Tonight’s preseason game between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Toronto Raptors, in Toronto, was not a good basketball game. To call it a basketball game might be a stretch. To be fair to everyone, the Raptors actually looked quite good in stretches (though, the most impressive aspects of their play will be mitigated against real NBA talent playing at a real NBA level), but we’re all Memphis Grizzlies fans, here, and the Grizz were not good.
That said, it was apparent early on that Memphis was not particularly interested in being good to begin with, which makes sense. It’s preseason, the regular season begins in almost exactly a week (!!!) and they were in Canada for God’s sake. Hell, the Hawks didn’t even fly out their starting lineup for Atlanta’s matchup with Dallas tonight, so the Grizzlies even playing their starters is more effort than some other teams were putting in.
Nonetheless, the starters were unmotivated. The Raptors starters, less so. By the end of the first half, usually the domain of the starting lineup in the preseason, the Grizzlies were trailing to the embarrassing tune of 27-54, as a direct result of the Grizzlies’ lack of effort — most marked in Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this. All three of those players are nothing if not reliable in the regular season. However, it made for an embarrassingly bad preseason game.
The story of that first half was shooting percentage, rebounds, and steals. The Grizzlies came into the game and immediately played themselves out of it; the Grizzlies ended the first quarter down by 13 (14-27). The Grizz went to halftime shooting only 28% and an atrocious 13% from 3. They were outrebounded 33 to 12. It felt like the ball was being taken from them on every other trip down the court.
As a result, the Raptors were getting fast break after fast break after fast break. Make any judgement you want about that Toronto squad, but they are hyper-athletic and very talented in the open court. Giving them fast break opportunities is not the optimal path to success.
So, it didn’t get any better after the bad start. The Grizzlies were outscored by 14 in the second quarter, then outscored by 10 in the third. Only in the fourth quarter did the Grizzlies stay competitive. This is encouraging, in a sense, because it means that the dregs of the Grizzlies bench played up to the dregs of Toronto’s bench (though, the fact that the Grizzlies’ “dregs” included predicted role players Ed Davis, Jon Leuer, and Jerryd Bayless may be cause for mild concern).
This game is best summarized by the propensities of it’s best players. Marc was content to spend the whole game floating awkwardly around the elbow without any action closer to the rim (where he personally shines offensively) or at the 3-point line (where he helps start plays). It’s telling, too, that while Gasol wasn’t feeling up to do much, he still made some beautiful passes. That man is the best.
Z-Bo was pretty happy posting up, sometimes, kinda. Conley looked like he might’ve gotten into gear if either of his big men would’ve helped him run plays to completion. But, that wasn’t happening, so instead he was happy to zip around the midrange for a while before dumping it to Bayless or QPon to “contested mid-range shot” the rest of the shot clock away. So it goes.
Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry, and DeMar DeRozan, on the other hand, looked like bats out of hell. If they weren’t playing with “heart,” they sure as hell were playing with muscle. The difference shows in the score.
The lesson, here, is that I wouldn’t be even mildly dismayed by the score. The Raptors were by far the better team, but it wasn’t really a function of team construction or talent or anything like that. The Grizzlies just didn’t care. And, frankly, there’s no real reason for them to have cared.
All of that in mind, lets think about some takeaways from this game.
- Dave Joerger is going to have his hands full managing rotations with this team. This has the potential to be a very good, deep bench, but there are going to be a lot of quirks to work out with all of the different rotations. For all the “this team just wasn’t trying” that was going on today, there were some concerning lineup choices and performances within those rotations. For example:
- Bayless still spent way too much time as a ball handler (but it’s preseason).
- Mike Miller, while good at off ball movement, still has no real idea how to space himself in an offense with little to no floor spacing, and so he seems to do much better in lineups that feature other defensive liabilities who shoot well, which is concerning.
- Calathes has a lot of potential, but he’s only being played with awkward bench lineups that don’t utilize his skill well and you have to wonder how he fits into this puzzle (but it’s preseason).
- Tony Allen continues to make offense untenable for long periods of time, which makes the other bullet points that much more confusing and frustrating.
The long and short of this is: this is a really good, deep team on paper. But, the more you watch, the more you have to wonder how this is going to be organized. It looks like Joerger will have a lot to prove, and quickly.
- The ball is getting worked around the three-point line on offense much more effectively than it ever was last season thanks to the addition of Mike Miller and Quincy Pondexter’s bigger role. However, it looks like the Grizz might be trying to use that extra floor spacing on every play, and they’re still a decidedly below average team from downtown. The result is that there are a lot of bad 3′s (and shots in general) being taken. Joerger may want to spend more time with Gasol at the elbow. Even really cramped plays around the paint tended to do better than a lot of the plays that swung around behind the arc for 12 seconds.
- Jamaal Franklin was disappointing in 15 minutes this game. He’s looked good in the last few, flashing an improved jump-shot, talent as a spot-up shooter, and some very good defense. In his 15 minutes tonight, he really didn’t do much. 4 points on 4 shots, but nothing special. Jon Leuer, on the other hand, looked quite good again. He’s showing an improved willingness to get inside for boards, smart placement around the rim, good shot selection, and very good shooting touch. His defense remains a big concern, though, and he may be much more valuable as a stretch 4 than as a backup Center.
- Speaking of looking very good, Ed Davis was great. He flashed some nice touch with some floaters, but mostly played within his role as the guy-at-the-rim, and he did a very good job with it. He finished with 9 boards in 16 minutes (!!!!!) and 11 points, at least 4 of which were on some hyper-athletic second-chance dunks in traffic. He showed great footwork, too, and had one particularly memorable layup off of a cut through really minimal space off of a Gasol pass into the very crowded paint. If he continues to look so comfortable in that role, he could grow into something.