FO’ with the Foes: Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis-Grizzlies-Photograph-C12270832This edition of “Fo’ with the Foes” — Philadunkia’s advanced scouting series which with the help of an accomplished journalist from around the NBA beat or blog world, previews upcoming 76ers opponents — features tonight’s opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies much like the 76ers struggle mightily of the defensive end, can not hit the three (29.6%) and have a roster full of young cats that all play significant minutes.  Actually, the Grizzlies are an even younger squad then the Sixers as they boast a starting lineup with four players who are 24 years of age or under.  Despite a 3-8 record, their 7-game losing streak and all the Allen Iverson drama, Memphis has not fallen apart this season.  In fact, this young, athletic and offensively talented squad is riding a two game win streak coming into the Wachovia Center tonight. 

Despite the Grizz’s offensive talents, their athleticism and the recent winning streak, we expect the Sixers to get a W tonight and establish their own two game winning streak.  We’re really going on gut instincts alone here as these two mediocre teams match up fairly evenly.  So don’t hold us too stronglyto that prediction.  We all know it will be close as the Sixers have demonstrated in 2009-10 that they have serious trouble putting away teams that on paper they should handle.  Also we know this will be a high scoring affair as neither team plays a lick of defense.  OJ Mayo and Mike Conley may each get 30 tonight, but so will Louis and AI9.  Finally, coming off his huge night vs. the Bobcats, it will be interesting to see how Elton Brand does against two “real” bigs in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol of the Grizzlies.  Neither is great defender, but they can both bang, am element Charlotte did not have in the post on Wednesday night.

For a little more insight into the Grizzlies team the Sixers face tonight, we turn to our man Chip Crain from 3 Shades of to answer two questions on the Grizzlies from us here at Philadunkia as well as provide us with two points of analysis on this Charlotte squad from an insider’s perspective.

Pacers Grizzlies BasketballPhiladunkia :  Obviously we have to ask you about our former man Allen Iverson. What is your take on the whole ordeal from his signing to the leave of absence to the negotiated settlement with the Grizzlies to A.I. getting waived?

Chip Crain @ 3 Shades of : I was against the signing from the beginning so I am not surprised that the team had to deal with this distraction. I was surprised with the speed of deterioration of the relationship however.  As bad as I thought Iverson’s attitude would be it never occurred to me that he would begin to cause problems after his very first game nor that he would quit on the team after only three games.

In Iverson’s defense, and I have written about this already, the biggest mistake was made by the Grizzlies leadership when they met with Iverson in Atlanta.  They had a long meeting and at no time in the discussion was Iverson’s role on the team brought up. How could that be left out in the conversation?  Iverson left the meeting assuming he would be the starter and the Grizzlies left the meeting understanding that Iverson was going to do what the coach told him.   It is inconceivable to most logical thinking people that Iverson would tolerate coming off the bench in Memphis when he refused to play that role in Detroit.  However the owner, Michael Heisley who controls everything involving the team now, announced that Iverson would be the perfect 6thman for the team and Iverson stated he intended to start at the press conference announcing the signing.  The seeds for what has happened were obvious from the beginning.

That doesn’t excuse Iverson’s attitude however.  Even if Iverson expected to start he shouldn’t have expected to come back after missing most of training camp and the first three games of the season to immediately play starters minutes.  Then to ignore the plays being called by the coach and to insist it wasn’t his responsibility to gel with the team showed that he was far more concerned with his himself than what was best for the team.  That type of insolence could not be tolerated on a young team looking for leadership.

Philadunkia :  The Grizz have off the charts offensive stats in 2009-10…They are ranked 5th in the NBA in scoring, their 3rd in points in the paint and 2nd chance buckets, 3rd in rebounding, etc., but the team is 3-8.  Is the defense that bad in Memphis or what is the issue that has caused all the L’s?

Chip Crain @ 3 Shades of :The defense is pathetic in Memphis.  I have followed the NBA since the early ‘80s and I have never seen such a poor defensive team outside of the run and gun Denver teams with Alex English and Kiki Vandeweighe.  The problem is a combination of players ill suited to be defensive players combined with a general lack of effort from important players.

Marc Gasol is a nice center.  He has a far better offensive game than people realize but he is not nimble nor agile.  He is a young Brad Miller type of center capable of scoring, rebounding and blocking the occasional shot but he isn’t a defensive closer in the lane.  Combining him with Zach Randolph is not good.  Randolph is a strong offensive presence, especially in the lane.  However what makes him a great offensive player is exactly what makes him a weak defensive power forward.  Randolph is best with his feet set, using his wide body to shield people from the glass and getting shots.  However those talents also make him a defensive liability on the perimeter and most PF’s in the league today are capable of moving out 10-15 ft and hitting the open shot or driving to the basket. Randolph has no lateral speed and is exposed when forced out of the paint.

The real problem has been the total lack of perimeter defense from O J Mayo, Rudy Gay and Mike Conley.  Conley has not learned how to use his speed to pressure players and his lack of height makes him susceptible to jump shots as well as post up moves. Gay has never seemed interested in defense.  He doesn’t play tight defense nor does he block out his man well. Mayo has been a disaster defensively, much worse than he was as a rookie which may be simply that he is unhappy in Memphis or may be poor fundamentals.  At this point it is hard to say either way.

However the offense among the starters makes up for their defensive liabilities.  The real problem occurs when Memphis goes to the bench.  Three of the main bench contributors are rookies (Sam Young, DeMarre Carroll and Hasheem Thabeet).  They are not ready to play defense in the NBA yet and they don’t have the offensive games to compensate unlike the starters.  All three players could mature into good defenders with experience but that is still a year or two away.  The other main contributor off the bench is Marcus Williams who washed out of the NBA at Golden State after failing in New Jersey.  His main weakness is of course defense.  He is a good distributor of the ball but his shot is terrible andthe second team doesn’t have enough scoring potential to make up for the difference.

If Allen Iverson had accepted the role of 6th man Memphis would be a far better team. Combine that with the loss of Darrell Arthur to a pectoral muscle tear and the team has no one capable of defending or scoring even at the level of a second team NBA player. Without their scoring coming off the bench the team sees immediate drop offs even with the first substitution.  The team is simply not constructed to succeed at this time. With the return of Arthur and a year or two experience from the other rookies Memphis has the making of a decent NBA team but that simply isn’t the case right now.

Two Points of analysis from Chip Crain @ 3 Shades of :

  1. The Grizzlies are not a great shooting team and they aren’t a great defending team but they are a great rebounding team. With Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph the Grizzlies have two of the top 10 rebounders in the league right now. Teams looking to get out and run to take advantage of the Grizzlies porous defense do so at their own peril as Randolph leads the league in offensive boards and Gasol is 10th in the league. Even Rudy Gay has been finding ways to contribute on the glass and as all three players are quality scorers as well this makes the Grizzlies front line one of the best in the league offensively.
  2. The rebounding has helped mask the one true offensive weakness which is perimeter shooting. The Grizzlies are barely hitting 30% as a team from the arc and that is despite Zach Randolph only taking one 3 pt attempt this season and that was as the quarter was running out. Teams are learning to keep the defenders near the paint and force Memphis to beat them from outside which has resulted in some rather lopsided losses when the shots aren’t falling. This has slowed the Grizzlies offense down somewhat as has the team’s decision to run less and make sure they are getting back on defense.

Bonus Point of analysis from Chip Crain @ 3 Shades of :

Conversely Memphis is also one of the weakest teams defending the 3 pt shot allowing teams to hit an embarrassing 39.8% from beyond the arc. Memphis is also 22nd in the league in assists which would be disappointing for most teams but considering the Grizzlies have actually improved that number from last in the league the previous season it hasn’t been as big a concern as expected.

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