Grizzlies Understand Importance of Chemistry
The Memphis Grizzlies organization understands the importance of continuity and chemistry. Take one look at their roster and this is evident, as much of their team has been together for years. The organization has kept the team’s core four intact in recent years, inking Mike Conley (eight seasons in Memphis), Marc Gasol (seven seasons), Zach Randolph (six seasons) and Tony Allen (five seasons) to multiple contract extensions.
This leads to excellent chemistry between the team’s top contributors, which is very important, yet often overlooked in the NBA. Each year, the Grizzlies make a few tweaks to their supporting cast (such as adding Vince Carter this offseason and Courtney Lee during last season), but the core remains the same. Gasol and Randolph form one of the best starting frontcourts in the league, Allen provides perimeter defense and toughness, and Conley runs the show as one of the game’s most underrated point guards.
In today’s NBA, with rampant player movement and teams making drastic changes frequently, it’s rare for a franchise to keep such a talented group together for so many years. However, the Grizzlies have managed to do so because their stars love playing together and are committed to the organization. The team has been to the playoffs in four consecutive years, including a trip to the Western Conference Finals two years ago.
Conley couldn’t be happier alongside his teammates, and he has gotten to know each of their games and preferences over the years. When asked about his relationship with Gasol, in particular, he admits that they often communicate on the court using only a series of looks that have hidden meanings.
“We’ve known each other for a long time and know how each other plays and he so unselfish, it’s fun to play with him,” Conley said. “I know where he wants the ball and he knows where I want the ball and we don’t even have to speak, we just look at each other a certain way and that means a back cut or a give and go or whatever it is. It’s a fun relationship.”
The San Antonio Spurs are the best example of how a team with terrific chemistry and the same core year after year can be extremely successful, but the Grizzlies are convincing evidence as well. It’s tough to be patient in the NBA (especially since executives face a ton of pressure and little job security), but making big changes isn’t always the answer. Many teams feel that they need to add new players or upgrade positions in order to improve, but sometimes additional time and experience together is all a group needs in order to elevate its play.
So far, that’s exactly what the Grizzlies have done. They are currently 15-2, which is the best record in the NBA. They have the fourth-best defense, allowing just 97.8 points per 100 possessions. They also have the eighth-best offense, scoring 106.3 points per 100 possessions. This is a well-rounded team that forces opposing squads to play their grind-it-out, slow-paced style of basketball.
“As long as I’ve been here, that has always been my favorite style of playing basketball,” said Allen, who coined the phrase “Grit and Grind” to describe how the Grizzlies play. “We just keep the game close, we grind it out down the stretch and execute offensively. We try and get the stops when we need them. As far as playing in the mud, I think it’s to our favor when we play like that.”
The Grizzlies have quality wins over teams like the Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns among others. However, this upcoming stretch of games is very difficult and will be a great test for Memphis, as they face Houston, San Antonio, Miami and Dallas over their next four games. The Grizzlies are obviously thrilled that they’ve won 14 of 16 games, but are by no means satisfied.
“It says a lot about our focus early on this season,” Conley said. “That’s all we wanted to do, was to come out focused the first couple months of the season and set a good standard for ourselves. Now, we just have to hold ourselves accountable and try to get better.”
This feeling that they haven’t accomplished anything yet and that they still have room to get better comes from head coach Dave Joerger, who is in his second season with Memphis. His hiring was one of the biggest changes that Memphis has made to their on-court product in recent years, when they opted to let Lionel Hollins leave and tapped Joerger to replace him. The move has paid off for Memphis, as they have the best record of any team in the 2014 calendar year and Joerger has his squad playing excellent basketball on both ends of the floor.
Throughout this season, he has been hard on his team, expecting near perfection from the group. Even though they’re the best team in the league, it’s not uncommon to hear Joerger saying that the team could be playing much better and rattling off areas where they could stand to improve.
“We know it’s part of the process,” Joerger said. “It’s a long season and we are in the West. Every possession matters, every game matters and that is what they are coming to an understanding of.”
One thing that Joerger has done since taking over the team is try to improve the Grizzlies’ offense. In Hollins’ last two seasons, Memphis had the NBA’s 20th and 18th ranked offenses. Last year, Memphis climbed to 16th and now they find themselves in the top eight. The Grizzlies are still the slowest-paced team in the NBA, but Joerger has tried to use the team’s defense to start some fastbreaks and create more easy opportunities. He has also spent more time working on offense with his team during practices, although not too much time because he doesn’t want the team’s defense to suffer as a result. Joerger knows that Memphis needs to be elite on offense and defense in order to contend.
“We need to have a high-level offense,” Joerger said. “How you get to that is for behind closed doors. We’re pushing the basketball and getting more looks in transition. Guys are more focused on executing. If you go and spend an hour and a half out of your hour-and-45-minute practice every day on offense, then our defensive end isn’t as aggressive. We have to [keep] our offensive end in the top 10 efficiency wise, while maintaining our defense and our identity.”
That’s exactly what Memphis has done; now, they must continue it for the remainder of the season. Courtney Lee, who was added to the team in January of last season in exchange for Jerryd Bayless, has been a huge contributor on both ends, averaging a career-high 13.3 points while shooting 53.2 percent from the field and 53.2 percent from three-point range (which are also career-highs). He understands that in order for Memphis to reach their full potential, they need to be well-rounded.
“Once you add those two together, [the offense and defense], it’s a deadly combo,” Lee said.
Lee is the kind of role player that Memphis has added over the years to make life easier for their core. This is similar to what the Spurs have done, putting quality pieces like Boris Diaw and Danny Green around their stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and now Kawhi Leonard.
The Grizzlies check off all of the boxes for a legitimate NBA contender: dominating defense, elite offense, deep bench, balanced attack, several stars (albeit underrated ones), solid coaching, terrific home-court advantage and the ability to win games in a variety of ways (even if “playing in the mud” is their favorite). This team has been a juggernaut ever since Gasol came back from injury in the second half of last season, and they don’t show any signs of slowing down as long as they stay healthy and together.
Which brings us to Gasol’s upcoming unrestricted free agency. This is the final year of his current contract with the Grizzlies, and while both sides are saying all of the right things and seemingly want to continue their marriage, free agency can be unpredictable. Gasol is Memphis’ most important and irreplaceable player, as evidenced by the team’s struggles when he was sidelined last season, so losing Gasol would be the biggest blow to the Grizzlies’ core and it would set the team back significantly. There will be many executives circling Gasol like vultures this summer because he’s arguably the best center in the NBA these days.
However, Gasol has praised Memphis and it’s where he has lived since he was a teenager, so it seems unlikely he’ll leave, especially since the organization is in such a good place. The team can also offer him more money and a longer contract (five years) than any other suitor since they have his Bird rights. It’s hard to imagine Gasol taking less money and a shorter contract to walk away from the only NBA team and city he has ever known just when Memphis has finally emerged as the NBA’s best team.
All signs point to Gasol and the Grizzlies continuing their marriage, which means their core four could very well be intact once again for the 2015-16 season. And as long as Memphis’ core remains intact, they’ll be in the mix to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy each June.
Davis Can’t Lead Pelicans to Playoffs Alone
After the Washington Wizards’ recent win over the New Orleans Pelicans, John Wall perfectly summed up the Pelicans’ biggest problem.
“I think their coach said when they lost their other game before Atlanta, they were talking about there is no way [Anthony Davis], a player that talented, can only get 12 shots,” Wall said. “They wanted to get him more touches. When you got a guy that is that talented and can get to the free throw line and shoot the ball as well as he does, if he gets 30, and no one else is going and into rhythm, we are pretty fine with that.”
Lately, having “no one else going or in a rhythm” has been a huge issue for New Orleans. Davis has been historically good, ranking near the top of the league in a number of statistical categories by averaging 24.9 points, 11.3 rebounds, three blocks and 2.1 steals while shooting 55.7 percent from the field. His 33.3 efficiency rating is by far the highest in the NBA and he’s dominating on both ends of the court.
However, he hasn’t gotten much help, which is why the Pelicans are currently 7-8 and in the midst of a three-game losing streak.
Eric Gordon is injured, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans have been inconsistent, and the Pelicans have a huge drop off in talent after their top six players (Davis, Holiday, Evans, Gordon, Omer Asik and Ryan Anderson), as they’re forced to give players like Austin Rivers, Alexis Ajinca, Jimmer Fredette and Luke Babbitt significant minutes. This is not a joke about New Orleans rounding up as many draft busts as possible, this is actually their rotation.
Davis was recently asked about the Pelicans’ offensive issues, on a night when New Orleans’ four starters not named Davis combined to shoot 10-of-42 from the field (23.8 percent).
“I don’t even know,” Davis said. “Some guys are just not making shots. It happens. We cannot let that dictate our defense… The offense was not there. We just have to get back in the lab.”
“As a basketball player, you know that sometimes your shot is just not going to fall,” Holiday said. “Sometimes it carries throughout the whole team. You just have to find a way to fight through it. It’s the NBA. It’s happening to us right now, it’s going to happen to another team down the road. We’re just going to stay together and play defense the same way we have been playing.”
As Wall alluded to, Pelicans head coach Monty Williams has said several times that Davis should be getting 20 to 25 shots per game, but that’s not happening. For some reason, Davis continues to average 17.5 attempts and doesn’t see the ball nearly enough down the stretch. This has to change if the Pelicans want to improve.
They also need more consistent performances from Holiday, Evans and Rivers among others.
“Offensively we have so many guys struggling to hit shots and that kind of stuff happens,” Williams said. “They are frustrated… Anyone would be frustrated. That is part of the NBA and we are not the only team going through that.”
New Orleans will have the chance to end their three-game losing skid on Tuesday at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“Most definitely, we gave away a couple games that we could have won,” Davis said. “We just have to find a way to get up out of it. We are playing our hearts out. We just have to find a way to figure out when we have the lead, we have to have solid possessions… We can’t worry about this game or the game yesterday. We have to come out and play and do what we do, defend and get some easy buckets.”
“We’ve been playing good defense, we just have to knock shots down, [score in] transition and make some good moves,” Holiday said. “If they fall then, great.”
“You can’t do anything about that,” Williams said of the losing streak. “The three games are over with. It happens during an NBA season. The biggest thing is that you have to keep your spirit high and understand that you can get out of it by playing hard and sticking together and that is what we do.”
It’s disappointing that the Pelicans haven’t been able to take advantage of Davis’ outstanding contributions and give him the necessary help to put the team in the Western Conference playoff picture. Davis is an extraordinary player, but even he can’t take New Orleans to the next level by himself.
NBA PM: Hornets Rookies May Become Key Contributors
Some key injuries may force Charlotte’s rookies into becoming effective role players earlier than expected, writes James Blancarte.
As the NBA finally gets underway tomorrow evening, the 2017 rookie draft class will get their first taste of regular season action. Teams reliant on young rookie talent might produce an exciting brand of basketball but that rarely translates into a winning formula. Having rookies play a key role for a team hoping to make the playoffs can be a risky endeavor.
Out West, the Los Angeles Lakers are relying on both Lonzo Ball as well as Kyle Kuzma, who may have worked his way into the rotation with his surprising preseason play. However, the Lakers are, at this point, not realistic contenders in the competitive Western Conference. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers have more realistic playoff hopes. The team is relying on this year’s top overall draft pick, Markelle Fultz, and 2016’s top pick, Ben Simmons, for meaningful production. Although Simmons has been in the league for over a year, he is still classified as a rookie for this season since he didn’t play last season.
The Charlotte Hornets are looking to return to the playoffs after narrowly missing the cut this past season. The team will likely feature not one, but two true rookies as a part of their regular rotation. Like the Lakers, the Hornets feature a highly touted rookie with the talent and poise to contribute right away in Malik Monk. The team also features Dwayne Bacon, a rookie that has flashed scoring potential as well as maturity — key attributes that will allow him to quickly contribute to the team.
Both players will be given the opportunity to contribute as a result of the unfortunate and untimely injury to forward Nicolas Batum. Batum tore a ligament in his left elbow in an October 4 preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. Initial speculation was that the injury would require surgery. However, it was announced on October 10 that surgery would not be necessary, and that he is projected to return in six to eight weeks. Assuming that there are no setbacks in Batum’s recovery, the Hornets will be looking to replace his perimeter scoring, playmaking abilities and perimeter defense. Enter Monk and Bacon.
Monk and Bacon have both shown the ability to score the ball, which is not exactly a common trait in Hornets rookies. Bacon, the 40th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, has made it a point to look for his shot from the outside, averaging 7.8 three-point shots per game while knocking down 33.3 percent of his attempts. As Bacon gains more experience, he presumably will learn how to get cleaner looks at the basket within the flow of the team’s offense. Doing so should help him increase his shooting percentage from beyond the arc, which would turn him into an even more effective contributor for Charlotte.
Bacon spoke to reporters after a recent preseason game against the Boston Celtics. Bacon was placed in the starting lineup and went 4-4 from three-point range in 34 minutes of action.
When asked what are some of the things he wanted to work on, Bacon focused on one end of the court in particular.
“Definitely defense. I’m trying to perfect the defensive side, I want to be one of the best two-way players to ever play the game,” Bacon stated. “I feel like I got the offensive side so just keep getting better on defense, I’ll be fine.”
Lack of consistency and defense are key factors that prevent many rookies from playing and being successful on winning teams right away. Based on Bacon’s size (6-foot-6, 221 pounds with a long wingspan) and physicality, he has the physical tools necessary to play passable defense. Combine that with his ability to score (he led the team in scoring in three of its five preseason games) and the unfortunate injury to Batum, it’s apparent that Bacon will get an opportunity to make the rotation and contribute.
Reliable two-way players on the wing are crucially important, but are not always readily available and are even less common on cheap contracts. The Los Angeles Clippers went through the entire Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era swapping small forwards on a nearly annual basis, struggling to find this kind of contribution from the wing. With little cap flexibility, the Clippers were unable to acquire a forward that could effectively and consistently play both end of the court, which caused issues over the years. As a second round pick, Bacon is set to make $815,615 in his first year. If Bacon is able to contribute at even a league average level, that will be a major boost for the shorthanded Hornets. Bacon is smart to focus on improving as a defender as Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded coach who will leave talented players on the bench if they aren’t making a positive impact on the defensive end of the court.
In fact, Clifford offered some strong simultaneous praise and criticism of Monk when it came to his scoring and defense.
“He can score, he can score, he can score [speaking of Monk],” Clifford stated. “I think his defense will come because he’s willing, he’s a good guy. I think that being a good player is very important to him.”
It’s apparent in Clifford’s comment that he values scoring, but that defense is also extremely important and essential to any player that wants to be a “good player.”
“He knows and understands that the way he has played in the past [in college], he can’t play in this league if he wants to be a good player,” Clifford said about Monk. “The big thing is, I told him, when people say, ‘he’s a talented offensive player’ that is a lot different than somebody saying, ‘he’s a talented NBA player.’”
Point guard Michael Carter-Williams also suffered an injury (bone bruise in his left knee), which received less attention than Batum’s injury. While Carter-Williams is not the same caliber of player as Batum, the Hornets are alarmingly thing at backup point guard. Without Carter-Williams, the team was going to lean on Batum to act as a playmaker more than he has in the past, which would have, at least in part, addressed the lack of an established backup point guard. But with Batum sidelined, Coach Clifford has given Monk time at the point guard position. If Monk proves capable of playing both guard positions and playing alongside Walker, that could go a long way towards mitigating the loss of Batum and Carter-Williams. It’s not reasonable to expect Monk (or Bacon) to produce as consistently as a seasoned veteran, but having them contribute at a league average level would constitute a big win for a Charlotte team with serious playoff aspirations.
Teams Refuse To Back Down To Stacked Warriors
Golden State got better over the summer, but that didn’t stop others from trying to stop them from repeating as champions
Opening week is finally upon us.
Appropriately enough, the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics will kick off the 2017-18 NBA season tomorrow night, as will the defending champion Golden State Warriors when they host the improved Houston Rockets.
The clear-cut favorites to win the league title are the ones who have done so two out of the past three years, and rightfully so. Warriors general manager Bob Myers has done a masterful job of assembling a juggernaut. They’ve kept their insanely talented core intact and—aside from Ian Clark and Matt Barnes—haven’t lost any of their key bench pieces to free agency.
In fact, Golden State has added to that dangerous second unit. Jordan Bell was bought from the Chicago Bulls and will bring another Draymond Green-esque impact almost immediately. Nick Young and Omri Casspi were brought in to fill the void of backup wings, which is an improvement at the position anyway. With the same roster as last year and better reserves to give the starters a breather, there’s no reason Steve Kerr and company can’t repeat if they stay healthy.
Knowing what the Warriors are capable of and how well they are set up to truly be a dynasty, there are some league executives out there who are hesitant to make significant moves that could potentially flop against such a powerhouse.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported back in middle June that select teams don’t want to risk a big play because of it. What that basically translates into is: We’re throwing in the white towel until that ball club disbands.
But luckily for fans and for parity’s sake, there was a handful of general managers that refused to take that path. Just looking down the list in the Western Conference, there were organizations that swung for the fences this summer.
The aforementioned Rockets are one of them.Daryl Morey pieced together multiple trades to allow him to land Chris Paul to play next to James Harden and form a dynamic backcourt tandem. Houston also signed a pair of veteran two-way players in Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker to provide depth and defense.
What about the Oklahoma City Thunder? Just when we thought Russell Westbrook’s MVP season was enough to maybe build off, the unthinkable happened. Sam Presti unloaded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana after just one season with the team to add All-Star forward Paul George, who is in a contract year.
That blockbuster move was followed up with another two months later, as Presti decided to deal fan favorite Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to the Knicks in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. The creation of a Westbrook-George-Anthony big three forms an elite trio that is determined to prove championship worthiness.
Top tier Eastern Conference counterparts did their due diligence as well. The Cavaliers and Celtics are essentially rivals and became trade partners in an attempt to re-tool their respective rosters, in addition to gaining important pieces outside of that.
Boston inked Gordon Hayward to a maximum contract to create a bolstered starting unit alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford until madness happened.
Firstly, Bradley got moved in a swap with the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris to address the hole at power forward. After that—with reports of Kyrie Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland swirling around the basketball universe—Celtics general manager Danny Ainge acted immediately and swung a deal for the All-Star point guard in exchange for his All-Star point guard, a vital member of his team in Jae Crowder and the coveted Brooklyn Nets first-round pick.
It’s almost a brand new squad, but Brad Stevens has a versatile group to work with to try and finally dethrone the conference champions of the last three years.
As for the East’s cream of the crop, the Cavaliers moves are well known because wherever LeBron James goes the spotlight follows. Thomas and Crowder were huge gets for first-time general manager Koby Altman, especially after the outside growing doubt in the franchise’s front office. The rookie executive was also instrumental in signing Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Dwyane Wade to veteran minimum contracts.
Rose and Green have plenty of motivation because their critics think they’re washed up, meaning Tyronn Lue won’t have to give them a reason to play their hearts out. Wade simply made the decision to come to Cleveland because he can play with his best friend and potentially add to his collection of championship rings.
Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Jose Calderon are also now a part of the roster that all-of-a-sudden is now deep at almost every position. It’s a new flavor for a team that may have only one year left to compete for a title with James’ pending free agency next summer.
Those four teams feel great about their chances to get in the way of the Warriors. It doesn’t stop there though. The West in general loaded up.
The Minnesota Timberwolves executed the first big move of the year when they traded for Jimmy Butler. The Denver Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to provide leadership and a veteran voice in a young locker room full of talent. The San Antonio Spurs lost Jonathan Simmons but brought in a very capable Rudy Gay under-the-radar as Kawhi Leonard’s backup.
Nobody expected the league to completely fold and hand Golden State another championship, but it was surprising (and relieving) to see so many teams have the fortitude to pull off the moves that they did. There was definitely risk involved for some of them, however, one thing is for certain.
The Warriors will not have a cakewalk to the NBA Finals. They will have to go through a rigorous set of teams in the West throughout the regular season and the playoffs.
If any team is up to the task, it’s Golden State. But we’ll see how it plays out starting about 24 hours from now.
See you at tip-off.
NBA League Pass Debuts for 2017-18 Season
NBA League Pass has launched for the 2017-18 season. Basketball Insiders has the details.
The NBA and Turner Sports have launched NBA League Pass for the 2017-18 season, with several new features and pricing options available. NBA League Pass, a subscription-based service, will be available to users across 19 different platforms, from television and broadband to tablets, mobile and a plethora of connected devices.
In addition, an important note: As of Monday, NBA League Pass subscribers who have already purchased their access through a TV provider (Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, etc.) are now able to link their account to the NBA’s streaming service at no additional charge. The link to do this can be found here.
Basketball Insiders has you covered with a breakdown of all the new details immediately available. We will also be bringing you a detailed breakdown of certain important technological areas later in the week.
New or improved features of NBA League Pass include:
- Improved video quality for streaming League Pass content developed by iStreamPlanet, a high-level video streaming entity working in partnership with NBA Digital. Included among these improvements are faster delivery time for live feeds, reducing notable lag time present in previous versions. More detail on these video quality improvements will be featured in our breakdown later this week.
- A new premium package that includes continuous in-arena coverage, even during commercials. This allows fans to view team huddles, live entertainment and other venue features that make them feel closer to the experience.
- A season-long virtual reality subscription package via NBA Digital and NextVR, available to all premium and traditional NBA League Pass subscribers (also available to international subscribers and single-game purchasers beginning in week two of the NBA season). Access will be available across Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream and Windows Mixed Reality.
- Coverage of pre-game warmups and other in-arena events.
- Spanish-language video coverage for select games, as well as Spanish-language audio continuing for select games.
- NBA Mobile view will contain a zoomed-in, tighter shot of game action that’s optimized for mobile devices.
Pricing for NBA League Pass has not changed for traditional access, and will remain at $199.99 for the full season. New monthly-based subscriptions are now also available, both for the full package and for individual teams. Full pricing will be as follows:
- Traditional NBA League Pass (full league): $199.99
- Premium NBA League Pass: $249.99
- NBA Team Pass: $119.99
- Single Game Pass: $6.99
- Virtual Reality package: $49.99
- Premium monthly subscription: $39.99
- Traditional League Pass monthly subscription: $28.99
- NBA Team Pass monthly subscription: $17.99
As previously reported by Basketball Insiders, upgrades are also expected on the TV side of NBA League Pass, particularly through Comcast, which has had the largest share of customer issues for this product in recent years. While only a single nightly HD channel was available via Comcast XFINITY League Pass previously, sources tell Basketball Insiders that all games will be available in HD through Comcast’s Beta channel package by the end of November (or earlier).
This Beta package does have limitations, however, including users’ inability to record, pause or rewind games. The package that was available in previous season will continue to be available until (and after) the Beta package is active, and subscribers will get access to both for no additional charge.
Check back with Basketball Insiders later in the week for a full rundown of the technological improvements being made to NBA League Pass.