There was an exhibition involving magic and bears at Amway Arena in Orlando last night. Hmmm… Maybe they should have played that game in a petri dish, with all the experimenting taking place, and with Dave Joerger at the controls playing the role of mad scientist.
Lineup experiments may have been necessitated by injury and illness. No sign of Tayshaun Prince. He was not with the team, not in uniform, and not on the bench. Kosta Koufos was not available to play, apparently out for a week with a leg injury, but was dressed out and on the bench. Kosta did not warm up with the team; and, with the bench quite full with all of the invitees, he sat on the “extended bench” around the corner on the baseline. But he was there.
Tayshaun “Waldo” Prince was not, unless he was somewhere in the crowd wearing a red and white striped shirt and glasses. I was there, and I looked for him. The latest thing in Grizzdom is the new game called: Where’s Tayshaun? How much longer can his absence be explained as a stomach flu?
Mike Miller was in the starting lineup at the three, accompanied by the expected regular starters: Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Zach Rndolph and Marc Gasol. The faster pace was not as evident in this game as it has been in the previous preseason games. That is not only because Jerryd Bayless played a lot of point guard, but that is part of it.
While the starters by and large played most of the first quarter, by the second quarter, the experimenting was in high gear. We saw an awful (yes, awful) lot of Jerryd Bayless at the point. Ugh! We saw Mike Conley play the two with either Bayless or Nick Calathes at the point. With no Koufos, Jon Leuer played backup center, leaving most of the backup power forward minutes to Ed Davis. We saw combinations that included Bayless and Calathes at the guard spots, with a Davis and Leuer frontcourt, and either Mike Miller or Quincy Pondexter on the wing. Experimenting.
A point of emphasis for this game was, apparently, to determine whether Jerryd Bayless will be playing any backup point guard once the regular season starts. He played there a lot. They tried him in lots of different combinations, including with Conley or Calathes as the other guard. It would be very generous and kind to say that the results were mixed. The offense bogs down with Bayless at the point. He calls his own number a lot, although he does score the ball. More on that later.
With the starters in the game, things are beginning to gel, although Tony Allen’s role in the offense needs to be ironed out. Mike Conley and the bigs look pretty solid. Mike Miller can and does contribute a lot more than three point shooting, but he played way too many minutes. Nick Calathes can run the team. He can shoot, out to about 15 feet, but his three point shot looks pretty bad.
Jon Leuer continues to impress us. Ed Davis continues to underwhelm us, despite what was his best game stats-wise. Quincy Pondexter played a solid game, but nothing too spectacular. Jamaal Franklin got some minutes late. Looks like he has the green light to shoot the three. While it is hit or miss, he is working to get open looks and his shooting form looks pretty good.
In reviewing this game and its takeaways, let’s talk about (in no particular order) that Bayless at the point guard thing. Let’s talk about Tony Allen’s role in the offense. About the use, or overuse, of Mike Miller. Calathes running the team. And, oh yeah, about the other guys.
The Other Guys
Let’s start by talking briefly about the Magic. They seem to be a wing-dominated team, and shoot the three pretty often. They have the guns to play that way, with Victor Oladipo and Arron Afflalo leading the way. They don’t play inside too much, but Nicola Vucevic is an impressive young big man.
Vucevic was able to beat Marc Gasol on certain possessions at both ends of the floor. On defense, he blocked Marc’s shot, altered his shot, or forced him to pass the ball. He scored some really nice baskets while being guarded by Marc, including dunking on him. But, over the course of the game, it became apparent that Marc Gasol is a smarter basketball player. This became obvious when Marc drew Vucevic’s fifth foul in the third quarter, and then drew his sixth and final foul about ten seconds later.
It is a shame Nic Vucevic does not have any big man mentors to learn from and develop under. Imagine his potential development if he had the opportunity to play behind Marc and Zach for a while. (I’m looking at you Ed Davis.)
To me, the Magic’s biggest problem is that they still have Jameer Nelson running the show. Lackluster is the word that comes to mind. Nuff said.
Tony Allen’s Role in the Offense
As the game started, Tony Allen looked to be spotting up for the corner three and trying to spread the floor. Except, of course, TA is not really a threat to make threes, and Orlando knew this. So Allen was not drawing his defender outside.
What he was doing, somewhat effectively, was waiting until one of the other players would drive and dish back out to the high post. Then Allen would slash to the basket looking for the pass. Occasionally this worked. But, more often, Allen was just crashing into a wall of defenders, with or without the ball. Or, he would run to the defense, never be open for the pass, and shift to the corner on the other side of the floor. Hmmm. Experimenting.
He did of course play excellent defense and get some steals. The problem with these steals is that defense turns to offense with the ball in Tony’s hands. With Tony leading a fast break, or even on a breakaway, the odds are not in the Grizzlies favor if Tony takes it to the hole. I watched him get stripped. I watched him get blocked. I watched him get fouled and make his free throws. I watched him miss his layup. (I should copy and past that about five more times.) I watched him drive all the way to the basket and make his layup. I also saw him receive a nice pass from Jon Leuer after a defensive rebound and make the layup.
But, every time Tony Allen had the ball in his hands on a fast break, I would involuntarily say: Give It Up. The Grizzlies would be better off if Tony pulled up and allowed the team to set up in the half court. Because, if Tony takes it all the way, the most likely result is a missed layup. He even missed a layup, got his own rebound, and missed the tip-in. Like a punch in the face during an in-flight poker game, someone needs to get this point across to Tony. Give It Up!
Jerryd Bayless: Point Guard
The preseason is for experimenting. But, it is time for this experiment to end. So much of the time, Bayless plays point guard like he is posting his man up, backing him down. The problem is, he is doing this outside the arc. Back to the basket, protecting the ball, he can only see one side of the court. That is, what he can see of it, mostly trying to see past a taller defender.
With this, the offense grinds to a halt. This is not the type of grinding that earned the Grit n Grind reputation. This is painful. For the Grizzlies. To watch Mike Miller busting his butt running, working off screens, getting open, looking for the ball… and Jerryd Bayless unable to get him the ball? Painful.
This became oh-so-obvious when Nick Calathes entered the game for the first time with a little over a minute left in the first half. Bayless had been playing the point for the entire second quarter. Enter Calathes. Immediately, chaos evaporated into harmony. The offense was running smoothly, culminated by a patented Marc Gasol elbow “jumper” off of a Calathes assist. A thing of beauty.
The Overuse of Mike Miller
Mike Miller was probably the most impressive Grizzly on this night. His classic low-top shoes were pretty impressive, too. Maybe he was competing with Nick Calathes for the hearts of the Florida crowd. He was in the starting lineup at small forward, ahead of Quincy Pondexter.
Miller played well. Anyone that thinks that Mike Miller is a one-dimensional player who can only spread the floor and spot up for threes is sadly mistaken. He was running patterns hard, cutting and using screens to get open looks on the offensive end. Playing decent D and diving for loose balls on the the defensive end. Rebounding on both ends, with 11 total rebounds. Miller went 7 of 10 from the field, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc (hat tip to Kevin Lipe). He hit both his free throws, despite being slammed to the floor on a pile-driver foul.
But, Miller also played 30+ minutes. In a preseason game. What happened to the idea of careful management of playing time for Mike Miller? While I didn’t think they were just going to stash him on the back shelf until playoff time, just how smart is this? And, before you say that Tayshaun has gone missing so they needed all these minutes from Mike, Quincy Pondexter only logged 16 minutes off the bench.
And Miller finished the game beat up. Really beat up. By the fourth quarter he was slouching, bent over holding the bottom of his shorts and regularly looking at the bench. A real scare came when Mike was fouled hard by Maurice Harkless on a finger roll, and sent to the floor. Hard. As in, an official time out for Mike to walk to the bench the get right. When he came to the bench, I thought he was yelling “It’s my head”, but when they started checking him out, I realized it was his hand.
He knocked down both free throws.
Mike has a finger bandaged on each hand. He spent the rest of his playing time in this game acting like his main goal was to protect them. There were times when he didn’t even run the court to the offensive end. He should have been on the bench by that time.
At one point midway through the fourth quarter, Miller got a defensive rebound and made an outlet pass to start a fast break that resulted in Leuer scoring on a layup at the other end. But Miller watched from a distance. He started into a trot while talking to someone on the bench. Harkless stopped at the free throw line and waiting for Miller to run into him. He lowered a shoulder and threw his upper arm out for emphasis. He hit Miller right where you would want to hit someone to knock the wind out of him.
Miller looked disgusted, and shrugged at his bench. About a minute and a half later, after Miller nails another three pointer, the Grizzlies finally call timeout and get him out of the game. On the bench. Lots of ice.
This should not be happening. Despite Mike Miller leading the team in points and rebounds in his victorious return to Florida, it’s preseason.
Despite his statistically good game, there continue to be issues with Ed Davis. He can rebound. He can block shots. He can jump. He can dunk. He also has a jump hook with a stiff sweeping motion with his shooting hand. Jump shot? Set a pick or screen? Free throws?
Nope. Nope. And nope. My hopes for Ed Davis and his future as a Grizzly were lifted just a bit higher when Ed hit his first jump shot – about 10 feet out and just outside the lane. But he then proceeded to show poor form on all his other attempted jump shots, missing again and again. On his free throws, where you can really examine his shooting form, he is really messed up. Now, in addition to sticking his left elbow out and shooting from behind his ear, he is also sticking his left knee out just as far. And missing. It looks really weird.
He is getting his own shot blocked, getting the ball taken out of his hands, getting called for traveling by going up and down unguarded right at the rim.
And, it hurts to watch him to set a pick. At one point, he was timidly sticking his butt and hip out toward the defender, scooting a little closer with a each hop-hop shuffle of the feet, and then runs off without ever making any real contact. My focus was on Ed Davis a lot when he was on the floor. I’m trying; but, the closer you scrutinize, the worse it looks. Unfortunately. (If you see or read reports to the contrary, remember, I was at the game.)
That’s All Folks
There were not a lot of Grizzlies fans in attendance, unlike my previous trips to Orlando. But, those that were there proudly showed their three shades of blue. I was in my game-neutral Fort Wayne Mad Ants T-shirt (the D-League affiliate of both teams) in an attempt to lure Dwayne Ticknor (last years Mad Ants head coach) into a post game interview. No such luck.
Lastly, a shout out to the girls from Finland and their family, since I promised them a mention.
I will be at the game in Atlanta on Sunday. Look for my recap, and thanks for reading.