No one has been happy with the Grizzlies preseason, least of all the man on the sidelines.
Before we sell our season tickets, let’s remember two things: first, this team is laden with established veterans on comfortable contracts. While I’m sure all of them used their offseasons wisely, none of them particularly enjoy playing games that don’t count. Three weeks ago, Zach Randolph stumbled through media day so half-awake he had to be reminded when his first preseason game was. We shouldn’t have expected them to work excessively hard, let alone risk injury, to come from behind against more aggressive, reinvigorated line-ups with something to prove (Chicago, Dallas, Houston).
Second, the preseason matters in many ways — role development, rotation tests, real scrimmage time — but the final record largely does not. For those worried that this post-hibernation slump will result in an early season hole, remember that last year’s team also went 4-4, then opened the season 14-2. A professional athlete doesn’t need to be told when it matters.
But now it’s a matter of flipping the switch, and the one with his hand on the dimmer is Dave Joerger. The Grizzlies will need an offensive overhaul if they want to reach, not to mention win, the NBA Finals, because it’s virtually impossible to do so with their current efficiency rating. Now is the time to fish or cut bait on certain offensive experiments, and on certain standbys that no longer earn their keep.
Joerger’s ideas have a lot of people worried, though, and the preseason has given those, ahem, concerned citizens a reason to bark. So let’s be clear about a couple of things:
This team isn’t built to run. It’s true: Zach, Marc, Tony, and Tayshaun would probably lose a 4×100 relay to just about anybody. If Joerger tries to race the Denvers and Houstons of the world to 100 points, he will almost certainly lose. I think he knows that.
High paced means high turnovers, something we can’t afford. “Grit and Grind” is possession basketball, limiting your opponent’s offensive chances and giving yourself enough attempts to counteract your poor efficiency.
Offensive diversity can compromise key contributors. We don’t want Q-Pon passing up open threes in favor of contested drives. Or Marc Gasol forcing shots in the name of aggression. Or least of all, Tony Allen shooting anything outside of 10 feet because he’s open and “feeling it” (though I don’t think that will ever stop). Our role players have to play to their strengths.
All of these pitfalls showed up in the preseason, which is what has people worried. But Joerger, maybe unlike the players, sees the value of the preaseason: expose the flaws in the system so they can be minimized when it counts. “I don’t worry if we’re winning or we’re losing in the preseason,” he said after the Houston loss. “I want to get guys minutes, I want to get guys chemistry together, I want groups of guys to catch a rhythm playing together.”
I don’t expect Joerger to scale back his tempo schemes immediately in reaction to the preseason speed bumps. Instead I think he’ll use the first handful of games — a rough slate that includes the Spurs, the Mavs, and the Warriors — to strike a balance between his desired offensive strategy and the more classic, familiar style of play. We’ve already seen plenty of last year’s playbook in the preseason, something Joerger emphasized. Prince will need several games to get back to 100% after a brutal stomach illness, and everyone will have to get used to the regular season schedule.
As for the Grizzlies themselves: sure, the adjustment period may extend a bit into the regular season. The impression coming out of training camp was that everyone was trying to learn as quickly as possible — obviously some things clicked, while others have yet to sink in. Joerger’s system, motion offense, shifts the decision making more toward the players and away from the coach; while different personnel learn at different speeds, Joerger will have to chose his match-ups carefully.
There’s plenty to worry about going into Wednesday evening. But the season isn’t won on opening night, or even in the first two months. So let’s save the panic for November and let the professionals work.