As you probably already know (unless you haven't been near social media of any kind for the last 48 hours or so), yesterday was the Grizzlies' Media Day, the first official gathering of the 2015-16 basketball season, where all the players, coaches, and staff (except for Robert Pera, who only showed up for his first Media Day as owner) get together and talk to reporters before hopping on a plane and heading for training camp.
This year's camp is at UC Santa Barbara, and the Griz will be working with P3, a sports science/medicine company specializing in injury prevention, which is something the team thinks can give them a real competitive advantage—even though coach Dave Joerger said the preliminary results, pre-camp, indicate that certain Griz players (who he didn't seem eager to name) are "not in tremendous shape." It was just one of the things that stuck out to me yesterday: injury prevention as a new frontier the Griz are trying to explore this season.
Which, well, let's get on with it:
Three Takeaways From Media Day 2015
➭ Something is going to have to happen with this roster to clear up some room. For the first time I can remember, the Griz are rolling into training camp with a full 15 guaranteed contracts, meaning the roster is completely full. Usually it feels like Chris Wallace-era Griz teams have entered the season with 13 guys under contract, leaving wiggle room for a possible camp standout or just for the sake of maximum flexibility.
It's not just that there are 15 guys on the roster, either; it's who the guys are. There are a lot of wings on the team, even if you think Matt Barnes is mostly going to be a power forward (which seems to be the case so far, but it's early). Given that Courtney Lee is in a contract year, Tony Allen isn't getting any younger, Vince Carter has already passed into "Probably Wrote Some Of The Old Testament" age, and Jeff Green is only going to have so many chances to prove he can help this team before they start looking elsewhere, recent draft pick Jordan Adams is going to be called on to prove he can be an NBA rotation player. The front office certainly believes it, Adams certainly believes it, and by all accounts most of the team believes it.
The question, then, is whether Dave Joerger believes it enough to play him over a veteran option who may be less mistake-prone but have less upside.
That remains to be seen. To my mind, the worst trait that Joerger learned while coaching under Lionel Hollins is his dogged insistence on playing "his guys" when there might be other options available. We have yet to see him be willing to take a chance on a younger guy—which, sure, rookies don't often rack up minutes on contending teams, but the reticence to even try playing Adams spot minutes last year left a bad taste in my mouth.
Yesterday, Joerger indicated that he'd "be willing to play the best player" if one of the younger guys (Adams, Jarnell Stokes, and Russ Smith in this case—Jarell Martin seems to be a much longer-term project, if only because of his foot injuries—beat out an older guy for a rotation spot. I take that with more than a few grains of salt, to be honest. I'm not sure a younger guy can "beat out" an older guy who Joerger trusts, even if that younger guy has more upside.
What I'm saying, ultimately, is this: I think Joerger will probably be a little too reliant on combinations of Lee, Green, and Tony Allen that don't work very well, and will probably give Vince Carter minutes that should go to Jordan Adams, and my assumption is that—given the "expiring contract" status of Green and Lee (and Carter's partial guarantee next season)—at some point, Joerger will get his toys taken away so he has to play who he's got.
➭ The number of 3-point attempts has to be higher, even if the shots aren't necessarily better. I talked about this a little bit in my admittedly grumpy clearing-the-pipes piece: there is no magic bullet "Shootist" player out there who will instantly cure the Grizzlies' woes from long range.
I talked about this at length with more than one basketball brain yesterday. The 3-point shots that are generated in the flow of the Grizzlies' offense aren't necessarily the best attempts—more of them could be uncontested, and a lot of them come as last-minute "safety valve" shots after a play has broken down and the Griz are just improvising trying to find a shot. That said, the percentages aren't bad. The team was 22nd in 3P% last year, shooting 33.9%. The real problem, though, is the number of shots they took. The Grizzlies averaged 15.2 3-point attempts per game, good for 29th in the league.
The solution seems fairly obvious: take a few more 3-point shots. Maybe somewhere just under the league average. If they continue to hit them at the same 33% rate, that's good for a few more made 3's per game, which stretches the floor, adds scoring, and alleviates pressure on the Grizzlies' inside game.
They don't even really have to upgrade the personnel they have. Courtney Lee is an excellent shooter when he's actually willing to take the attempts (and not suffering from a lingering hand injury that nobody knows about). Jeff Green isn't a
great good 3-point shooter, but he's decent from the corners, and so is Matt Barnes. Mike Conley has had a good stroke from long distance the last few years. Just get these guys to take a few more 3-pointers in the flow of the game and the Grizzlies offense will be in much better shape without really having to change all that much.
They're never going to be a pace-and-space team like the Warriors and Hawks. They probably won't ever get the Spurs' motion/pick and roll stuff going. But they can space the floor slightly more effectively using the pieces they have; they just have to change their willingness to take 3-pointers. Seems easy. My guess is it won't be, but it's something that needs to happen for the Griz to be an elite team.
➭ Marc Gasol is back to being himself, and he's starting to become a Philosopher King. Gasol can say whatever he wants about his free agency last year—it bothered him, and it bothered him a lot. I'm not even talking about his on-court demeanor, which vacillated between "destroy everything in my path" and "jersey-ripping nervous breakdown." I'm talking about the way he carried himself in the locker room, the way he talked to media, the way he sat sullen by himself on the bench from time to time. It was obvious all season long last year (and especially towards the end, from the All-Star Break onward) that Marc had a lot on his mind.
Yesterday, he was more like the Gasol we've seen for so long. He was relaxed, making jokes, and yet deadly serious in his inimitable way. He spoke about what it's going to take for the Grizzlies to "become elite":
Gasol says the Grizzlies "have to take a step into the unknown" to really win a championship. #philosophermarc— Kevin Lipe (@FlyerGrizBlog) September 28, 2015
I feel like this is the last, glorious stage of the development of Gasol's persona. He's a fierce competitor, a beast on the court, and yet he's always been a little aloof, determined to do what he wants to do and talk to people like me about it as little as possible. Now that he's locked up for a long-term deal, Gasol seems willing to say whatever's on his mind—even when he's starting to dip into mysticism about what it's going to take to be great.
Gasol's "step into the unknown" comment was in the context of talking about the ceiling of the current Grizzlies group, and that seems as good a place as any to wrap up.
Gasol's full comment was that the Griz could just show up with the roster they have and make the playoffs and be decent. That's what they've done the last few years, and there's no reason to think they can't do that again. They have all the pieces in place. But that's not the goal of the NBA season—the goal of the NBA season is to determine a champion. The Grizzlies, as currently configured, doing the same thing they've been doing since 2010-11, aren't going to win a championship. They've got to take some chances, make some alterations (even if they're minor ones), and maybe most importantly they have to remain consistent all year long.
That's what Marc Gasol said yesterday. He said you don't become elite in the playoffs; you become elite by being an elite team every day. I have no doubt that he remembers the way things went at the end of last year, and how close the Grizzlies were to being #2 in the West intead of #5. It was right there for the taking. Of course, whether that would've affected the ultimate end of the season is a different question, but the regular season collapse left a bad taste in everyone's mouth (including mine, if I'm honest).
The Grizzlies seem mentally ready for another season. Whether they are or not, it's around the corner. Things are going to have to change this year, but even within that framework we're going to see Our Boys in Beale Street Blue go out and do what they've done for years, playing the style they play, trying their hardest to represent the city of Memphis and make us—we, the city—proud. They really think about this stuff.
The step into the unknown is going to have to happen at some point if they really want to bring us, Memphis, a title. We watch and wait. The season is here.