The preseason’s game results may not mean a lot, but fans at the FedEx Forum got an early glimpse at what both the new and returning Memphis Grizzlies will look this season.
Preseason is always more about the player performances rather than the outcome, but I won’t complain about a down-to-the-wire victory over the Magic for our first game back to Memphis Grizzlies basketball. The game itself was a tale of two halves, both of which ended with Memphis barely on top. The first half was hotly contested with Orlando jumping out ahead due to an impressive shooting night for Evan Fournier. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol were able to hit a familiar groove together and Wade Baldwin IV finished the half with a +/- of 14, leading the team to comeback to a 51-50 lead. The second half was undoubtedly more sloppy with the absence of veteran leadership on the court, and both teams seemed to spend most of their time lined up on the paint for free throws.
Wayne Selden hit his first 3 of the game with less than a minute to go, which clinched a 102-97 win for the Memphis Grizzlies. As for the players, a few standouts managed to show their stuff. In order (roughly) from best to worst performance:
Wade Baldwin IV: The rookie from Vanderbilt did a lot tonight to prove that he’s capable enough to run the Memphis Grizzlies’ offense. He began the game with a pass-first mentality, which worked wonderfully while he shared the floor with the likes of Mike, Marc, and Zbo. However, once his offensive options dwindled he proved capable of knocking down shots of his own, ending the half perfect from the field and from the stripe, leading the team with 11 points. Once the pace of the game slowed down and the veterans were off the court things didn’t flow as easily as in the first half, and two back-to-back turnovers early in the fourth took his head out of the game. However, he still ended the game with 5-for-5, and my conclusion is he’s going to suffer a few mistakes because he is a rookie, but there’s tremendous upside to “Little Westbrook.”
James Ennis: After the first half, it was hard to tell how much of an impact Ennis was having. He had been taken out in the first quarter because of two quick fouls, and once again came out early in the second because of a third. But he was second in +/- and seemed to have a nose for the ball with four good rebounds. In the second half he proved more capable, keeping out of foul trouble and playing well on both sides of the ball, ending the game with eight points and two steals. If anything, I wished I had seen more of Ennis. The second half was spent mostly trying to figure out who could get the ball in the hoop, and seeing Ennis only put up two shots left me wanting more.
Andrew Harrison: In the battle of who was the better point guard, Harrison definitely lost tonight to Baldwin. But Harrison played good basketball, even if a few drives into traffic ended with a missed layup and head-scratching fans. Shooting 3-for-6, Harrison actually outdid Baldwin in both assists and turnovers. Getting lost on defense a few times and forcing drives kept Harrison from a stellar night, but the competition between the two should push both backup point guards to new heights.
D.J. Stephens: Stephens was the hardest to place on this list. On the one hand, the putback dunk that was his first play after coming into the game came out of nowhere and was absolutely savage. He also continued to make athletic plays, sending two more dunks home and grabbing five rebounds. However, Stephens often got lost on defensive assignments, and he had a few knucklehead plays that had the Memphis Grizzlies’ rookie coach Dave Fizzdale yelling, including an attempted cross court pass that ended up halfway up the first section of seats. If the man can learn better fundamentals, his athleticism and tendency to wind up on a highlight reel will serve him well. Stephens may be Fizzdale’s chance to earn the title of “player coach.”
Brandan Wright: This man probably did not suit up expecting to play 20 minutes, but after both younger bigs fouled out, Wright stepped up. In the third quarter when the Memphis Grizzlies’ offense essentially consisted of driving into traffic and hoping the refs call a foul while you miss a layup, Wright managed to remain efficient, ending the game with 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting.
Jamychal Green and Jarell Martin: Speaking of which, both young bigs disappointed tonight. Green played OK, missing a few 3s and grabbing four boards, but in the end the question remains: can he defend both the 4 and 5 positions without fouling? Tonight’s answer was no. Martin, on the other hand, had the second lowest +/- of the bench behind Vince Carter’s -8 (who caught the brunt of Fournier’s hot hand), and it wasn’t hard to see why: bad shooting and shoddy defense. When Martin fouled out with 9 points on 2-for-7 shooting, the offense improved. Somewhere, Deyonta Davis is crying. “I wouldn’t have fouled out, coach!” he says.
Troy Daniels: There’s not much to say. He missed his 3s and couldn’t get around screens fast enough to stop Evan Fournier’s shooting streak. Posting the worst +/- of the starters, Daniels left the game early and never came back. The bright side is that shooters can get hot after being cold, and bad defense can be hidden better when you play next to Tony Allen.
Everyone else: Mike and Marc looked very good, especially together. Chris Crawford and Tony Wroten didn’t play. Zbo and Vince didn’t look impressive, but they’re taking it easy for the preseason. Wayne Selden and Troy Williams will both jockey for a roster spot, but it’s hard to say who deserves it. Selden did earn the accolade of winning the game with his late three, but his overall impact on the game boiled down to a -1 +/-. Williams missed nearly all of his shots, but performed well enough on defense and gave good effort.
The biggest takeaway from the first preseason game for me was how exciting this upcoming season is going to be. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are a proven duo, and tonight they showed flashes of the effectiveness we know they can have. Meanwhile on the bench there’s the competition of Baldwin and Harrison, whose competition for best backup will push them both to their limits. Thursday’s game vs the Hawks will provide another chance to see the rookies go at it, and Opening Night on Oct. 26th can’t come fast enough.