After dispatching a depleted Brooklyn Nets team on Saturday, the Los Angeles Clippers are now hosting the Memphis Grizzlies -- along with the Nets and the Knicks, one of the early candidates for "most disappointing team" of the young season (though they have won the first two games of their road trip). Chris Faulkner, editor of SB Nation's Grizzlies blog Grizzly Bear Blues, was nice enough to answer some questions about the Grizzlies, who have just not been themselves so far this season.
Steve Perrin: Five losses in ten games against some mediocre competition... I'm going to take a wild guess and say that you're a little disappointed in that start. And 19th in defensive efficiency? WTH? So what's the deal? (a) Grizz got old; (b) New coach sucks; (c) Just an adjustment period, it'll be fine or (d) It's complicated.
Chris Faulkner: The defensive drop off is obviously the first thing that really pops out at you when looking at the Grizzlies this season. All of the options you give actually play partial roles in the conglomerate mess the Griz have put on the court so far. I'd probably rank their pertinence as (d)(c)(a)(b). I honestly think a large part of it could be their struggle to adjust to playing faster on offense, i.e., they're turning it over like crazy and allowing for easy scoring from the opposition. The roster is definitely not comprised of young guns like it used to be, but the lack of physicality and intensity looks like it's been stemming from an unmotivated locker room. Joerger admits he's had to "coach effort way more than he expected," but that could be remedied once the team tastes some success from running Joerger's scheme and buys in a little more wholeheartedly.
SP: Statistically, four of the starters have actually been good to great. Conley and Allen are both having career starts in the backcourt, Gasol has been Gasol, Randolph seems to be coming around (he was unstoppable against the Lakers and Kings, yikes). But Prince and the bench? Whoa. I'm really just looking at numbers and haven't watched the team enough to know if they're telling the real story. Has it been as bad as it looks on paper?
CF: Yeah, it's been pretty awful when certain combinations of the bench are together. Prince is obviously not in the longterm plans, but it's starting to look like the Grizzlies might move him before the trade deadline. Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter have been off to slow starts and were set back with some early injuries. Ed Davis has been a pretty phenomenal disappointment, although I feel like Griz fans place too much blame solely on him, at times. One bright spot has been Nick Calathes, who looks like he could be a solid backup PG option all season. We're hoping that once the starters find their groove that the bench play will have a more organized, defined look to it.
SP: Memphis was one of several almost-elite Western Conference teams, along with the Nuggets and the Clippers, who changed coaches AFTER completing the best regular season in franchise history, which is weird, right? Memphis went the "promote from within" route, moving highly respected but still unproven assistant Dave Joerger into the first chair. Did you like the move at the time? Do you like it now?
CF: Dave Joerger is definitely a likable person, and he's very intelligent and well spoken. I was on board with his hiring back in the summer when the front office pitched the selection as someone that would be able to translate their vision of the franchise to the court, moreso than the staunch approach of Lionel Hollins would allow. The change hasn't been overwhelming assuring yet, and while I'm predicting a surge in execution for the Grizzlies over the next few weeks, Joerger's inability to pinpoint the problems in his scheme, thus far, has been somewhat alarming. I'm not ready to break out the torches and pitchforks just yet, though, especially after seeing a really solid effort from them against the Lakers.
SP: Phoenix will certainly come back down to earth (and has started to already), but I think Minnesota is for real, and Portland might be too. Heading into the season, Memphis was considered firmly in the group of six West teams that were locks for the postseason. Is there legitimate cause for concern that the Grizz could be battling the likes of Denver and Dallas for the last chair when the music stops in April? For the record, I don't think so, but I'm wondering what the feeling is on Beale Street.
CF: If things continued on like they had against Indiana and Toronto, the Grizzlies would have been lucky to even be fighting for a playoff spot in April. As projected reality goes, I don't get the impression Memphis fans are all jumping ship, and I think we'll be fine over the long haul of the season. Clinching a top 4 seed, though? Yeah, I don't really see that happening this season (without some blockbuster moves to bring in elite shooting).
SP: Free agent Mike Miller and Darrel Arthur for Kosta Koufos were the extent of the off-season moves (not counting the coach of course). There's an adage that if you're not getting better, you're getting worse. Did the Grizz get better this summer at the personnel level?
CF: ...which brings me to the last question. Mike Miller was a really solid addition: he's cheap, experienced, comfortable in Memphis and he can shoot the ball (sometimes-just-not-yet-really-so-far). The issue with Miller is how much playing time can you get out of him over 82 games. I think the Koufos trade was a great move, although the lack of development from Ed Davis is probably something that should have had a plan B. The Grizzlies finally have a legitimate backup center, but until Koufos settles in with the rotation, Marc Gasol will still be relied on for most of the game. I can't honestly tell you that the Grizzlies got better in personnel over the summer. At best, it's an even wash that may have helped cover up a few roster deficiencies, but I'm not convinced it's enough to win more games than they won last year (which is why you may see some activity from the Grizzlies in the trade market.)
Thanks Chris. I figure the Grizzlies are going to figure it out. They've actually been through these cycles each of the last couple of seasons where you think they're in trouble, but then they go on a huge winning streak. That's probably what will happen here -- which is fine, as long as it doesn't start tonight.