The Grizzlies have lost five straight games, including three straight on their current five-game road trip. After a 14-5 start that had them atop the Western Conference, the home team is now 16-16 and sitting outside of the top eight playoff seeds in 10th place.
Whenever a team has a fall from grace like this, there is always a wide range of reactions and responses. Fans are asking, “Is this who the team really is?” “Do the Grizzlies need to do something drastic to shake up the roster?” “Are we about to move to Nashville?”
Well I haven’t heard that one yet, but it wouldn’t be a Grizzlies season without someone worrying that each and every loss inches us closer to Nashville.
Probably the most common response to the Grizzlies recent run of mediocrity has been an increased amount of criticism towards first-year head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. Bickerstaff, who filled in for David Fizdale after Fizdale was fired early last season, is serving in his first permanent role as a non-interim head coach after stints as interim here in Memphis and in Houston. Many of the questions concern his perceived under-utilization of rookies Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jevon Carter, and his over-use and over-dependence on the players who stand in their way the most — Jamychal Green and Shelvin Mack.
This year’s Grizzlies roster is far from perfect. As a matter of fact it has a generous helping of flaws. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are at the twilights of their respective primes and there is no other consistent scorer outside of those two. There is definitely a need for talent upgrades in certain areas, but I, for one, believe that a lot of the Grizzlies' problems don’t come down to “trade this player and trade that player” but more to “play this player and not that player.”
Yes, the Grizzlies could trade for another scorer or shooter, but in the meantime, I believe that a lot of the team's roster issues can be remedied internally. Maybe the most unsettling feeling that I have is that we are leaving bullets in the chamber. It’s the feeling of not maximizing everything that the team has to get the best results — and that, unfortunately, points directly to Coach Bickerstaff.
Do I think that Bickerstaff is a bad coach, in general? No. I’ve seen bad coaches and I’m not quite ready to label him as such. He’s a phenomenal defensive coach and has the genuine, unanimous respect from his players — something that has been a rarity throughout the history of the Grizzlies. Is he stubborn? Yes. And it is clearly to his detriment. It makes me wonder if someone from the Grizz front office or owner Robert Pera himself has ever addressed Bickerstaff about certain things.
Unlike the three Grizzlies coaches before him, Bickerstaff comes off as the one who would most likely respond well to criticism — or a decree — to make a change, which makes me wonder if it's ever happened.
Pera has been around the team up close lately and I, like many, would love to hear his thoughts. We have a rookie in Jackson who has all of the tools to be a superstar and it often seems as though Bickerstaff handles him with unnecessary caution. This was clearly seen in Friday night's 102-99 loss to the Kings, in which Jackson had 12 points in the first quarter, then went scoreless and, more importantly, was under-utilized for the rest of the game. Jevon Carter brought life into a Houston game last week and he was not rewarded for his performance, either.
It’s odd. It’s head-scratching. It’s frustrating. Bickerstaff seems to manage his rotations as if the Grizz are a star-studded super team that doesn’t need a young star like Jackson or a defensives spark like Carter to help win games. They are both treated like luxuries, instead of two players that the team needs to help them win. Bickerstaff is old-school, cut from the same cloth as his father, Bernie Bickerstaff, and former Grizz Coach Lionel Hollins. He comes from a belief that rookies have to wait their turn and that it’s best to rely on your veterans to win. But, in my opinion, his over-dependence on Grizz veterans has cost him several games this season, and has rightfully brought him criticism.
In a season where you already are at a talent disadvantage, there is no excuse for not using all assets that you have at your disposal. He’s a new coach with old-school ways, a combination that so far has had mixed results.
But things need to turn around soon.