/- rating as the sole determinant is a weak argument at best.

Why is +/- a weak determinant you ask? A fair question. Take this into consideration. While Gasol had a negative +/- ratio for the entire season he also was a member of the best 5 man units for the season. A curious dichotomy don't you think? How could Gasol be on the court when the team performed its best and still have a negative +/-? Could it be that Gasol was also on the court when their poorer performing units were on the court? Gasol also played the entire 2nd half of the season when many of the starters took the end of the season off. Could it also be that when he was playing himself into shape his game wasn't as good as when he got healthy?

Consider also that while Gasol had a negative +/- ratio his minutes occurred when the game was in contention against the opposing teams starters. Gasol didn't play against the backups very often. Look at the team's numbers. Do people really believe that Alexander Johnson (who has a positive 5.5 ratio) made the team better when he was on the court but Gasol made his teammates worse? I hope that isn't a conclusion many people would conclude but that is what you are being asked to believe solely using the +/- ratio.

When we use the Wages of Wins ratio instead we find that Gasol produced more wins than any other player on the team last season. Gasol's performance produced 11.5 wins or more than half of the wins the team actually produced last season. What's more the Win Score produced by Wages of Wins actually correlates to the teams actual wins in the season. No such attempt is made with the +/- ratio.

But that doesn't alter the fact that the team was outscored by a greater amount when Gasol was on the court than when he was off the court. Of course he was on the court for a greater percentage of the game than he was off the court as well. Gasol was on the court for 53% of the entire season for the Grizzlies and the team was outscored by 5.3 points during that time. When Gasol wasn't on the court the team was only outscored by 4.8 pts. Of course those 22 games were coached by Mike Fratello who coached a slower game and therefore fewer points were scored by the team. Couldn't that have a greater impact on the +/- rating than saying Gasol doesn't make his teammates better when he is playing?

In fact if you look at the actual numbers when Gasol was on the court vs off the court you will find that the team scored 4.8 more points when he was on the court while only surrendering 4.3 points. That is a positive .5 scoring production when Gasol was on the court vs when he was off it in games he played in.

But that isn't the big problem. The big problem I have with this is that the author put Gasol as the #1 biggest contradiction in the league despite his having a higher PER of any other player on the list and a lower +/- deficiency than anyone else on the list. Why would Pau be singled out as the biggest contradiction when players on winning teams such Allen Iverson (-0.9), Mehmet Okur (-6.6) and Deron Williams (-1.3)who had far worse +/- ratios aren't? Surely if a player had a negative rating on a winning team and was named to the All-Star game like Mehmet Okur would be a larger contradiction than Pau who's team performed poorly no matter who was on the court.

So with Pau we have a player who performed well against starters on a bad team and he is considered the biggest contradiction? Seems more likely the author had a personal bias in rating the players. I am not saying Gasol leads his team to victories but his performance last season surely isn't the largest contradiction in the league.

Especially when you consider that in the 2005-06 season when Gasol played the full year and was healthy his rating was a +4.87.

Links: Zombie Walk, Grizz/Fan Blogs

For those of you who are already planning on attending Opening Night -- Kudos. For those of you who need a little persuasion, how about a free ticket? All you have to do is contact Kyle Knox by Wednesday, October 24th and participate in the Zombie Walk. Opening Night is Halloween, for those of you blissfully unaware of what October 31st is, so they want to see fans in all their Fright Night best.

Duane Craig is going to be there as early at 3:30pm possibly to apply make-up shades and/or gel-10 - liquid latex for gory goodness. There will have plenty of fake blood to go around, plus it's my new mixture that is detergent based....that means it washes clean compared to most fake bloods that heavily stain.
Sounds like a lot of fun and is definitely worth it to get a free seat to see the Memphis Grizzlies take on the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.

I want to use the rest of this post to direct you to some other Grizzlies-related blogs out there on the information superhighway. Plenty of websites and blogs have helped us along the way, so who am I not to return the favor?

Grizz Blogs -- This is a product of the Memphis Grizzlies organization, as they have employed the writing talents of G/F Casey Jacobsen, play-by-play announcer Pete Pranica, Publications & Communications Manager Graham Kendrick and fan blogger Chris Avis (a former ball-boy and intern with the Grizzlies) for this new venture. I enjoyed reading Pranica's thoughts last season on and am very pleased that they are expounding their scope to include other perspectives from within the organization.

Michael Conley's Blog -- You can read about what the young PG goes through in adjusting to the league on his Yardbarker blog, as well as get the inside scoop on jokes about teammates too.

Warrick's World -- Another Yardbarker blog that gives you insight into a player -- in this case F Hakim Warrick.

Kinsey Speaks -- For now you can read Tarence Kinsey's thoughts on his Blogger account here, although I believe he will be posting under the Grizz Blogs page in the near future.
Beyond the Arc (Chris Herrington) -- This is the blog that inspired me to start Shades of Blue, so make sure you tell him thanks (or thanks for nothing, whichever it might be). Chris consistently brings a fresh outlook on the team and is a quality writer to boot.

Beale Street Beat -- Another quality fan blog that helped inspire me, the brain-child of Thomas McKee is a good source for news and commentary on the Grizzlies.

Grizzlies Nation -- Fellow Message Board poster MemphisX is the purveyor of this fine fan site. We don't always agree, but I don't think either of us misses a word the other one types.

Those are the ones that post consistently that I check often, so be sure to let me know if there are any out there that I'm missing. Also check out the Grizzlies Message Board, where you can find some quality discussion amid the rampant homerism and inside jokes. Just be aware that "Calm down Turbo" is a warning best heeded.

UPDATE: Excellent interview with Michael (don't call me Mike or Jr) Conley on where discusses that nasty dribbling exhibition that showed up on YouTube

The NBA as a Fraternity

You hear the comparison all the time: Our team is like a family (or a fraternity). That is usually true of teams, except in occasional cases of dysfunction. When is it ever true of a league though? As I got to the end of this article from Mark Montieth of the Indianapolis Star, I re-read the following passage a few times:

Conley, however, got some in-game pointers from Tinsley, whom he had met but doesn't know well.
"He was trying to help me, even when I was out there," Conley said. "He was telling me to slow down, be patient, let the game come to me. You make the game a lot simpler if you slow it down.
"That's good to know guys around the league will help you out even if they're trying to beat you."

It reminded me of something I had read on AOL's NBA Fanhouse by the incomparable Bethlehem Shoals a few days ago that stated that NBA players will stick together and help each other out, even when that crosses team boundaries. The context he explained it in was in the aftermath of LeBron James wearing a Yankees cap at Jacobs Field, followed by Allen Iverson and Amare Stoudemire supporting the respective teams of their adopted hometowns (the Rockies and D'Backs respectively). Many saw this as them taking a shot at LeBron, but Shoals quickly sought to clear up that misconception. In fact, he even titled the post Amare Likes LeBron, Not You.

Here's a big secret about the NBA: The players are a secret society unto themselves, one that crosses team lines and could care less about on-field rivalries.

NBA players seem to go out of their way to foster relationships with each other. What Jamaal Tinsley did Wednesday night in tutoring Conley speaks volumes about the statement above smacking of truthiness. NBA players, by and large, will help each other out to promote the survival of themselves, as well as their sport. You don't really see that anywhere else. I'm no sociologist or anthropologist, so I won't even try to delve into the possibility of this being racially or culturally related to the predominance of African-American athletes in the NBA, but it does make one stop and wonder. What would the rest of the sports world be like if veterans sought to take young players under their wings to improve the quality of their league?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Memphis vs Miami

Memphis struggled out of the gates again in losing at Indiana. However the defense never showed up against the Pacers as the Grizzlies surrendered by quarter 31, 32, 30 and 29 points. Once again the offense woke up in the 2nd half to score 73 points. No one questions the Grizzlies ability to score. Stopping teams has been the problem. Well that and finding out how bad that sprain is on Pau's ankle. The team hasn't bonded as a unit yet but it is safe to say that they will be working hard on defensive responsibilities over the next week.

Miami has struggled with injuries this preseason but hasn't stopped their habit of inheriting Memphis players to bolster their team. Players with Memphis connections have included former Tiger Earl Barron as well as former Grizzlies Jason Williams and James Posey. This year's additions are former Tiger Penny Hardaway and former Grizzly Alexander Johnson. Penny should be able to play in the game Saturday night so expect a large contingent of fans not cheering for the men in blue in this game. AJ may have a chip on his shoulder in this game.

Point Guard: Kyle Lowry vs Jason Williams
I know a lot of people will come to this game to see former Grizz point guard Jason Williams. Finally getting healthy after struggling with different ailments so far in camp JWill should get extended minutes in this game. Who will start for the Grizzlies is a much bigger question. Damon started the first three games but doesn't look capable of playing the uptempo style that Iavaroni has expressed a desire to play and can't defend well enough to prevent opponents from breaking down the defense. Kyle Lowry has looked great off the bench but only average as a starter. His passing hasn't been that impressive and his shooting isn't very good at all. Mike Conley posted his first double double against Indiana with 11 pts and 10 assists in only 29 minutes. Maybe it is Mike's turn to show off. Backing up JWill is Smush Parker. Keep an eye on Chris Quinn as well for Miami.

Shooting Guard: Mike Miller vs Dorell Wright
Mike had an off night offensively with only 4 attempts against Indiana. Most peculiar since with Gasol's absence you would expect Mike to step it up more offensively. Maybe the rumors about him being dealt are affecting him. JCN and TK are battling for back up minutes at the 2 and their battle is getting heated. Dorell Wright has been talked about as the next great player for two years but he never has really had a chance to show off his stuff until now. With Penny hobbled, DWade out and Posey gone Wright is being given his chance to shine. Penny should be ready to play in this game so expect to seem him at both the point and the 3 as well as the 2. Daequan Cook should also see some minutes at the 2.

Small Forward: Rudy Gay vs Antoine Walker
Walker is reportedly out of shape but what else can Riley do but start him? Walker has always played well against the Grizzlies in the past and he will be a tough matchup for Rudy. Walker has unlimited range and uses his Barkley-esque butt to grab boards and bang in the middle. When on his game he is a very difficult matchup for anyone in the league. However with his eating habits that isn't usually a problem. Devin Green, Joel Anthony and Jeremy Richardson all may see minutes if Penny can't go. Casey Jacobsen should continue to get minutes if he continues his hot 3 pt shooting for the Grizzlies.

Power Forward: Hakim Warrick vs Udonis Haslem
Assuming Pau can't go in this game, and why should he since it is only preseason and he has played a lot this summer, Hakim will get an opportunity to show he can be physical enough to be a 4 in Iavaroni's offense. Hak's got to show he can defend as a PF, rebound as a PF and most importantly play within the team offensive structure. Haslem is a big boy and knows his role. Haslem plays defense and rebounds. Occasionally he shoots but only if he did his first two jobs well will Riley reward him with an attempt. Backing up Haslem is Alexander Johnson. The former Grizz was shockingly cut during the summer league and may have a little atttitude in this game. Heck he had attitude when he was playing for the Grizz. Expect to see more of Brian Cardinal in this game as welll.

Update: Graham Kendrick is reporting on's new GrizzBlogs section that Gasol won't play against the Heat due to his sprained ankle. There are some good quotes from Coach Iavaroni worth reading as well, so go check it out.

Center: Darko Milicic vs Shaquille O'Neal
Good news is this is preseason so Shaq shouldn't play long. The bad news is that Alonzo Mourning is backing up Shaq. The good news is that this is still preseason so Mourning shouldn't play that much either. The bad news is that former Tiger Earl Barron should play and that means more Memphis fans cheering for the opponents. The good news is this is a preseason game so no one will remember it next week. Darko has had trouble avoiding fouls, Stro has been inconsistent (shocking) and Memphis can't expect Andre Brown to be a big help against Miami's size.

Coaches: Marc Iavaroni vs Pat Riley
Student vs teacher. Iavaroni's first assistant coaching job was on Riley's staff in Miami. He should know Riley's offensive playbook so maybe the team can start shutting teams down, especially with DWade absent and so many others playing hurt. If Pau can go that would be a great outcome but more likely he won't. This will test Iavaroni's coaching skills to the max. Riley is a skilled coach who shouldn't have to much trouble with mixing and matching lineups with his experienced veterans on the bench.

UPDATE: Shaquille O'Neal is not making the trip to Memphis and will be out of the game. Also missing the trip are Alonzo Mourning, Michael Doleac, Wayne Simeon and Dwayne Wade. Riley announced that JWill, Antoine Walker and Udonis Haslem should each play over 30 minutes in the game.

Why Trade Mike Miller?

Just read Tom Ziller's post on AOL's The Fanhouse titled Valley of the Most Likely: Mike Miller's Gonna Get Traded. I'm a big fan of Ziller's work on The Fanhouse, Sactown Royalty and Ballhype, but I believe that he is off-base here. I know a certain poster on the Grizz Message Board that just named Ziller his new idol, so it is all a matter of opinion, I suppose. Here is his reasoning for Miller being traded:

But with a slew of point guards and a nice backup in Tarence Kinsey, Memphis could certainly handle life without [Miller]. Shedding his three remaining years for an expiring contract and some youth could make Memphis serious players in free agency against next summer. Miller's in his prime; the Grizzlies aren't. By the time Memphis gets there, Miller will be done. It makes sense for them to build toward a target... even if it means letting a valuable player go.
If this team were three years away from being a playoff team, then I could agree with his assessment. However, I don't think they are that far away from a return to the postseason, so I have some serious concerns about this potential trade.

He's not a star and he makes less than $10 million. But no potential hill-topping player whispered this preseason can offer what he does: Elite shooting. Miller would be a boon to almost any team fighting to join the Holy Troika; you think Kobe Bryant wouldn't love to have a fearless gunner like MiMi behind him? How about Utah, who desperately needs two-guard help (unless Ronnie Brewer is truth... which might be the case)? Cleveland and Miami would each love to add some scoring punch in the backcourt, and Miller returning to Orlando could give Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis just the help they need. Even New Orleans, who has Peja Stojakovic and Morris Peterson on the wing, could benefit from Miller's game.
If Mike Miller is such a valuable commodity, then surely the Grizzlies can get more in return for him than an expiring contract and a young player/draft pick. If they are just going to trade him away for cap space, they could very quickly find themselves in the purgatory that the Atlanta Hawks have dwelled in for the past decade. They traded away solid players for a chance at cap space and draft picks...and never made any progress towards a return to the glory days of the 80's. In the process, they have fostered a losing culture that they are just now beginning to pull themselves out of. Memphis cannot afford to go down that road, especially in light of their current attendance problems -- something they have in common with the Hawks. Going younger, younger, younger doesn't solve anything. You have to have veteran leadership to nurture that young talent and guide them; otherwise they have to teach themselves and you wind up with guys who never fulfill their potential.

This team needs stability in order to develop chemistry and regain the winning attitude that carried it to the playoffs three seasons in a row. Trading away a player who is a key cog in their rotation for virtually nothing in return doesn't help to achieve those goals. It isn't like Mike is a 12-year veteran that has toiled for his entire career in the hopes of a title and this is his opportunity to win a ring, so the team "does the right thing" and gives him away for 10 cents on the dollar. If anything, Damon Stoudamire is the most likely Grizzly to be traded this year, given his frank comments to an Arizona reporter/blogger this summer and the fact that the team has two young, talented PG's on the roster in the form of Michael Conley and Kyle Lowry.

Should the Grizzlies explore trade possibilities that can result in the acquisition of a true game changing player? Absolutely. Could Miller be part of that deal? Sure, why not? But to trade him away because he might not be "part of the future" while he is currently in his prime when there are other players that are definitely not part of the Grizzlies plans (Damon, Stro) on the roster would be foolhardy and short-sighted, in my honest opinion. If Miller is to be traded, it should be for tangible talent, not the pipe dreams that cap space and draft picks are made of.

What are we learning so far about the Grizzlies?

Well that stunk last night.

Another game against an opponent we expect to be competitive or better against and another big first half deficit. This time the 1st half was too great a margin to overcome.

The problem is that we won't be making big comebacks against scrubs once the season begins. The players who are establishing these big leads are going to continue to play big minutes in the 2nd half once the season begins. The players that are putting the team in big holes are going to need to play better if the team wants to perform at the level their fans seem to expect. The only good news from last night's game was that it was blacked out over most of the Memphis TV market (Comcast isn't showing any NBA action until Oct. 30th-What's up with that?) so not alot of people saw how poorly the team played through most of the game.

Or are we overthinking this?

What have we learned about the Grizzlies so far? We learned that playing defense isn't as easy as talking about playing defense. We learned that NBA teams are more difficult to play than European teams. We learned that 48 minutes of good play will usually defeat 24 minutes of excellent play.

Iavaroni is new to this job and trying to radically change the way our players think about the game. Mistakes are being made but that is what training camp is all about isn't it? The team has travelled to Europe and back, had numerous open practices to raise public opinion on the team and frankly there are a lot of young and new faces on this team so is it any surprise the team is struggling right now?

Everyone should realize that this season is a learning process. First comes the talent and we are more talented this year than previous years (but we still have a way to go to reach elite level). Next comes cohesion where the coach and players are all on the same page strategically. The team is obviously not there yet. Finally, There comes chemistry where the team is thinking and playing as one. The Point Guards know where the players want their passes. The defenders know who can give them support defensively and where they will be. The type of things that older, more experienced teams take for granted.

Indiana is good example of this process. Last season they made a major trade to acquire Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy and Ike Diogu for Stephen Jackson, Sarunas J (don't ask me to spell his last name) and Al Harrington. They changed the structure of the talent on the team. Then they hired a new coach. learned a better way for these players to operate under and now they are building chemistry. Indiana could be the surprise team of the NBA this season. Memphis is months behind Indiana right now and it showed last night.

The Grizzlies should come out of training camp with a rotation, with knowledge of how Iavaroni wants the team to play but without chemistry and until that is developed their are going to be more disappointments than victory celebration. The good news is, like Indiana showed last night, the light is there at the end of the tunnel. All we need is time and patience to reach it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Live Blog: Grizzlies @ Pacers

Zack is out of town tonight, so I'll be taking over the live-blogging duties. Try not to be too hard on me.

Grizz Starting Lineup: Kyle Lowry, Mike Miller, Rudy Gay, Pau Gasol, Hakim Warrick
Pacers: Travis Diener, Mike Dunleavy, Danny Granger, Troy Murphy, Jermaine O'Neal

Interesting lineup for the Grizzlies, since Kyle and Hakim haven't started to this point.

Q1 - 6:48 -- The Grizzlies are attempting to run whenever they get the opportunity, but haven't really gotten the offense to click yet. Pacers 11, Grizzlies 4.

Q1 - 6:21 -- Darko with a great move to get around J.O., but can't convert. Goes to the line for two and misses them both. He has to work on his free-throw shooting.

Q1 - 5:35 -- Darko with the big block on J.O. and then runs the floor, gets the nice feed from Miller for the dunk! Pacers 15, Grizzlies 10.

Q1 - 5:31 -- Conley checks into the game. Hakim Warrick with the explosive dunk over Jermaine! Pacers 15, Grizzlies 14.

Q1 - 2:54 -- Miller really seems to be seeking out rebounds this season, as he pulls down another one. We go to the TV timeout tied at 19 all.

Q1 - 2:44 -- Conley gets around his defender effortlessly and gets a bogus charging call that the commentator correctly identifies as a "rookie call". Chip will be fuming at the mention of that!

Q1 - 1:58 -- Grizzlies still need to work on their transition defense. Too many opportunities for the Pacers when they get our and run, even after made baskets. Cardinal and Navarro are in the game now.

Q1 - 0:32 -- Navarro ends an 11-0 Pacers run with a three-pointer from the left wing to make the score 30-22 in favor of the Pacers.

Q1 - 0:00 -- Conley abuses Tinsley, but cannot convert just before the end of the quarter. That part of his game will develop with more experience in the League. End of the 1st quarter: Pacers 31, Grizzlies 22.

Q2 - 11:22 -- Quinn Buckner just described Cardinal as a "non-athlete who still manages to play basketball". Yep...that's a pretty accurate description.

Q2 - 10:50 -- Just reported that Pau's ankle sprain was going to keep him out of the remainder of the game. Obviously, we'll continue to give updates on this as the game goes on.

Q2 - 9:26 -- Marquis Daniels is showing flashes of the player that he was with the Mavericks. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, that was when he was good. Pacers 42, Grizzlies 28.

Q2 - 8:10 -- Buckner has his projected Southwest Division standings as follows: Spurs, Rockets, Mavs, Grizzlies, Hornets. Very interesting. Wonder what he knows that I don't?

Q2 - 7:37 -- Kyle with the quick hands to pick Diener's pocket and then get fouled on the other end. If he can maintain his defensive tenacity while developing his offensive game, he could be a terror for opposing teams. Pacers 44, Grizzlies 29.

Q2 - 6:47 -- O'Neal at the free-throw line and I glance at the boxscore for the game. Granger and Dunleavy are in double figures for scoring, with Daniels right behind them with 9 pts. The Grizzlies leading scorer is Rudy Gay with 6.

Q2 - 5:45 -- More poor transistion defense, as Kareem Rush feeds Shawne Williams behind the defense for an alley-oop. Pacers 47, Grizzlies 33.

Q2 - 5:02 -- Rudy settles for the step-back jumper while guarded by Murphy. Fortunately, he hits the shot, gets fouled and converts the free-throw. He should be blowing by Troy on that play 9 times out of 10 though.

Q2 - 3:25 -- The first notable Andre Brown sighting of the night, as he hits a jumper from the left elbow and then gets an unnecessary foul while jostling with J.O. on the other side of the court. Good thing he'll be riding the pine most of the season, I suppose. Pacers 55, Grizzlies 39.

Q2 - 3:00 -- Guess what? More non-existent transistion defense as Marquis Daniels gets the flush again. Perhaps we need to hire an MLG&W worker to stand at half-court leaning on a shovel with a bored look on his face, half-heartedly paying attention to passing traffic while flipping the STOP/SLOW sign every few minutes. Think that would help?

Q2 - 1:41 -- Conley finally gets on the board, hitting one of two free throws. Couldn't tell you why he was on the line, since it is storming here and the satellite blinked out for a few mintues. Pacers 61, Grizzlies 42.

Halftime -- Pacers 63, Grizzlies 42.
Here's what I think is going on -- Iavaroni is keeping everyone under wraps to keep everything hush-hush. Then, when the regular season starts....BOOM! Unleash the Secret Weapon! No? Well, I tried. Maybe they are just looking to see how big of a deficit they can overcome in preseason after what happened against Minnesota on Monday night. At least that's what I'm going to tell myself at this point.

Right now, the Grizzlies are failing miserably at defense (especially in transition), rebounding (-5 differential) and ball control (-6 steals/blocks differential). They'll have to address these issues in the locker room if they want to have any shot of coming back in this game.

Q3 - 12:00 -- Grizzlies start the 2nd half with Lowry, Miller, Gay, Warrick and Darko on the floor.

Q3 - 10:46 -- Hakim tries to make something happen by going hard to the basket and gets rewarded with free throws. He converts one of two while I listen to the Pacers' announcers continue to be unabashed homers. These guys could give the Blazers' broadcast team a run for their money!

Q3 - 10:23 -- More free throws by Hakim and he manages to can them both. Then he makes a nice defensive play by forcing a shot alteration. Pacers 65, Grizzlies 45.

Q3 - 9:44 -- Jamaal Tinsley hits a three-pointer to answer Rudy's long bomb on the other end. Then Jermaine O'Neal takes his third charge of the night on Hakim. Jermaine the Flopper? I think so, since he outweighs Hakim by about 75 pounds! Pacers 70, Grizzlies 48.

Q3 - 6:46 -- I had a conversation with someone earlier today and they said that if Mike Dunleavy beats us, then so be it. Well he just hit another 3, giving him 16 points on the night, leading all scorers. *SIGH* Good thing this is just the preseason or my night would be ruined. Pacers 80, Grizzlies 56.

Q3 - 5:23 -- Rudy is being more agressive, driving more and getting to the free throw line. That's a very good sign IMO. Kyle is putting pressure on the Pacers' defense at every opportunity -- I know this because even the incredibly biased announcing team had to mention it. Just as I type that, Lowry blows by Owens and gets fouled. He'll shoot two....and hit them both. Pacers 82, Grizzlies 62.

Q3 - 3:27 -- Rudy hits another jumper, giving him 19 points on the night. The Pacers seem content to allow him to shoot from 15-18 feet and fortunately he's hitting them tonight. Cardinal checks in and gets talked up by the broadcast team again. Boy, they must love former Boilermakers! He's the only guy they want to praise tonight on the opposition. Pacers 87, Grizzlies 68

Q3 - 2:57 -- I cannot decide who is more frustrating on the Pacers: Jeff Foster or Ike Diogu. I think it has to be Foster because you know what he's going to do -- rebound and be annoying -- but you're absolutely powerless to stop him. Diogu's ability to do a little bit of everything while appearing so unassuming due to his physical build is very frustrating as well though. I remember him destroying the Tigers in the NCAA tournament his freshman year too, so perhaps I have some residual feelings based on that, too. Grizzlies 89, Pacers 72.

Q3 - 2:14 -- Travis Diener might be the most underappreciated player in the league. He's not great at anything, but he's above average at enough to develop into a solid PG. His decision making ability is the only thing that stands out as being more than just "solid".

Q3 - 0:57 -- Finally! Rudy drives past Marquis Daniels and crashes into Foster, drawing the foul call. He hits both free throws, making it 9-9 from the line tonight. Pacers 93, Grizzlies 81.

Q3 - 0:00 -- The Grizzlies have clawed back as they are now down by only 12 after trailing by as much as 28. Rudy has led the charge with an assortment of great plays on both sides of the ball. They'll have to work hard to come away with a victory in this one, though some important Pacers are in foul trouble. That was a 39 point quarter for Memphis.

Q4 - 11:22 -- Kinsey starts off the 4th quarter with a nice pull-up jumper off a feed from Conley. After his shoulder injury this summer and the article in the CA today, I hope that he knows how hard he'll have to work to get a place at the table this season. Pacers 95, Grizzlies 85.

Q4 - 9:52 -- Just saw Darko standing next to J.O. Even with his perpetual slump, The Dark One still towered over him by two inches. Maybe we can tell him that J.O. killed his dog or something and then watch what happens. Then again....maybe not. No need to see the NBA's first Flagrant Foul Level 4 -- Homicide. J.O. has quietly amassed 20 and 10 tonight.

Q4 - 8:57 -- Conley with a huge three from the left wing to cut the deficit to 6 points. 97-91 Pacers as Indiana needs a timeout. Too soon to call them the Comeback Kids?

Q4 - 8:21 -- Good hard foul by Cardinal on Daniels. Marquis has gotten far too many easy buckets tonight. About time he was forced to earn one.

Q4 - 7:14 -- Kinsey hits a three and then Conley gets the steal and the bucket. Pacers 103, Grizzlies 96.

Q4 - 6:28 -- They just flashed a graphic that is very telling: Free Throws, Grizzlies - 35/44; Pacers 33/38. Gotta work on those free throws. Mark Price is gonna earn that paycheck this season!

Q4 - 5:05 -- Pacers 110, Grizzlies 101. The refs have made another horrific call as the Pacers' player had ahold of Kinsey's jersey and when TK moved to get the rebound, that jerked him to the side, somehow earning him a foul call. Unbelievable!

Q4 - 4:08 -- Why do I know that Ike Diogu has range out to 18 feet and the Pacers' broadcast team doesn't? He was a perimeter threat in college, frequently hitting three-pointers. The Pacers have most of their "A squad" back in and have pushed the advantage back to 11, taking a 114 to 103 lead.

Q4 - 3:03 -- Tinsley just made the highlight reel by dribbling the ball between Navarro's legs, but missed the layup after pressure from Darko.

Q4 - 2:18 -- The Grizz remembered that Darko plays for them as he finally gets the ball in the post, scoring on a nice shot from the right block.

Q4 - 1:32 -- Shot clock violation on the Pacers and the Grizzlies are hoping for a miracle now, down 116 to 106 with a minute and a half to go in the game.

Q4 - 1:21 -- I know he has a lot of loyal fans, but Hakim is a black hole. He just does not pass the ball at all. He hits two free throws to close the gap to 8 points.

Q4 - 0:57 -- Navarro with another three-pointer, his third of the night. JCN is, without a doubt, the best bargain in the NBA this year. Hopefully, the front office already has a good idea of how they are going to clear enough cap space to re-sign him next year.

Q4 - 0:46 -- Just announced that the upcoming free throws would be the 89th and 90th of the game. That should tell you just how controlling the refs have been in this contest. Pacers 120, Grizzlies 113.

Q4 - 0:10 -- Casey Jacobsen just missed two free throws. That would have cut the lead to 3 points. That's very disappointing, but it is hard to come off the bench after sitting for so long and immediately hit shots. Too bad, as that would have put tremendous pressure on the Pacers' inbounding of the ball.

Game Over -- Indiana Pacers 122, Memphis Grizzlies 115

The Grizzlies made a valiant comeback effort, but fell just short. They showed a ton of heart tonight after a horrible start, so that is encouraging as we move forward.

Thanks to all of you who stuck it out with me tonight. I saw you out there, even though you didn't leave any comments. Until next time, I'm out!


Links: Buying Lunch, The Custodian, Kinsey

Mike Conley Jr. returns to his home state of Indiana to play the Pacers tonight. Jeff Rabjohns of the Indianapolis Star covers Conley's homecoming and talks about him spending time with his former high school coach, Jack Keefer, in Memphis last weekend.

Mike Conley Jr. has purchased a house on a golf course, is driving a Range Rover and even has enough spare cash to take his former high school coach out to lunch.
"The bill came and I started to reach for it, and he said, 'Coach, let me take care of that,' " Keefer said. "I said, 'Since you're a millionaire, go ahead.' He sheepishly paid for it and said, 'I think that's the first time I bought a meal for anybody.'
He also talks about Conley's long friendship with Greg Oden.

Conley's famous former teammate, Greg Oden, is sidelined while recovering from knee surgery. This is Conley's first season since junior high without the 7-foot center as a teammate.
"I don't think people gave him his due as a high school player because they always saw Greg out there and all that," Keefer said. "I think he's gained respect from everybody, and people will enjoy seeing him come back."
Golden State of Mind mentions our favorite Custodian (a former Warrior), as well as a former Grizzly.

Brian Cardinal, Janitor Memphis Grizzlies ($5,850,000): During one of the dark years I actually heard a fellow Warrior fan say that the Warriors need to build around Brian Cardinal. I'm worried adding him to the crew might result in some more delusional projections, so we'll pass.

Jason Williams, PG Miami Heat ($8,937,500): White chocolate used to be one of the most entertaining players in the league, but I'm a big fan of milk chocolate. I keep it brown.

Speaking of Brian Cardinal, the Commercial Appeal's Ronald Tillery posted a story today that says Coach Marc Iavaroni foresees using BC as a scrappy facillitator:

Griz head coach Marc Iavaroni seems convinced, evoking "The Custodian" when talking about a goal the team should have while shaping its identity.

"We should be scrapping," Iavaroni said. "That's why I've liked Brian Cardinal. He's done a good job of getting us extra possessions and extra shots. So he'll be in the rotation again. He's a guy who makes other players better. He's a facilitator. He's just a really heady basketball player."

Scrappy, huh?

Also on the CA, Marlon Morgan lets us in on why last season's surprise player, Tarence Kinsey, isn't seeing as much playing time as might have been expected after his torrid finish in the last three weeks of the 2006/07 season. Marc Iavaroni believes that the rotation will become clearer as the players become more familiar with the system and that Kinsey could work his way into increased minutes through hard work and determination.

After the dream month Tarence Kinsey had last April, it's understandable why he wasn't in a hurry for the 2006-07 season to end, even though the rest of the Grizzlies were ready to put their 22-win season behind them.

''He's just got some good competition,'' Iavaroni said. ''He's been working very hard, though. Right now, it's finding a format so I can get everybody quality minutes so they can be evaluated. I've been pleased with his effort. And his defense has been a very strong suit.

"I think he's similar to most of the other twos in that they're settling into that style that I'm going to be running a lot and then shooting a jump shot. That takes a little getting used to, even though he did it pretty well last year.''

What's Pau's New Role?

What will Pau Gasol's role be in the new uptempo Grizzlies offense?

Don't tell me you haven't thought about this. If you are reading this blog you are interested in the Grizzlies so of course you may have thought a little about it. After three games and a total of 28 shots everyone has a right to let the thought cross their mind even if they are only casual fans. If Pau isn't going to take more than 13 shots in any game and average fewer than 10 attempts per game despite playing in front of the home crowds in Spain and Memphis don't you wonder how many attempts he will put up in Indiana tonight?

Marc Iavaroni was a big man who didn't shoot much. He's coming from a system that didn't exactly run their offense through their big man either. Amare Stoudamire averaged fewer than 13 attempts per game. If you assume that many of these attempts came after he grabbed an offensive rebound (222 last season) then he is closer to 10 attempts per game from the offense than 13.

Pau only grabbed 149 offensive rebounds last season. He did attempt more than 14.5 shots a game last year. Should we expect Pau's attempts to drop this season? Rudy Gay, Mike Miller and Juan Carlos Navarro are all being given the green light to shoot in the pre-season (18, 16, and 15 respectively against Minnesota) so it isn't like the team isn't giving their premier offensive players opportunities to shoot. Just Pau's attempts have seen a noticeable drop off from last year.

So is Pau's influence in the Grizzlies offense going to deteriorate or what? Personally I believe 'or what.' With the increased attention paid to the perimeter players Pau will see less double and triple teams which should increase his shooting percentage. Also without the additional help defense players will be more exposed which will lead to more fouls and more foul shots. That will make up some of the shot drop off as well.

So how will Pau remain our offensive leader without a huge number of shot attempts? By scoring more efficiently by shooting a higher percentage and getting to the line more.

Now if only Mark Price can increase his free throw percentage then watch out!

Grizzlies Giving Again

I read an article today that reminds me of the good that the Grizzlies have brought to the Memphis scene since their arrival 7 years ago.

Sure the team was disappointing last season with their 22-60 record and attendance was down accordingly but the team has continued thier self-enforced mission of giving back to the community anyway. It was reported yesterday in the Memphis Business Journal that the Grizzlies handed out $345,000 in grants including money to such notable charities as Agape Child and Family Services, ArtsMemphis, Church Health Center, Exchange Club Family Center, Memphis Child Advocacy Center, The Leadership Academy, Memphis Leadership Foundation, Memphis Mentoring Partnership/Volunteer Memphis, MIFA, STREETS Ministries, The Works and Youth United Way.

No other organization in all professional sports gives back as much to their communities as the Memphis Grizzlies give to our city. The team just passed the $19 million mark in donations to the city's school and non-profit organizations since 2001. Just this summer the Grizzlies were awarded the 2007 Steve Patterson Sports Philanthropy Award for Excellence in Sports Philanthropy signifying their constant endeavors in the community. For an organization that reportedly loses millions of dollars every season to continue to give as much to help promote this city is a wonderful thing. The little things this organization does to promote a better living environment for the city are truly admirable.

The Grizzlies are not only helping to build a world class franchise in our city. They are helping to develop a future generation of leaders in our community while helping families make ends meet today. If you would like to learn more about the work this Grizzlies Foundation supports check out their webpage on the Grizzlies Web Site.

I hope people think about this the next time they consider to buy tickets for a game. The Grizzlies find a lot in their hearts to support Memphis. Maybe it is time Memphis can find it in their hearts to support the Grizzlies as well. It would benefit our local business and our community as well.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Links: Speed, Rookies, Surprises, Beards

Ron Tillery has a good piece up today on the Commercial Appeal that focuses on the Grizzlies committment to speed. There are a lot of good quotes from head coach Marc Iavaroni, as well as some interesting comments:

Acknowledging the difference in personnel, Iavaroni cautioned against the notion that he's going to simply unpack the Phoenix Suns' system in Memphis.
But Iavaroni will guarantee this: He definitely plans to implement more than a thing or two that he learned while working with the NBA's deadliest offense.
"We're not going to be Phoenix. We have our strengths. They have their strengths," Iavaroni said. "But I do believe the league has moved in that direction already. We're not going to sit and mope when somebody scores on us."

David Thorpe lists the players who might beat out Kevin Durant for Rookie of the Year on ESPN Insider (which is free for the moment, so take advantage). He has Juan Carlos Navarro at #3 and Mike Conley Jr. at #9.

3. Juan Carlos Navarro, G, Memphis Grizzlies
NBA coaches are typically loathe to give rookies big minutes, but new coach Marc Iavaroni is likely to buck that tendency with Navarro, a 27-year-old sharpshooter who was the MVP of the second-best professional league in the world. Navarro plays a lot like J.J. Redick did in college -- he feels he can make any jumper.
Like most of the rookies on this list below him, he does have some good competition for playing time, namely another sharpshooter in Mike Miller (who's a lot taller) and the surprising Tarence Kinsey. But Navarro, with loads of Euroleague and international competition under his belt, projects to be the first wing off the bench on a team that plays with some serious pace, so his numbers should be solid.

9. Mike Conley Jr. , G, Memphis Grizzlies
Despite his immense talents, Conley has a few things working against him in this race. One, he is playing the toughest position to play as a rookie: the point.
Two, second-year point guard Kyle Lowry is going to be a very good pro and needs time to develop (either towards a better Grizzlies' future or as trade bait). Additionally, Damon Stoudamire and Navarro, as noted above, will get minutes for the Grizzlies.Still, Conley's ultra-quickness, superior handle and his strong hoops IQ will help him navigate the challenges of playing the lead guard in a fast-paced system, and I see a solid first year for him.

Martin Johnson of the New York Sun says the Memphis Grizzlies are poised to be the surprise team of the NBA this season.
I like both the Hawks' and the Bobcats' chances to move up a bit, but I think the Memphis Grizzlies will trump their improvement.

He details the information that all Grizz fans already know by heart (3 straight postseason appearances, Gasol's injury last year, Fratello's firing, new uptempo system) in making his case for a resurgence by Memphis. In all honesty, it is nice to see some optimism regarding the team ruminating from somewhere other than this blog.
In other words, assuming that the Western Conference's top six teams remain somewhat stable, the battle for the final two playoff spots could come down to a dogfight between the Lakers, Warriors, Hornets, and yes, the Grizzlies. And that
should mark a substantial rebound from a 22-win season.

Finally, The Blowtorch named Pau Gasol to the NBA All-Beard Team, which is a prestigious honor, indeed!

NBA Previews - Central Division

Shades of Blue is pleased to be joining with several other team blogs in providing previews for's NBA section. Be sure to take the time to read all these other quality blogs as they predict their team's future for the 2007/08 season.

Chicago Bulls
Cobra Brigade
Bull Riding

Cleveland Cavaliers
The POJO Dojo
Cavalier Attitude
Truth in a Bullet Fedora

Detroit Pistons
Empty The Bench

Indiana Pacers
Indy Cornrows
Pacers Pulse

Milwaukee Bucks
Bango's Bunch

CelticsBlog NBA Page

Memphis vs Indiana

Memphis returned home from Spain and looked extremely jet lagged in the first half. In fact they reminded fans of last season's squad more than this years. First they started only returning players and then they played Fratello's offense (45 pts) and Barone's defense (61 pts). This could also partly be due to the pathetic attendance in the Forum. The crowds was terrible. The second half saw a renewed emphasis on defense and faster play which showed results as the Grizzlies scored 56 points while surrendering only 32. The major bright spots were Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Gay who led the team in scoring and the fans in exciting plays.

Indiana stayed perfect in preseason with a 117-104 over the Hornets on Monday night in New Orleans. Old stars like Jermaine O'Neil (yes he is still with the Pacers despite off-season demands to be traded) and Jamal Tinsley combined with former Warriors Mike Dunleavy, Ike Diogu and Troy Murphy to power the team over the Hornets. The Pacers seemed to be a team on the decline last season but new coach Jim O'Brien has the team moving forward and seemingly on a straight path. All five starters scored in double figures against the Hornets and Diogu was perfect going 7-7 from the field and hitting all 5 of his free throws.

Point Guards; Damon Stoudamire vs Jamal Tinsley
One has to wonder how much longer Damon will hold off hard charging Kyle Lowry as the starter. Damon was outplayed again by Lowry against the T'Wolves and seems a step too slow to run the uptempo style that Iavaroni left in Phoenix. More importantly, Damon has never been a defensive minded point guard and Lowry is definitely defensive minded like Iavaroni. Mike Conley, the future starter, seems to be falling off the pace for starters minutes right now but at barely 20 yrs old the team can afford to be patient right now. Jamal Tinsley is a former Grizzlies draft pick traded to Atlanta and then to Indiana in the deal that brought Pau Gasol to Memphis. Tinsely has fought injury issues almost his entire career. When healthy Tinsely is a an excellent floor general who has a solid post up game. The new kid on the block at Indiana is Travis Diener. The former Marguette player escaped the backlog of points in Orlando and is seeking an increase in PT with the Pacers.

Shooting Guards: Mike Miller vs Mike Dunleavy
The Rudy Gay experiment at the 2 probably ended last night. By the end of the game Rudy was playing more of a small 4 than even the 3 so expect Miller back starting at the SG against the Pacers. Unless of course Juan Carlos Navarro gets a start. Navarro is short and not a big defensive player but Dunleavy isn't an elite SG and maybe the Grizzlies will want to see what he can do defensively and offensively against mid-level NBA players. Just a thought. Dunleavy has been playing well in the preseason and has actually raised his scoring average since arriving in Indy to over 14 a game. Higher than he scored in Golden St. Backing up Mike is Andre Owens and Kareem Rush. They seem to be having a spirited competition for the #2 role with Marguis Daniels out of action.

Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Danny Granger
This may be one of the best young SF matchups in the league today. Danny Granger enters his 3rd season as a double digit scorer and a good defender at the 3. Rudy Gay enters his second season as a double digit scorer and a good defender. Maybe they cancel each other out but it should be fun to watch either way. Rudy definately is the more talented but Granger is probably the more determined of the two. Backing up Granger is former Memphis Tiger Shawne Williams who struggled to find PT as a rookie and then ran into trouble with the law this summer. Williams seems to want to put both bad memories behind him as he is averaging nearly double his rookie scoring right now. Behind Rudy is not Tarence Kinsey. Casey Jacobsen is getting the extra minutes right now and that may be due to his greater range, may be due to Kinsey's injured shoulder or it may be due to his outplaying last year's surprise. No matter what it is Casey is getting the PT not TK.

Power Forwards: Pau Gasol vs Jermaine O'Neal
It wasn't that long ago that Jermaine O'Neal was considered the hands down better player. Now after another disappointing season and a summer of discontent and trade demands from O'Neal, Gasol may have just past the older O'Neal straight up. Last season O'Neal saw his scoring drop for the 2nd consecutive season and he finished below the 20 pt a game mark for the first time since 2001-02, his first season in Indiana. Gasol on the other hand went over the 20 pt per game standard for the first time and outrebounded O'Neal as well. Two years younger than O'Neal and far less traveled, Gasol seems to still have upside while O'Neal has begun to slide. Backing up O'Neil is Ike Diogu. The Golden St washout has been reborn in Indy and seems to be making a charge at redemption. Gasol's backup is Hakim Warrick who looks lost in the new system but with his 3rd coach in less than a year that is understandable. Still at 25, Warrick needs to find his footing fast.

Centers: Stromile Swift vs Troy Murphy
There aren't many centers that are a more difficult guard for most bigs than Troy Murphy. With legitimate 3 pt range and a strong nose for rebounds Murphy gives even the best PF's a tough time. The key to Murphy's game is hustle. He simply outworks many of his opponents. Not a good sign for Stro who's toughness and effort have been questioned throughout his career. Stro is surprising some with his consistent ability to outplay Darko and hold onto the starting role but this is a contract year for Stro if he wants it to be. This could also be a tool by Iavaroni to motivate (or showcase) Stro and Darko. Jeff Foster is still hanging around as the traditional big man in Indy as well.

Coaches: Quick, who was the coach for new Grizz GM Chris Wallace's Boston Celtics team that lost in the Eastern Conference Finals? If you said current Indianapolis Head Coach Jim O'Brien give yourself a prize. O'Brien has coached for over 30 years and held the top job in Philly as well as Indy and Boston. Right now O'Brien has the team playing well but dissent has long been a trademark of O'Brien coached teams in the past and seeing O'Neal demanding a trade already isn't a good sign for the relationship between O'Brien and his star. Iavaroni has been getting sweaty with the team actually lacing it up on the court to show his big men what he wants them to do. Iavaroni's freer offensive sets have pleased the players as well. Now if he could just get the fans to notice.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Postgame Thoughts - Memphis vs Minnesota

The Grizzly Killer, Ricky Davis, brought his Minnesota Timberwolves to Memphis tonight for the Grizzlies first home preseason game. The crowd was sparse despite the game not being shown on TV (announced ~8400, but probably only ~5000 in attendance). Those who did go got to see the Grizzlies fight back in the 4th quarter from a double digit deficit to pull out a 101-93 win.

I have some thoughts about what I saw at the game. But I feel obliged to include the disclaimer that, of course, it is only one meaningless preseason game. I know that it is going to take some time for a new coach with young players to get a feel for each other. Thus, one shouldn't extend single game observations, let alone during the preseason, too far.

With that said, I think I might have been too optimistic in the last month. Coach Iavaroni and the boys in blue have some serious work ahead of them.

In the 1st half, I could not tell this team apart from last year's team. We started a 2006 lineup (Damon, Miller, Gay, Pau and Stro). The offensive sets looked the same. The tempo was slow. Most shots came at the end of the shot clock. Free throw shooting was pitiful. Rebounding was lifeless. The defense looked poor all around. We were losing. Seriously, Fratello could have been on the sideline coaching for all I know. And this was against what might end up being the worst NBA team in the league this year!

Thankfully for Griz fans, Kyle Lowry is healthy and Chris Wallace stole JC Navarro from the Wizards. After playing a little bit in the 1st half, they both came in the game in the 3rd quarter and never again left the court. Together, they were the primary reason why the Grizzlies fought back from a double digit 4th quarter deficit to beat the Twolves. JC was the offensive spark plug and Lowry was the defensive spark plug. Included in that 4th quarter stretch was a 15-0 run, a number of highlight reel dunks by Rudy including a sweet alley-oop from Lowry, back-to-back 3's from JC that brought the house down, and a gritty runner in the lane by Lowry that gave Memphis the lead for good.

Here are some of my off-the-cuff thoughts about the Grizzlies after just one meaningless preseason game against what might be the worst team in the league:

--Why do the Grizzlies suck so bad at free throws? I actually feel good we finished with 66%, because most of the game it was in the 50's. Mark Price, you have your work cut out for you.

--Props to Rudy, Pau and Darko for a great night blocking shots.

--Despite the 13 blocks and 10 steals, the Grizzlies still look weak. Whether it is finishing a layup in the lane, pulling down a rebound in traffic, or diving to get a loose ball, the Griz just always seem to be the weaker team, again reminding of the 2006 team that had the same problem. Being weak contributed to Pau going 1 for 9 from the floor. Lowry is the saving grace for this team in the toughness department. Memo to the rest of the NBA: Trying to isolate Kyle Lowry, even when he is guarding someone bigger, is a bad idea.

--Lowry and JC make a great backcourt. Short? Sure. They seem to click when playing together. Through 3 preseason games they have been our most steady performers and also seem to get more out the other Grizzlies players. IMO, they are a perfect combo to come off the bench while also closing out games in the 4th quarter. They are also my 2 favorite Grizzlies right now.

--Although Rudy might have had a number of alley-oop dunks tonight, he could have had triple that amount. Before Damon found Rudy for his first alley-oop of the night, there were at least 3 missed opportunities for an easy oop. On one of Rudy's 2nd half alley-oops, props have to go to Kyle Lowry for setting a great pick.

--I don't like how we defended the pick and roll tonight. Navarro and Damon were going under the screen allowing Jaric to bury some easy jumpers. At the same time, our bigs were playing soft, which resulted in the big guys not hedging on the guard AND not guarding their man, allowing the guard to penetrate then dish for an easy pick and roll layup. I hope we play that more aggressive in the future and that Iavaroni will have the bigman be more decisive so not to find themselves guarding neither player on the pick and roll.

--In the 4th quarter, we switched up the default offensive set by pushing the SG and SF down to the corner from the wing. Looking more like what Phoenix runs. This set ended up working the best for us. Lowry was at point. Navarro and either Miller or Casey were the wings. Rudy was the PF and Stro or Pau was the center. It got Rudy closer to the basket. It promoted using a pick and roll (which I hope to see used more and more). Spaced out our 3 point shooting wings more (resulting in at least one JC corner trey). And allowed more room for a high/low game between Pau and his frontcourt partner.

--I like the deep position Darko gets on offense. Tonight at least 2 times he was given the ball almost right under the bucket after pinning his man behind him. After getting the ball in the post, you can be sure he will use his soft lefty baby hook.

--With Kinsey either still hurt or just simply out of the rotation, I'm anxious about guarding the perimeter. When two of Miller, JC, or Casey are on the court together defensively, we are obviously at a disadvantage defensively. Tonight, JC was able to guard the slow Marko Jaric (who plays PG) and then Lowry guarded the SG (either Ricky Davis or McCants or Buckner). We won't have that luxury typically. In the past, we have tried to hide Miller defensively. Hiding Miller and JC at the same time is more difficult.

--I hate Ricky Davis. Last year I sat under the basket and heckled him. When I yelled, "Go back to the Eastern Conference, Ricky Davis!", he replied by shaking his head no. When I yelled, "We hate you, Ricky Davis!", he replied by nailing a 3 in Mike Miller's face then pointing my way. I'm glad tonight was meaningless and Ricky "Grizzly Killer" Davis was on the bench in the 4th quarter. Hopefully he will get a European team.

Update I: If you haven't already, go read Chris Herrington's post game thoughts. Herrington touched on something I was thinking about last night leaving the arena. The plus/minus for our 3 point guards (last night and beyond). Here was what Herrington said:

I actually think plus/minus numbers are of limited relevance in evaluating individual players, but I give the stat some credence in the team’s current point-guard battle, because all three players are only playing one spot with a relatively equal blend of supporting casts and I think the position sets the tone for the whole team. So, I’m going to track this at the home preseason games.

If you glance at the box score, you’d think Damon Stoudamire was the best point guard tonight, but if you watched the game closely, you’d go with Lowry, and the plus/minus backs that up:

Lowry: +20
Stoudamire: -3
Conley: -9

I’m pretty sure Kyle Lowry has outplayed Damon Stoudamire in every regular season or preseason Grizzlies game in which they’ve both played. At some point that has to be persuasive, right?

You would think so...

Update II: Chip has his post-game remarks over at the Memphis Edge. Go read it.

Update III: I'm sorry, I just couldn't let this go. I mentioned it over on the Grizzlies messageboard this morning and I will mention it again here. In the Commercial Appeal today, Ron Tillery wrote this:

Iavaroni said he still wants to look at more combinations. But the starting lineup of Damon Stoudamire, Mike Miller, Rudy Gay, Stromile Swift and Pau Gasol is making its case.

"Making its case"....what? How so? We've played 3 preseason game, with one being against a far inferior opponent, so basically we have played 2 real preseason games (against teams that would qualify as bottom-rung NBA teams) and our starters have not, in my estimation, looked that good. In fact, the only thing I can see that our starters are making a case for, is being able to dig a hole to see if Lowry and Navarro can pull us out of. I wonder, who actually said that the starters are "making its case"? Tillery or Iavaroni? Either way, in that same article, Iavaroni implies that Mike, Rudy and Pau are safe and that it is the other two starter spots up for grabs.

Rank Me Please! 20 Centers

The last of the bunch -- the big fellas.

  1. Yao Ming - Solid rebounder, great passer and still developing his already phenomenal scoring prowess. This should be the year that he and T-Mac make it out of the first round.
  2. Amare Stoudemire - He seems to add a new facet to his game every single season -- wonder what he'll surprise us with this year.
  3. Dwight Howard - The athletic superfreak is already unstoppable on the boards...what will happen when he becomes more than just a dunker on offense?
  4. Tyson Chandler - He took the league by storm last year and appears to be aching to do the same again this season. He's a nightmare for slashing guards to meet at the rim.
  5. Marcus Camby - If I thought he would be healthy for 70+ games this season, he'd be higher, but we all know better than to play that game. His ability to step out to 18 feet consistently will help Nene and K-Mart pick up easy baskets and rebounds.
  6. Ben Wallace - His numbers dropped some last year, but his efficiency and productivity didn't take major hits. He'll be the key cog in Chicago's defensive system again this year.
  7. Shaquille O'Neal - Whine all you want, but if he plays more than 50 regular season games, I'll be astounded. The Big Aristotle is no longer dominant -- he might not even be the best all-around center on his own team when injuries are factored in.
  8. Mehmet Okur - Centers who shoot three-pointers should be outlawed, right?
  9. Emeka Okafor - He's a supremely skilled defender......but his offense leaves a lot to be desired at this point. I never expect him to be a 20/10 guy, but 14/14 isn't out of the question.
  10. Rasheed Wallace - 'Sheed makes the move to C full-time this least until the Pistons re-sign CWebb after the All-Star break. He'll be a matchup nightmare, just like always.
  11. Andrew Bogut - Blocks, rebounds and intimidation he'll give you in bunches. Scoring -- not so much....yet.
  12. Andris Biedrins - Is is Don Nelson's system or can this guy just really play???
  13. Nenad Krstic - Jason Kidd makes all his teammates better and Krstic is certainly no exception. His all-around game will earn him more minutes than offseason acquisition Jamaal Magloire.
  14. Chris Kaman - Fresh off his Summer League All-Star appearance, Captain Caveman is ready to make amends for his horrific showing last season. Without Elton Brand in the frontcourt, they'll certainly need everything he can give them.
  15. Eddy Curry - Whenever fantasy pundits name a negative stat for you because of your one-dimensionality, perhaps it is time to expand your horizons.
  16. Andrea Bargnani - He started slow last year, but by the end of the year nobody was questioning why the Raptors made him the #1 overall pick.
  17. Brad Miller - One of the most interesting skill-sets in the NBA, IMO. Not many big men can mix it up in the paint, hit the mid-range shot and pass like he can, that's for sure.
  18. Zydrunas Ilgauskas - Big Z will face a much bigger burden this season if the Cavs don't figure out how to re-sign Andersen Varejao.
  19. Alonzo Mourning - It is almost unfair that Miami has two Top-20 centers on their roster, while other teams would be happy with an upgrade to their Top-40 starting center. He's still a defensive beast.
  20. Darko Milicic - Because it is my list, that's why! And because this is where I think he belongs on the rankings, too.

Poised to make the list: Primoz Brezec, Samuel Dalembert, Andrew Bynum, Joel Przyzbilla

Media Bias? Not from these guys...

Over the years there has been a consistent accusation leveled against the coverage of the Memphis Grizzlies from their fans. It has been hard to determine if there was a negative bias as no one really ever tracked what the media personalities thought of the team to start.

In a strange attempt to give our readers a baseline to work off of I did a completely non-binding and non-scientific survey of the major sports media personalities in the area to gauge their opinions heading into the season. Most were surprisingly open and helpful in this endeavor. Some were rather slow in their responses but eventually did acquiesce to my request. Some flat out refused to even respond to my request with a comment. If you want to ask Ron Tillery, Jeff Weinberger and Rob Fisher why they refused to even reply to my email request on the air I am sure they will be most honest in their replies. (HINT!)

I must admit the overall tone of the local media who did respond were quite positive. The most obvious positive tone dealt mostly with the front office changes more than the on the court product. No one is expecting a return to the Fiasco at the Forum that last season was but also no one is expecting a Miracle in Memphis this season to use the media vernacular. What almost to a man these people did want is to be more connected with the team and everyone thinks Chris Wallace is doing a wonderful job of that. The general consensus is that Wallace has made it far easier to want to love the Grizzlies than Jerry West did and that will hopefully come across in their reporting.

So who is expecting what? Here is a quick rundown of our local media experts impression of the upcoming season. I promised each person who responded that I wouldn't hold them to this prediction (i.e. if the facts change they want the right to change their opinions) but heading into the season this is what they think.

Chris Herrington: (Film/Music Editor and Grizzlies Blogger for the Memphis Flyer and first responder by the way)

I EXPECT a 10-15 game improvement over last season, which would put the team at the 32-37 win level. But I PREDICT the Griz will be a little better than that, pushing into 38-40 win territory and landing 9th or 10th in the West
Gotta love a man with shameless optimism there. A little gutless on the expectation but in his heart he knows the team will be better. No one can accuse him of being biased against the team. Cautious yes but biased no. If you want to read his entire comment then you can see his Beyond the Arc blog.

Peter Edmiston (Ron Tillery's partner on the WHBQ radio show Morning Rush:
Overall, I'll say the Grizzlies will win just under 40 games and will be in outside contention for a playoff spot all the way through the month of March. Eventually, they'll fade, but I think there will be a lot of room for optimism by the end of the season as people get accustomed to seeing the new Grizzlies play.
While I truly appreciate Peter's fast response (he was second by less than one hour and his kind words about our blog, I wonder why he responded and Tillery didn't? Maybe it is a CA thing (or maybe Ron actually read the Memphis Grizzlies Webpage where I gave him such a hard time in the past and doesn't want to talk to me!).

George Lapides (Memphis Originator of Sports Talk Radio and current WHBQ host of Sportstime):
As for the team, I think it may be somewhat better than most people think -- remember I said somewhat better, not a whole lot better. My hunch is that we're looking at a team that could win something in the range of 32 to 38 games . . . 38 would be really good.
For those interested George also mentioned he renewed his tickets. He didn't mention where he was sitting but you have to love a man standing up for his integrity and paying his own way instead of taking the media pass (in other words I will gladly take George's pass if it isn't going to use!).

Gary Robinson (Sports Editor at the Commercial Appeal and the man who asked me to also blog on the Memphis Edge site):
Of course, we're still weeks away from the first tipoff and that's when we'll truly find out, but I think the team will be fun to watch and enthusiastic about improving under Iavaroni. The division is tough. The conference is tough. And while I'm not predicting a return to the playoffs just yet, nobody was predicting it following a 28-win season four years ago. Who knows?
Typical editor stuff here. Uses a lot of words but notice he doesn't actually say anything. Sorry Gary but I had to point that out. I hope you won't close me down on the Edge for doing that.

Chris Vernon (Memphis Flyer's Favorite Radio Personality and ESPN Radio Talk Show Host):
I expect the Grizzlies to be a surprise team and make the playoffs this year. They have upgraded the roster significantly and a structured fast style of play will account for more wins over the course of an 82 game season where teams do not show up for every game (esp. against perceived "bad teams"). Mike Miller will be the leading scorer on the team and have a chance at being an all-star. Kyle Lowry will be the fan favorite. Navarro will be surprisingly good in his first season. Iavaroni will get incredibly frustrated with Gasol's defense. Conley will struggle this year and people will wonder if it was the best pick the Grizzlies could have made. Rudy Gay will be labeled as a breakout player in the league and will fill out stat sheets. I will put the record at 44-38.
This actually is a radical change from earlier comments from Verno when he said "just put me down as saying the opposite of whatever Chris Herrington wrote!" You knew I wasn't going to let that slide didn't you Chris?

Gary Parrish (CBS Sportsline College Basketball Reporter and occasional sidekick to Chris Vernon...okay frequent sidekick):
Number of wins: 36.

Why: They're just not very good.
Gary wasn't asked to provide an explanation for his prediction, but I think the few words he did type tell the whole story.

Geoff Calkins (CA award winning editorial writer):
The Grizzlies will win between 35-40 games. The team will be better than last year – on the fringe of the playoff hunt -- because Lowry and Pau are healthy, because Navarro will be a spark and because the basketball side is no longer a mess. Having said that, we’ll still wonder if there’s enough high-end talent. And we’ll still wonder if the Grizzlies should have traded Miller and/or Pau. Speaking of which, Stoudamire will be traded by the end of the year.
You can see that Harvard educated mind at work in this prediction. All comments quantified with factual statements. Gotta love the style of Calkins. Memphis is lucky to have him.

Eli Savoie (Late addition but he was kind enough to respond so I added him in):
I expect the Grizzlies to be better this year, but I don't expect the huge improvement in wins that a lot of people are predicting. I am looking for the young guys to get a lot of experience and this team to start working towards being competitive in the playoffs two or three years from now. I think 33-35 wins is a realistic goal for this year as far as wins go, but more important to me is the development of the younger players such as Conley, Lowry, Milicic, Gay and Warrick. Barring any major injuries, I look for the Grizzlies to win around 35 games.
Eli comes in late and low but that is still great that he responded at all.

And yes that is another sucker punch at Ron Tillery, Jeff Weinberger and Rob Fisher.

Most of the responses actually went a bit beyond what the scope of my blog was about. I edited some of them down so this wouldn't be as long as the roundtable discussion. However, there were some very interesting comments made that I feel should be pointed out.

From Chris Herrington:
If you judge a team’s personnel moves relative to the available opportunities, which seems fair, then I think this is the best, most thoughtful, most forward-thinking offseason the team has had during its Memphis tenure.
He went on to talk about how Mike Conley and Darko were excellent moves. You are on record now Chris. Don't start questioning Chris Wallace in Mid-Season about them!
Until I get more exposure to him in an NBA setting, I’m more skeptical about Juan Carlos Navarro’s potential impact, largely because recent history suggests international guards making the move to the NBA in mid-career tend to struggle with that adjustment. But, because expense (a future pick that can never be Top 10) is minimal and because of the probable benefit in terms of smoothing the team’s relationship with Pau Gasol, I’m on board with this move as well.
I just put this here because this is an example of predictions that may be changed later. JCN has looked great in Spain since Herrington wrote this but he hasn't played a regular season game in this country yet.
From Geoff Calkins:
Ticket sales will be a crisis.
I sure hope that is wrong but if it isn't wrong and everything else Calkins says is correct and attendance is still a problem how will that reflect on the city? Would poor attendance with an exciting team look worse than poor attendance with a terrible team?
From Gary Robinson:
I think the Grizzlies fly under the national radar -- and even did so when they were winning 50 games -- so I don't pay much attention to what the national media thinks about the local club.
While very true it does make you wonder what effect national media has on the perception locally of the team and how that plays into attendance.

There was a lot more said but I think the basic information is there to be seen. Vernon is the most optimistic but most media types peg the Grizzlies between 30 and 40 wins with a small chance to reach the playoffs. Time will tell if they know anything more than the rest of us Grizzlies fans except of course for the Harvard educated Calkins.