Opening Statements: Wizards at Grizzlies, Game 51
In Memphis, TN his evening, the Washington Wizards will take on Gilbert Arenas’ former team. Wait, that doesn’t sound right. But, it is true. Arenas’ last NBA appearance came 639 days ago when he suited up for the Grizzlies in Game 6 of their 4-2 first round playoff series loss to the L.A. Clippers in 2012. Including that playoff series and the last four games of the regular season, Arenas made just two of his final 15 NBA shots. His last appearance as a Wizard: 1,153 days ago.
But we’re not here to talk about Gilbert. We’re here to talk about the Grizzlies and how the last time they played Washington will always be part of non-Gilbert Arenas franchise point guard scoring lore. On March 25, 2013, in the District of Columbia, John Hildred Wall marked a more official arrival as a No. 1 overall draft pick—finally—by scoring what is still a career-high 47 points against a Western Conference power (albeit one without defensive POY Marc Gasol that night) in a 107-94 win. Now Wall is out to prove he can take the next step: lead his team to the playoffs. Leave the celebration of 47 points to those who focus their fandom on individuals instead of teams.
The Wizards have not won in Memphis since Nov. 3, 2004 (nine years, three months ago). The starting lineup that night (gasp): Juan Dixon, Jarvis Hayes, Laron Profit, Antawn Jamison, and Michael Ruffin (Jared Jeffries, Samaki Walker, and Peter John Ramos came of the bench for Washington); Memphis started Jason Williams, James Posey, Bonzi Wells, Stromile Swift, and Pau Gasol. Times have/will/are a changing. With the Wizards having beaten the Grizzlies just four times out of 16 meetings since, Wall & Co. look to make up the 14-19 all-time series deficit between the two franchise tonight. It is yet another important test for a semi-young team that’s semi-winning and semi-losing.
Joining TAI today is not one but three members of the ESPN TrueHoop Memphis Grizzlies blog, 3 Shades of Blue: Red Coleman, Andrew Berry, and Chip Crain. Let us go.
Teams: Wizards at Grizzlies
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Venue: FedExForum, Memphis, TN
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/THE FAN-FM 106.7
Spread: Grizzlies fav’d by 4.5 points.
Wizards tickets … anyone?
Click to get them served up for cheap via TiqIQ and TAI.
Q #1: So what, exactly, is the plan in the land of Grizzly Bears, Beale Street, and BBQ? How does a small market team like Memphis retool—in particular since there is top-quality talent currently on the roster—in order to compete for a title without blowing anything up?
Red Coleman: I’m not hanging out with Jason Levien, John Hollinger, and Co. during lunch meetings (yet— gotta keep the hope alive), but I think that their plan is to try to find someone willing to take on Tayshaun Prince’s contract by offering up Ed Davis as the sweetener. In that deal, they would target an upgrade at SF that would offer either lockdown defense, outside shooting, or just a solid all-around game that complements what Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph already bring to the team. Outside of that, I don’t see them making a significant move this season. In the offseason … who knows what Prince’s expiring contract might bring?
Andrew Berry: I think management needs to focus on keeping Mike Conley and Marc Gasol happy. Those two are our younger core and are both in their prime. Keeping Z-Bo and Tony Allen around would be nice but both are 32 and entering the twilight of their primes. If OKC has taught small-market teams anything, it’s that a stable core of at least two players is important.
Chip Crain: I don’t know if retooling is on the agenda. Memphis believes in their roster but injuries have derailed the season. Allen and Gasol have both missed 23 games and Conley has missed eight. In fact only Mike Miller has played in every game this season. The team, when healthy, has been fantastic after a slow start but the starting five from last season’s Western Conference Finals team has only played together for 12 games.
Q #2: Is the idea, in theory, still to try to trade Zach Randolph? Or is the market so uncertain at this point that it’s probably better for the team to just let Randolph take his player option for $16.9 million this summer and play out the final year of his contract next season in Memphis?
Red Coleman: No. As several reports have stated, the Grizzlies are looking to be buyers, rather than sellers heading into the trade deadline. They have rebuffed all offers on Z-Bo to this point, and look as though they believe he will opt out of his current contract and take a multi-year discounted contract this offseason in order to retire in Beale Street Blue.
Andrew Berry: If there is anyone who has embodied the spirit of Memphis, it’s Zach Randolph. I would love to see him around next season and he is still a double-double machine. If there is a comparable player or a very strong 3-point shooter on the market, I’m fine with a trade; if not, Z-bo should be in Memphis next season.
Chip Crain: The idea was never to trade Zach Randolph. The team would be thrilled if he would opt out of his contract and accept a smaller deal that would allow him to end his career in Memphis. If he doesn’t make his intention to opt out clear before the deadline, and the team continues to struggle to reach the top 8 in the West, then anything is possible, of course.
Q #3: Has John Hollinger’s presence made you more or less a believer of how his specific statistical acumen can leave an imprint on a franchise?
Red Coleman: I was as skeptical as the next person when they lured him away from ESPN. However, anyone can see that the guys he has been a fan of (Jon Leuer, Ed Davis, Courtney Lee, James Johnson), have all been better than expected and worthy contributors to this team. Despite the jokes we all tell and hear about “a machine running the team,” it is clear that there is more going into talent evaluation than just number crunching, but it certainly has been a solid addition to the traditional “eye test.”
Andrew Berry: It’s hard to judge the impact Hollinger has made with so many injuries to important players this season. Despite this, I think that a statistical acumen is important, especially for a small market team. When you don’t have the money to compete with the big market teams, you need to outsmart them.
Chip Crain: It’s still a bit premature to defend or refute Hollinger’s acumen but he hasn’t made too many mistakes yet. Finding Courtney Lee, James Johnson, Ed Davis, Kosta Koufas and even Jon Leuer have all been intelligent moves, but he hasn’t been with the team for 14 full months yet, and the team wasn’t bad when he got here. Too early to say definitely but it has been encouraging.
Q #4: Which Grizzly has been most disappointing this season? Who has been the biggest surprise (in a good way)?
Red Coleman: Most disappointing has clearly been Tayshaun Prince. He has aged noticeably since being acquired last season, which is a combination of heavy wear-and-tear on his body and nagging injuries that simply limit him from being effective at either end of the floor. He can still contribute, but is just not able to play big minutes or do the things he was once able to do.
Biggest surprise: Take your pick from Jon Leuer, James Johnson, Courtney Lee, Nick Calathes, or … Mike Conley. That’s right, Conley has been a surprise to many with his willingness to (finally) take over games and become a primary scorer when called upon. While his defensive numbers aren’t as stellar as they were last year, his offensive numbers have been eye-opening as he has shouldered a tremendous portion of the burden resulting from the multitude of injuries that have plagued this Grizzlies squad.
Andrew Berry: By far Tayshaun Prince for obvious reasons. There was a full article on ESPN a couple weeks ago that tried to sort out if Prince or Josh Smith was having the worst season of any starter on an NBA squad. The biggest surprise has been Courtney Lee for me. Once Tony Allen comes back, I’d love to see Lee take over for Prince at SF. Sure, we would lose some height, but we have plenty of height with Randolph and Gasol. We need the point production from Lee more than we need anything from Prince.
Chip Crain: Tayshaun Prince has been the most disappointing. He started the season with a stomach virus that cost him 15 pounds and hurt his leg causing him to miss time, but those excuses don’t condone the low level of performance overall. The biggest surprise has been James Johnson who was signed from the D-League to replace Quincy Pondexter (who is out for the season) and has been electric for the team.
Q #5: The Grizzlies are dead last in the NBA in 3-pointers attempted and made. This doesn’t seem very ‘nouveau statistical’. A major concern? Is Mike Miller’s hair not pretty enough to ‘let it fly’ to satisfy team needs? (And since the trade was seemingly done specifically to address this, how is Courtney Lee working out?)
Red Coleman: Memphis continues to be true to their mantra of “Grit ‘n’ Grind” by playing from the inside out by running everything through Gasol and Randolph as much as possible. While Conley was coming on strong from 3 while others were out (44% in January prior to his injury), the team really didn’t have another consistent shooter on the team to help balance things out after Quincy Pondexter’s injury early in the year. It’s funny that you mention Mike Miller’s hair since his haircut seems to have had a Samson-like effect on his shooting, as he shot under 33 percent in January following the trip to the barber. Miller has played a few too minutes for my liking, which has doubtlessly contributed to some tired legs.
Enter: Courtney Lee. Lee hasn’t been Kyle Korver since joining the Grizzlies, but he shoots from beyond the arc accurately and often enough to keep defenses honest, which is all that’s really needed. Additionally, Lee has used the threat of his outside shot to get defenders out of place in order to drive or dish to a cutting teammate. In short, he has done exactly what was needed and expected when the front office shipped the mercurial Jerryd Bayless to Boston in exchange for him.
Andrew Berry: As seen above, I’m a big Courtney Lee fan. I think that if Memphis ever gets a fully healthy squad to work the inside-outside game, the 3-point shooting will improve. But until then, the Grizzlies will focus on the inside.
Chip Crain: The team is actually improving from last season in regards to 3-point shooting, and last year they won 56 games and made the conference finals. It is just hard to justify 3-point shots from average, at best, shooters with one of the most dominating interior games with Randolph and Gasol, plus slashers like Conley and Johnson on board. Lee and Miller have improved the perimeter enough to warrant defenses guarding them which makes it easier for the bigs to operate inside.