Coming as it did on the heels of the Grizzlies' annoying/avoidable loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night, Grizzlies fans were right to be a little worried about which version of the Beale Street Bears would show up for Sunday evening's game against Farewell Tour Kobe Bryant and the struggling Lakers. It turned out not to be much of a game at all, but finally there was a home blowout that went in favor of the home team. Slowly but surely, the Grizzlies built a 20+ point lead and then Jarell Martin made his home debut. But... you know I'm going to talk about that some more later in the post. Five thoughts on last night's game:
★ The "New" Grizzlies starting lineup—the "small ball" lineup—was very effective against the Lakers. Granted, the Lakers were playing some of the worst defense I've ever seen (and Kobe Bryant just wasn't playing defense at all), so I'm not sure how accurate of a measure of effectiveness last night's game was. But still, it was good to see that unit clicking. The chemistry of the smaller sans-Z-Bo unit has been lacking at time, and they certainly don't have much in the way of practice time to figure things out in non-game situations, so these games against bad defenses—the first game against Washington comes to mind, as well—are a good exercise for them in running plays the way they want to run them without much resistance. All five starters shot better than 50% last night.
★ The Lakers return in February, but who knows what the injury situation will look like then, so yesterday may have been the last chance Memphis gets to see a Tony Allen vs. Kobe Bryant showdown. Bryant has been on the record for years that Allen is the guy who has always guarded him the best—a reputation earned during two Celtics/Lakers NBA Finals all those years ago—and to see them go at it on Sunday, well... it didn't have the same look as it has in years past. Kobe is greatly diminished at this point, and Allen is still struggling to find his groove (though he's back from his knee injury and has been playing better since that point), so last night's Kobe/TA minutes were mostly just a dim reminder of how pitched their battles used to be. Which is normally the point at which my language would elevate and I'd get into some pitched lament about the passage of time. Kobe vs. Tony is the mausoleum of all hope and desire, etc.
★ Adding to the theme of efficiency: Zach Randolph took 8 shots from the floor and made 7 of them—the highest FG% of his career when he takes 8 or more shots—and while Julius Randle wasn't easy for him to back down, the Lakers' frontline in general just didn't know what to do with Randolph. Since moving to the bench, Randolph's rebounding has dropped off, but his ability to get his shots when matched up against other "traditional" bigs hasn't really gone anywhere. Even at this point in his career, he's still Z-Bo, for the most part, and if he's coming off the bench, that's a pretty good guy to have as a reserve.
★ It was genuinely enjoyable to have some garbage time last night, and for the Grizzlies to be on the right side of it. The Grizzlies' injury woes have prevented the young guys from playing much—Jordan Adams still hasn't played, and the murmurs about his projected return date have completely vanished; Jarell Martin is just now able to play in these sorts of situations, and Brandan Wright's absence means that even in blowouts the guys finishing the game have to be the same bench guys who have played the rest of the game. So to see the Grizzlies up by 20 in the 4th quarter was nice, and to see Russ Smith and Jarell Martin get some much-needed run was even nicer. I genuinely enjoy garbage time, and wish the Grizzlies gave us more opportunities to see it this year.
★ Jarell Martin played almost six minutes last night in garbage time, and while he was clearly excited to be making his home debut—and said overexcitement led to several questionable decisions made in the name of playing hard, not smart—eventually he settled down and started making good plays. Defensively, he did well knowing when to switch and when not to, and while he didn't get any rebounds, what was more encouraging to me was to see his activity on the offensive end, where he was active under the basket, and made a pretty long two (long enough that I initially thought it was a three from my vantage point at the other end of the court, but he was inside the arc) with a pretty natural motion—it wasn't a prayer, or a heave; it was a shot—and while it's still very early in Martin's development, he at least looked like an (unpolished) NBA player last night, and that's really all you can ask of a guy playing in front of a home crowd for the first time.
Jeff Green had a chasedown block that was more impressive than this one, but this rejection my JaMychal Green was really great, especially in the building.
This might be the funniest block of the year pic.twitter.com/NJtKiKm1Jk— Michael Pina (@MichaelVPina) December 27, 2015
Last night's garbage time immediately improved my mood, and got me to thinking: if the Grizzlies were barely above .500 and Jordan Adams and Jarell Martin were regularly getting minutes and developing, would I still be as negative about the season and their prospects for the future as I am? Or is it the fact that without any growth for the young players on the roster, a season full of meaningless, unwinnable games becomes that much more meaningless, and the frustrating losses become that much more frustrating?
I think it is. Seeing Jarell Martin finally hit the floor last night was a welcome sight, and not because I necessarily think he's the future of the franchise. (I have, for whatever it's worth, reversed my draft night opinion of Martin, and I think he can be a good player if he's given the chance to develop.) It was just exciting to see a young guy trying to figure it out, and exciting to consider the possibilities he might bring to the team someday.
And that's why it's fun to watch a young bad team, sometimes. The same principle applies in blowout garbage time... when the young guys are able to play. If Russ Smith, Jarell Martin, and Jordan Adams were able to be on the floor at the same time, the score wouldn't matter much to me; I think I'd instantly feel better about things just to see guys learning the game. That's what I've missed from this season. If the Grizzlies aren't going to be a very good team—and let's face it: at this point, they're not a very good team, just a "decent" one—the season is useless if it's not building towards some future goal. That there haven't been any young guys playing at all has meant there's been no such building. Hopefully Martin can continue to get some run in lopsided games and show us that maybe there is a future here somewhere in here, however vaguely defined.