In light of the Rockets and Grizzlies playing again tonight and then knocking out the entirety of their season series in just these next few weeks, we thought it was a great time to talk to our friends over at Grizzly Bear Blues.
So I sat down with GBB’s Ross Jarrar and asked a few questions about the Rockets’ division mates. He did the same of me. Here’s the results of my queries.
Darren Yuvan: The Grizzlies are off to a 4-1 start with wins over the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets, two teams almost everyone predicted to better than Memphis this year. They currently sit in third in Western Conference at this super early stage. I know I'm talking to a Grizzlies fan, but honestly, how surprised are you (if at at all) at the start the Grizzlies have and do you expect them to keep it up?
Ross Jarrar: I’m not surprised that the Grizzlies beat those two teams, but I am surprised how well they played against them. Memphis has always been competitive against better teams in the past because of their style of play keeps games close. But the Warriors victory was not a particularly close game throughout the night. When Golden State got near touching distance of tying, the Memphis defense would just wreak havoc and create a lot more opportunities for the offense, which actually converted them. Marc Gasol has been incredible and aggressive offensively and it has clicked like I didn’t imagine it would. I thought that the transition to Fizdale’s new gameplan would take some time, but it looks like this team could be ready to compete for a top-four seed in the West.
DY: Speaking of Gasol, he’s been really great so far, averaging 25 points, 11 boards, 3 assists and 1.5 blocks. If he keeps this up, and the Grizz can keep winning, do you expect he can challenge for the MVP this year?
RJ: I don’t think he will, even if he has been lights out this year. Those are the best numbers of his career adding onto a great defensive season for him. I just think there are too many stars having great seasons for Marc to be in the mix this year. Giannis Antetokounmpo is on a new level. LeBron is LeBron. Steph Curry and Blake Griffin are having great seasons too. James Harden and Russell Westbrook have lesser numbers than a year ago, but are still elite players. I think Marc will definitely be All-NBA if he keeps up even 85 percent of his performance, but being a top-three or top-five MVP vote in this NBA is a lofty accomplishment.
DY: Mike Conley is currently shooting 7.2 threes per game. Traditionally, he hasn't been much of a high-volume three-point shooter, averaging 3.4 attempts per game for his career. His assists are also down so far this year, as he's averaging just 4.2 per game, well below his career average of 5.7. Is this the new Conley that we can expect from now on?
RJ: I don’t think so. Mike Conley is definitely more encouraged than ever to shoot more three-pointers, but it seems like he’s settling for threes at times. He’s still been playing great, but there have been times like against Golden State and Zaza Pachulia where he’s had a mismatch over a bigger defender where he just settled for a really contested three when he could have attacked the rim as he usually does. I think he’ll find a better balance soon, the season is still young. As for his assist numbers, I think that’s a reflection on this new style of play. He’s playing off the ball a lot more this year and the ball movement is dependent on everybody, not just off a Mike-Marc pick and roll.
DY: The Grizz defense has once again started the season off stout. They're currently third in the NBA in points against and seventh in overall defensive rating. They've matched up with two of the game's premiere offensive squads in Houston and Golden State, and they defended both teams extremely well. With longtime mainstay defenders such as Zach Randolph and Tony Allen no longer with the team, how has Memphis maintained such a high-level in defending the basketball?
RJ: I think it’s been the quality of bench play. Dillon Brooks is a really smart defender with a lot of energy and he’s been causing a lot of turnovers because of it. Mario Chalmers and Tyreke Evans have also been a breath of fresh air for a bench that’s usually been thin or ineffective. Marc Gasol has been really engaged defensively as well, which has been great for our rim protection. But the energy in trying to make deflections and causing turnovers is really producing for Memphis both by stifling the opposing team and creating transition opportunities.
DY: Early-season injuries have been an issue for many teams this year, the Grizzlies (and the Rockets) included. JaMychal Green and Wayne Selden are down, as is Mario Chalmers, and Chandler Parsons has also missed some time already this year. How well-equipped is the Memphis depth to deal with the slew of injuries and are there one or two names that Rockets fans might not be familiar with that might get some playing time while Green, Selden and Chalmers are on the mend?
RJ: Starting off the year without JaMychal Green, Ben McLemore, and Wayne Selden has kind of forced this team into adjusting immediately without them. We didn’t have to break up any established rhythm and Jarell Martin and Andrew Harrison just became the starters from the get-go. Mario Chalmers has continued to play despite his ankle injury, but if he were to miss time, expect Andrew Harrison and Tyreke Evans moreso to handle backup PG duties for Memphis. To compensate for JaM and Selden being gone, Jarell Martin and Dillon Brooks have gotten playing time with Martin getting the starting nod. Dillon Brooks appears more solid as a player, but Jarell has shown some incredible athletic flashes and a defensive play here or there that are really encouraging.
That’ll do it. Many thanks to Ross for answering my questions. You can find my answers to his questions right now over at GBB.