So I got together with Brandon Conner of Grizzly Bear Blues, and we asked each other five questions about the teams we cover that we thought would be pertinent to tonight’s showdown. Here’s what Brandon had to say. And don’t forget to drop by GBB to peep my answers to his questions.
1. How has Mike Conley looked since his return from injury?
Rusty would probably be the best way to put it. He missed nearly three weeks, so it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but Conley was playing the best basketball of his career when he went out, and when he came back he didn’t look anything close to that. He’s been tentative handling the ball, and he’s still struggling to find his shot. He was better in the win on Wednesday, but he also only played about 24 minutes. I expect he’ll start to find his play again. Right now, he’s just not there. He’s said the injury really messed with his core, so he’s struggling to find balance, and that’s affecting his game at the offensive end. As long as he doesn’t suffer any setbacks, I expect him to find his game soon, but there’s still some rust that he’ll have to shake off in games.
2. Marc Gasol is having a career year at age 31 and after only playing 52 games last season due to injury. He’s always been a great player, but he’s really seemed to step up his scoring this season and has a career high in three pointers attempted and made. Does he owe this offensive explosion (19.5 points per game, also a career high) solely to the development of that three-point shot or are there other factors contributing as well?
The three point shot has been a huge part of it, but there’s a couple of other things that have really contributed to Marc’s increased usage and effectiveness on the offensive side. For one, David Fizdale has made a concerted effort to make Marc the leader of this team, and that includes him being more aggressive when it comes to scoring. The results have been a little mixed on that front (just look at Tuesday and Wednesday’s games). I also think Mike’s absence contributed a lot to Marc being more aggressive. With Conley out, Marc knew he had to carry the team, and he put the Grizzlies on his back to get them through that nine-game stretch without Mike. Behind that leadership, the Grizzlies went 7-2 without Conley, including a 21-point win over the Warriors. He’s been great, I just hope he can keep that up with Mike back in the lineup.
3. The Grizzlies have the top defensive efficiency rating in the league right now, which has helped lead them to their 19-12 record. They finished 19th in that category last year. What’s been the biggest factor in their return to defensive dominance? Has it simply been better team health?
Health is definitely a big part of it. The Grizzlies, when healthy, have been a top-5 defensive unit in the past, so that’s not a surprise, though I think being number one is still a huge accomplishment, even this early in the season. Apart from health, I’d say the biggest contributing factor for the team is the resurgence of Marc Gasol. Gasol never looked right last year, even before he injured his foot. This year, he’s a lot closer to the form that won him DPOY, and his inside presence has made everyone around him better. JaMychal Green has been a pleasant surprise defensively, and Tony Allen’s still the disruptive force he’s always been. Bench guys like Andrew Harrison have been solid defensively as well, and Deyonta Davis, prior to tearing his plantar fascia, showed an incredible ability to alter shots at the rim.
4. Zach Randolph has always been one of my favorite non-Rocket players. He primarily comes off the bench these days, starting just one game this year. How has that transition been for Z-Bo and do you feel that’s where he can contribute the most now?
So far, it’s worked out pretty well for both the Grizzlies and Z-Bo. The combination of Randolph’s aging and the shift away from two traditional bigs in the NBA has really not been kind to Zach. He’s just not able to defend the way the Grizzlies need him to in order to be competitive with starting lineups. He’s also really needed for the Grizzlies second unit. Memphis doesn’t have anyone on the bench that can reliably create. They’re running out Andrew Harrison, James Ennis, Jarell Martin, and players of that ilk off the bench. Adding Z-Bo to that group gives the Grizzlies at least somewhere to go to give offensive creation, and Randolph’s veteran moves play much better against more inexperienced second units. When in doubt, just feed 50. Zach still has some issues on the defensive end, and those can be exploited, but they’re more hidden in reserve units, and to this point, what he contributes on the offensive end has outweighed his shortcomings on defense.
5. Ex-Rocket Chandler Parsons is due back for the Grizz any day now. Most Rockets fans were upset initially when he left Houston after the 2013 season, but are likely now relieved in light of his injury issues. What are realistic expectations for Parsons as he works his way back and do you think Memphis will end up regretting the huge deal they gave him?
To this point, it’s been a huge disappointment, and I think the fans have been incredibly frustrated with his output. People are actually comparing his points scored to the number of Instagram posts he’s made since he signed, which, in my opinion, is a little absurd, but I won’t get into that now. Right now, fans just need to temper expectations. Parsons is still working himself back from another injury, and he never looked right in the games he played prior to going out with a bone bruise. It’s going to take time, and that’s fine. Memphis doesn’t need Parsons to be peak Parsons right now. They need him to be healthy and firing on all cylinders when the playoffs roll around. That’s the most important aspect of all of this.
I’m sure if things don’t go well, if Parsons continues to miss time with nagging knee injuries, there’s going to be frustration and people will say they shouldn’t have made the deal. But I still think it was the right move at the time. Given what they knew, it made sense to try and sign Parsons, his market value was a max contract, and he’s still the biggest free agent that’s ever signed with Memphis. That means something. It’s fine to look back and say things could’ve worked out better, but given what was known at the time, I still think it was the right move regardless of what happens from here on out.
Many thanks to Brandon for taking the time out to answer our questions. Also, you can find my answers to his Rockets-related questions over here. It should be a good one tonight!