The Grizzlies beat the Oklahoma City Thunder before a small but spirited crowd tonight to win their home preseason opener. I didn't intend to write this much about a preseason game. Really I didn't …
This development taps into my own mixed feelings about the whole Iverson experiment: Here we are at the first home game of the season and the on-court action is obscured by a (minor) controversy regarding Iverson. It should be noted, however, that Iverson was on the bench with the team the whole game and was very animated in encouraging teammates (and questioning calls).
The primary question Iverson's absence raises is how it will impact his role on the team as the regular season begins. Most people I talked to at the Forum tonight expected Iverson to start the season coming off the bench. We shall see.
Young finished with a game-high 22 points in 20 minutes, including 13-16 from the free-throw line. At some point in the third quarter, I wrote in my game notes, "He's a jump shot away from being a good role player." That might still be true, but right after I wrote it, he started making jumpers, first a mid-range shot off a surprising crossover, then a three-pointer.
Young is a strong, aggressive player who hustles and fights. My favorite sequence for Young tonight was when he got a steal and finished the breakaway with a windmill jam. The best part? He quickly hustled back down the floor and chased James Harden around screens, denying him a shot.
Young was mighty impressive in the second half tonight, but anyone getting too excited should think back to Darrell Arthur's 15 rebounds off the bench at Houston in last season's opener. It's one game.
As for Carroll, he impacted the game beyond his modest stat line, a phrase I might as well have ready to paste into most post-game reports this season. In one sequence in the first half, he guarded James Harden, a 6'5" guard, and D.J. White, a 6'9" power forward, on consecutive possessions. And effectively in both cases. Carroll looks like a player who'll be able to guard the two through four positions, depending on the match-up.
Hasheem Thabeet, as the second overall pick, is the rookie with the highest expectations, but fans are going to have to be patient with him. Thabeet's still wooden interior moves and weak upper body made it difficult for him to score against any semblance of physical defensive pressure, but he blocked a shot, grabbed some boards, finished a few easier offensive plays, and provided a reasonable defensive presence in his 25 minutes. It wasn't a bad performance given where he is developmentally.
What was most promising from Gay was how intent he was on attacking the basket, especially early on, resulting in 9 free-throw attempts. The Grizzlies need Gay to use his physical gifts more — and not just to score. If this aggression carries over to the regular season, that will be a very good thing for Gay and the Grizzlies.
Livingston did some nice things tonight, scoring 10 points on 5-7 shooting and dishing 3 assists in 26 minutes. He got up off the floor for a dunk in traffic, showing there's still at least a little life in those knees. He used his size advantage to block a Marcus Williams jumper and score on Mike Taylor in the post with a decisive drop-step.
As for White, he was a late first round pick last season, but missed most of his first season after a jaw injury. White doesn't have the size or talent to be more than a career backup, but he appears to be a tough, smart, charismatic player. I like him a lot as a role player. White came off the bench for 16 points on 8-13 shooting and showed good mid-range touch.
The officiating tonight was terrible. The referees' union would do well to use this game tape in negotiations.
After what was apparently a strong opening game, Mike Conley struggled tonight offensively, shooting 1-7 and missing badly on his 4 three-point attempts.
Steven Hunter looked quite alive in 11 minutes. He showed enough that I had daydreams of flipping his expiring deal to a contender looking for frontcourt depth and getting something — anything — useful in return.
Zach Randolph was active on the boards but a non-entity in the team's offense. A work in progress, like most everything else right now.
I was severely disappointed that Hamed Haddadi got barely more than a minute of run tonight.
Early on, the Grizzlies were looking to throw the ball ahead in transition, but not executing. First Marc Gasol bobbled a Conley pass. Then Gay's pass to streaking (okay, rumbling) Gasol got lost in traffic when he should have gone over top. The most revealing thing about these plays? That Gasol was in a position to make the play both times, a sign that he's running the floor more effectively.