The Grizzlies played the first of only two home preseason games Friday night, losing 97-90 to the New Orleans Hornets. As is always the case in the preseason, however, the outcome is less notable than the particulars.
The Grizzlies sat half of their potential regular-season rotation tonight: Mike Conley strictly for rest and to allow more time for the team to get a look at other players at his position. Marc Gasol (sprained ankle) and Darrell Arthur (sore achilles) with minor injuries that would not have kept them out in the regular season. Sam Young (day-to-day on a sprained ankle) and Xavier Henry (out 2-4 weeks with a more serious ankle sprain) with less minor injuries that would have sidelined them in a real game.
There were really on five players tonight who really mattered for the Grizzlies in this game, three guard competing for rotation minutes and two free agent big men competing for a potential roster spot.
Guards: Second-round pick Josh Selby had a rough first outing, getting routinely abused by veteran Hornets point guard Jarrett Jack early and shooting 1-5 from the floor, including some bad misses. He never looked comfortable and certainly didn't look like he had a position. Selby had some high-scoring performances in many of the all-star pick-up games held during the lockout, but as I tweeted late in the game, Selby learned tonight that even a preseason game against a bunch of non-roster invites is much more serious competition than a summer exhibition against stars.
Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins essentially said the same thing afterward. “He's young and has a lot to learn. He saw tonight that the NBA is a lot different than those charity pick-up games he played in during the summer,” Hollins said.
It's only one game, obviously, but Selby's performance underscored my prior sense that he would benefit from some heavy D League minutes, but I wonder if Xavier Henry's injury will impact the team's willingness to send Selby away for seasoning.
While Selby was struggling, the team's other new addition, rookie free agent Jeremy Pargo, was shining in his first NBA game. After playing two seasons of professional ball in Israel, the 25-year-old Pargo comes in with more experience than most rookies, and it showed. He was comfortable on both ends, attacking offensively and staying with his man defensively. A stocky, powerfully built 6'2” point guard, Pargo has a good chance to be the team's best defender at the position. If he proves viable offensively — and tonight was a good start, as he scored 15 points on 6-12 shooting, including 1-2 from three-point range, and notched 7 assists and zero turnover — Pargo could be a bargain on a cheap (for the NBA) two-year contract. There's a long way to go, but this was a terrific first step in Pargo's NBA career.
The competition between Pargo and second-year incumbent Greivis Vasquez for minutes behind Mike Conley could be interesting because they're totally different players. Pargo is a quick, physical small guard who seems to excel guarding on the ball and breaking down defenders off the dribble. Vasquez is a bigger guard who struggles with man-to-man defense but is a strong floor leader with excellent court vision and passing ability and emerging effectiveness as a scorer and shooter. Vasquez was good tonight too, hitting three of four shots inside the arc (his only long-range attempt rimmed out) and delivering 6 assists to one turnover.
I think both these players could have helpful roles on the team and hope it doesn't become a pure either/or scenario behind Conley.
Bigs: Both Brian Skinner and Josh Davis look like viable options as the team's fifth big. The problem is that the Grizzlies still don't have a fourth big — someone you depend on for 10-15 minutes every night instead of spot minutes for foul trouble and match-ups. Skinner is a big banger who didn't provide quite the defensive presence Hollins seemed to be looking for but still held his own in the paint against Hornets starter Emeka Okafor. Skinner looked like a reasonable third center — less interesting but probably more dependable than Hamed Haddadi.
More of a power forward, Josh Davis showed the Young Brian Cardinal game that has made him a fan-favorite for a roster spot two training camps running, diving for the ball three times, throwing his body around, and getting in on plays. He missed his only three-point attempt, but we know he's got that in his game too.
Skinner and Davis are both limited and better suited to smaller roles than the Grizzlies require right now, but with the team desperately needing to add one or two more bigs and the free-agent market rapidly drying up, I could see one — or both? — of these players making the opening-day roster.
Other notes: Rudy Gay was wearing a new sleeve on his left shoulder tonight, but didn't seem to be playing differently. He was aggressive going to the rim and didn't seem to be shying away from contact. Hollins said the extra time off helped Gay a lot.
Hollins suggested that he would treat the next and last preseason game — Wednesday in New Orleans — more like a regular-season game, and would likely try to use his opening-day lineup and rotation.
The Hornets were playing without the players the recently acquired from Clippers in the Chris Paul trade and without their own free agents that they recently re-signed (Carl Landry, Jason Smith), the result was more players I didn't recognize than I've ever seen in an NBA game.
The Grizzlies will hold their annual open practice at 1 p.m. Sunday at FedExForum. The event is free and open to the public.