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NBA@2: A (Memphis) Grizzly Epitaph
Posted By Bill Ingram On May 14, 2012 @ 2:00 pm In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
Coming into the 2011-12 NBA season, few teams faced the soaring expectations that the Memphis Grizzlies faced. Sure, the Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami HEAT and Los Angeles Lakers were expected to contend, but that was nothing new. The Grizzlies faced elevated expectations, perhaps higher than any they have faced in the often-futile history of their franchise.
Taking out the top seed in the conference as an the eighth seed and then pushing the aforementioned Thunder to the limits will do that.
Full disclosure, I thought the Grizzlies stood a very good chance at being in the Western Conference Finals this season. I thought the West could very well come down to the Thunder and the Grizzlies, and that the series between the two would be every bit as overtime-inducing as last year’s saga. And why not? Team owner Michael Heisley actually spent significant money bringing back Marc Gasol and preparing his team to compete with the big boys, casting aside his former reputation as a penny-pincher.
And yet, here we are, contemplating a long offseason for the Grizzlies.
No disrespect to the Los Angeles Clippers, but they are not really the reason why the Grizzlies are now out of the postseason picture. The Grizzlies showed on multiple occasions that they had no trouble whatsoever running up the score on LA; after all, they had every bit as much talent as the Clippers and perhaps a bit more. Chris Paul is clearly better than Mike Conley, but Conley held his own. Blake Griffin is more explosive than Zach Randolph, but Z-Bo outplayed Griffin for long stretches, especially after Blake sprained his knee. Rudy Gay is clearly better than Caron Butler, Gasol is head and shoulders above DeAndre Jordan and Memphis’ bench is vastly better, at least on paper.
So why are the Clippers on their way to San Antonio while the Grizzlies prepare for hibernation?
Simple: They showed the mental toughness of a day-old plate of milk toast.
It was frustrating to watch the Grizzlies in this series, and that’s for someone without a vested interest in the outcome. It’s a great story that the Clippers have finally emerged from a long stint of mediocrity so from a media standpoint the end result is just fine. But from the standpoint of a someone who enjoys watching good basketball, the Grizzlies left a great deal to be desired. They built huge leads and then sat back and waited to see if the Clippers cared enough to come back, which they did. They attacked and played so aggressively that the Clippers couldn’t even begin to answer their intensity, then completely ignored everything they had been doing to build their lead and just rolled over. They got caught up in one or two missed calls and compounded those with bad fouls on the other end.
In short, the Grizzlies looked like a team of rookies with no playoff experience rather than the tough, confident and resilient team that gave the Thunder all they could handle in the second round last year.
So what happens now? The Grizzlies have a critical contract situation with sixth-man O.J. Mayo slated to become a free agent. They will almost certainly extend him a qualifying offer, making him a restricted free agent, but there are several teams with cap space who can’t wait for a shot at signing him. The Grizzlies will be over the cap before they extend the Q.O., so how much more will Heisley spend given the team’s inauspicious exit? And without Mayo, can the Grizzlies hope to be even a playoff team next season?
Surely that has to be weighing on Heisley’s mind as he looks back at the $70+ million he spent for a first-round exit this season.
Losing in the first round is fine when you’re overmatched. Last season no one would have thought anything of it if the Grizzlies had fallen to the Spurs. But they didn’t fall to the Spurs, and they faced a lesser opponent this year and didn’t do as well. Mental lapses plagued the team and unforced turnovers and passive play cost them a shot at the second round. The team that was so good on paper couldn’t maintain a consistently high level of play.
It’s difficult for an NBA owner to spend $70 million on a team, and it will get more difficult as the new collective bargaining agreement takes hold. This year’s Grizzlies team was the most expensive and the best (on paper) that has ever taken the court. Did losing in the first round cost them a shot at becoming an elite team?
There are other changes that can be made, of course. It wouldn’t be surprising if a head coaching change were seriously contemplated, especially with Nate McMillan, Stan Van Gundy and Rick Carlisle all possibly available.
One way or the other, whether you’re a fan of the Memphis Grizzlies or just a rabid NBA fan, it’s hard to watch a team with so much talent lose in the way that Memphis lost their first round series with the Clippers. It will be interesting to see just how far-reaching the consequences of such a lackluster showing will be.
Denver’s Multi-Million-Dollar Question
It came as a bit of a surprise when the Denver Nuggets traded Nene to the Washington Wizards for center JaVale McGee. After all, Nene was one of the most coveted free agents on the market over the offseason, with intense interest from the Brooklyn Nets and the Houston Rockets among others. The Nuggets seemed set to make him one of the faces of the franchise long-term when they inked him to a five-year, $67 million contract. Nene wasn’t in shape to start the season and never seemed to get over the top physically; still, no one saw the three-team trade that abruptly ended his tenure in Denver coming.
At first, McGee seemed like a great fit for Denver. Nene had played a lot of center, though he was undersized for the position, and McGee certainly looked the part of Denver’s next starter. At 7’0″ and 252 pounds, he brought all of the size Nene lacked, and they felt that on a team that was going to win more nights than not he might take the next step developmentally.
Of course, there’s a reason why the Wizards were willing to part with McGee. First of all, he’s a restricted free agent, and his agent was already talking about McGee wanting a huge raise to the tune of a max deal. Given that McGee was averaging basically 12 points and nine rebounds, that was a scary proposition. Sure, his 2.4 blocks per game were a consideration, but not that much of a consideration. McGee also has a relatively low basketball IQ, and his consistency leaves a lot to be desired.
The Nuggets have already witnessed his inconsistency first-hand, as McGee dominated the Lakers twice in the first round and was all but invisible part of the time as well. He recorded 16 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks in Denver’s Game 3 win and 21 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks in Game 5. Unfortunately, he was also 0-for-6 in Game 1, 1-for-5 in Game 6 and 1-for-7 in Game 7. If McGee had shown up even a little bit on the offensive end, the Nuggets might be preparing to play the Oklahoma City Thunder instead of cleaning out their lockers and heading home.
As good as McGee was in spots, he clearly has a lot of growing to do as a player. Despite being very effective in the post offensively, he ranked in just the 7th percentile defending the post. He’s a decent prospect, and a player who has shown improvement year after year, but if some team decides to make him a huge offer it would be surprising if the Nuggets matched. Then again, it would also be shocking if he got a huge offer.
“I’m just excited to be part of a great organization,” McGee told Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post. “(Playing for the Nuggets) was the best experience I’ve ever had in basketball. It’s just an honor to be a part of this team. This was a great team before I came, so I just tried to add to it. It’s a great organization and coaching staff. They put me in more situations that were more suitable for my game.”
Denver could turn out to be the perfect situation for McGee. After all, the Nuggets are a young team that’s looking to rebuild by developing young talent, and they’ve been able to do that without missing the playoffs. Perhaps a full summer of working out with the team and a full training camp can help McGee take the next big leap forward in his career. He wants to be in Denver and the Nuggets would like to keep him, but don’t expect a huge pay day for McGee. At least, not in Denver.
The Tenth Pick In the 2012 NBA Draft
If the NBA Draft Lottery goes as the odds say they should (which it rarely does), the New Orleans Hornets should have the tenth overall pick in this summer’s NBA draft. Assuming they actually do land the tenth pick, which player best fits their needs?
HOOPSWORLD’s Yannis Koutroupis just gave us his Mock Draft 6.0, and not surprisingly, he has the Hornets thinking point guard. Jarrett Jack did a solid job filling in after the team traded Chris Paul, but he’s going to need help. With that in mind, Yannis suggests that the Hornets should make Weber State’s Damian Lillard their next floor leader.
Lillard is certainly not the star of this draft class, which is heavy on frontcourt talent and light in the backcourt, and he’s not in the same class as last year’s top floor leader – Kyrie Irving. Still, Lillard looks like a solid NBA prospect due to his ability to play low-turnover basketball, his improved shooting and the way he handles the pick-and-roll, in particular.
On the offensive end, Lillard is a force to be reckoned with. He ranked in the 90th percentile or better nearly across the board. This season he was an elite scorer in spot-up situations, on pick-and-roll plays and when coming off screens. He also ranked in the 99th percentile in scoring off of broken plays. He ranked in the 81st percentile in isolation and the 75th in transition. There are very few ways that Lillard can’t score, and for a team that is looking to replace a scoring playmaker like Paul, Lillard fits the bill better than anyone in this draft class.
Lillard is not nearly as effective on the defensive end, where he was very good in isolation (81st percentile), but fairly average in every other category. He was in just the 30th percentile in isolation, 44th against the pick-and-roll ball handler, 44th against hand-offs and a meager 17th in fighting through screens.
If the Hornets do elect to draft Lillard he will help them on the offensive end immediately, and considering they were 26th in the NBA in scoring last season (due, in no small part, to injuries) that’s a significant factor. New Orleans ranked 14th in defense, so that’s not as much of a concern as the offensive end. With those two things in mind, Lillard looks like a solid choice for the Hornets at #10. Given that they have so few players under contract and a significant amount of cap space, they could certainly fill in players around Lillard who help make up for his defensive deficiencies.
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